Photos by Serine Reeves

Inupiaq woman’s podcast explores contemporary Native life

Alice Qannik Glenn sliced up a frozen piece of maktak as Howdy Brown set up audio equipment in an upstairs office of an old building in Anchorage. Jacqui Igluguq Lambert and Tiffany Rosamond Creed chatted about their favorite ways to eat the raw whale blubber.

The group had gathered to tape the latest episode of Alice’s Coffee & Quaq (coffeeandquaq.com) podcast, with Jacqui and Tiffany as her guests. The podcast celebrates, shares, and explores contemporary Native life in urban Alaska.

Passing around the delicacy, Alice said, “An auntie once told me that the light part is good for teething babies.”

Photo by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan

Soon the taping began, and Alice posed conversational questions for an episode titled “Growing Up in Rural Alaska.”

Alice is Inupiaq and was born and raised in Utqiagvik. At the age of 30, she is surprised at the direction her life has taken. She received her bachelor’s degree in aerospace studies from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2014 with a focus in aerospace life science, space studies, and math.

She returned to Alaska and worked two years for her village corporation. Then she took a position with the Rasmuson Foundation on a Momentum Fellowship. The program prepares leaders of underrepresented groups for careers in philanthropy. Alice considered her heritage and explored how the indigenous culture of sharing is by nature philanthropic. That got her thinking about other topics germane to the modern life of Alaska’s indigenous people.

The Coffee & Quaq podcast was a brainchild of that inquiry.

“Coffee represents the contemporary and woke side and Quaq examines topics through an Alaska Native lens,” Alice explained. Quaq is the Inupiaq word for frozen or raw meat or fish and also means to eat frozen or raw meat or fish.

The podcast offers Alice a platform to dig deeper and ask others about their experiences as young Alaska Natives in the modern world. The conversations featured on her podcast are honest and sometimes hard. In one episode, a survivor of breast cancer described the grief surrounding generational healing. There is also a lot of laughter.

“A huge driving factor in generating the podcast is that indigenous people are too often defined by our disparities. But many of us, in spite of challenges, are out here doing what we want to do. We’re still laughing. That’s who we are,” Alice said.

One of the first podcast episodes explored modern interpretations of traditional Inuit tattoos. Alice was going through a rough spot when she decided to get a Native tattoo of her own. She chose a design that traditionally was thought to ward off evil spirits, relieve pressure points of pain, and promote fertility. She laughs, “Everyone who knows me, knows that I don’t want kids—at least not right now,” she said. But getting the facial tattoos had a profound impact on her.

“They represent freedom from the pressures of work and Western ideals of beauty,” she said. “They’re associated with my upbringing, which is when I felt most free in the world. They make me feel proud, lighter, freer.”

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Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan lives and writes from a small farm in Palmer. She is the author of several books about Alaska. For more information, visit kaylene.us.

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