Tiny Quinhagak, Alaska, put itself on the map almost exactly three years ago today, when a video from there went viral. James Barthelman, a teacher who in 2005 moved with his wife from Nebraska to the village, had a creative, inclusive idea. Make signs with all the syllables of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Have children and villagers hold them up in time with the music. Put them in settings all around the village, and videotape the whole thing.
The video introduces viewers to life in a village 400 miles west of Anchorage, on the coast of Kuskokwim Bay. No roads connect the village to the outside world. In snowbound Quinhagak, we see people on school bleachers, in church pews, on a playground, peeking out from under a building, standing outside the village’s communal buildings, running down a snowy road, in shops and the post office, in cars, trucks and a school bus, in a classroom, with sled dogs and behind snowbanks. The remote village takes on a friendly face through the smiles of its people.
When the video was posted on YouTube, the children of the mostly Yup’ik Eskimo Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat School and their families and neighbours quickly became familiar faces to a million and a half viewers. Barthelman has added other videos to his YouTube channel since then, including another Christmas addition, with his 4th-grade class dancing to a hip-hop version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Another of my favourites is a very moving short video, 75 Miles, a poetic view of the landscape and community for which high school student Paul Mark won a grand prize.
Glimpses into this village are a gift to be opened, one video at a time. They offer slices of life in a remote community we would never see without the magic of digital technology. They are a mix of smiles, creativity, warmth and a dash of magic.
Start with the Hallelujah Chorus, and then work your way through this small collection of videos. They will warm your heart.