Living and working in Sitka, Alaska, our 2020 Rural Reporting Fellow Bethany Goodrich spends most of her time exploring the unique nature of rural Alaskan life.
“My focus has been on the rural and predominantly Indigenous communities scattered across the coastal rain forests here in Southeast Alaska,” said Bethany. “Using storytelling to connect these communities and their experiences with wider audiences.”
From accessing health services in remote villages, to reliable food and energy security, and the daily impacts of climate change, the stories of rural Alaskans striving to adapt and cope in a rapidly changing environment are many.
And, like communities worldwide, Southeast Alaskans have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. At the onset of COVID, like many others in the media, Bethany wrestled with how to gather stories and be in relationship with her subjects while keeping safety front of mind.
When you’re able to really invest in a storytelling process, within rural communities, that takes time and patience to uncover stories that are authentically of that place.
With support from the Fellowship, Bethany was able to approach long form stories that could be produced in partnership at the pace the pandemic allowed.
“We all saw the world become connected by this common challenge, while simultaneously feeling and becoming even further isolated,” Bethany said. “The impacts of the health and economic crisis were being felt differently across demographics and across regions in this world. I was able to shift my focus to look at the nuanced ways that Southeast Alaskans were responding to the crisis through collective care, ingenuity, and cultural resilience.”
In this video below, Bethany describes partnership as a key element of her storytelling process, bringing more recognition to the friends, neighbors, and colleagues who entrust her with their perspectives, especially those of Indigenous communities.
The stories that emerged reflect the process of building trust not only over the course of the Fellowship, but for many years in advance of it.
“Within our communities, collaboration is already really strong, in part because we need to be resourceful and come together to thrive in a rural isolated setting,” said Bethany. “People that I work with on stories aren’t afraid to challenge me or question my assumptions, because we know each other. And they know that it’s worth their time to invest in teaching me and sometimes putting me in my place, because I’m here for the long term and trust is prioritized first.”
“When you’re able to really invest in a storytelling process, within rural communities, that takes time and patience to uncover stories that are authentically of that place, of hope and solutions, and of people, everyday people stepping up to support their community and do really incredible things.”
A key focus of Bethany’s storytelling process has been to deepen partnership with and bring more recognition to the friends, neighbors, and colleagues who entrust her with their perspectives, especially those of Indigenous communities.
“If you’re sharing a story for the sake of getting something published in a specific magazine, because you want to, primarily for your own ego, and it doesn’t benefit those people involved within the story, then I think the first thing you need to do is throw it out,” Bethany said. “It’s essential that you’re looking for opportunities to cede your power. Also to find opportunities to amplify Indigenous storytellers, hand over gigs, or introduce Indigenous storytellers to your connections. If you’re not doing those simultaneously, storytelling can be as extractive as any other industry, I don’t think you’re doing the work.”
2020 Rural Reporting Fellowship Stories
A freelance writer and photojournalist, Bethany’s stories have appeared in publications available nationwide. Her previous work has appeared in publications including Edible Alaska and Juneau Empire as well as multimedia storytelling efforts like the Salmon Project’s Salmon Life, and elsewhere. During this Fellowship, she placed stories in Modern Huntsman, Whetstone, Outside Online, and Anecdote magazine. She also supports the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, of which Ecotrust is a member, as Communications Director.
She holds a masters degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management from the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment.
Whetstone Magazine | Volume 7
Produced in partnership with Louise Brady K’asheechtlaa, the Herring Protectors, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska
This story shares the work of the Herring Protectors, a group located in Sitka, Alaska, who advocate for the health of the Pacific herring—a culturally, ecologically, and economically indispensable species of fish in the region.
Modern Huntsman | Volume 6
Produced in partnership with Joni J. Elisoff, Robert Miller & Sea Fur Sewing
In Southeast Alaska, seal is culturally significant as a food source and for the use of the animal’s unique, naturally waterproof, and beautiful hide. Exploring themes of Indigenous entrepreneurialism, collective and community care, and nourishing elders during the pandemic with this soul food, this story unpacks the nuances of marine mammal hunting through the vantage point of a hunter and craftsman.
Outside Online | June 17, 2021
Produced in partnership with Yakutat Surf Club, Gloria Wolfe X’aal Eex’ Tláa, and the Preciado Family
In the Tlingit community of Yakutat, Bethany supported a group of local and visiting volunteers, surfers, mental health specialists, culture bearers, first aid specialists, creatives, elders and more to catalyze the Yakutat Surf Club. The story looks at the importance of levity for cultivating resilience, and documents the group of youth who participate and adults who worked to organize a surf camp during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anecdote Magazine | Volume 1
Produced in partnership with Andrea Cook Ts’áak’ KáJúu
Produced in partnership with Andrea Cook Ts’áak’ KáJúu
During quarantine, Haida carver Andrea Cook carved her first mask. The story follows Andrea on her journey of healing and bringing the mask to life during isolation, while discussing themes of Indigenous stewardship of cedar resources. She shares about the significance of art for identity, spirit, and healing in the context of COVID-19.