Yo-Yo Ma plays chello in an aspen forest

2024 | 9 min. | English

Gath & K'iyh

by Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets'aii Gwich'in)

In Alaska, community comes together to create music with Yo-Yo Ma as a critical part of collective healing and radical hope for the future.

Gath and K’iyh: Listen to Heal is a poetic visual exploration of a community-led creative arts project aimed at better understanding and restoring our relationship with gath (king salmon) and k’iyh (birch) relatives as we navigate our feelings around climate change in Alaska. Gath and K’iyh are words from the Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana) dialect spoken in the Interior Region of Alaska. Guided by the voice and wisdom of Ahtna Elder Fred John, this film invites viewers to pause, to listen, to sing and dream together and ask how we might be in better relationship to the natural world around us.

Photo credit: Austin Mann

Our grassroots cohort asks for your support by signing on to this Declaration for Gath & K'iyh.
Read the declaration and sign at the link below.

Learn about Gath & K'iyh

About the Filmmakers

Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets'aii Gwich'in) lives on the traditional territory of lower Tanana Dene lands in Alaska. She serves on the board of Native Movement and NDN Collective - collectively, she works to protect the lands, waters, animal and plant relatives that continue to take care of us all. She has served on the SAG-AFTRA Native American Committee since 2007 and was appointed by President Obama in 2015 to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a Sundance Film Alum, a Nia Tero Storytelling Fellow, former Creative Producer and an Emmy-nominated Screenwriter for the Peabody award-winning PBS Kids series "Molly of Denali." Her 2021 film Diiyeghan naii Taii Tr’eedaa (We Will Walk the Trail of our Ancestors) is part of Reciprocity Project Season 1. She is a producer on HBO’s 4th Season of True Detective and is in development for her first feature film based on an adaptation of Velma Wallis’ bestselling book, “Two Old Women”.

James Johnson III is a Koyukon Athabaskan from Fairbanks, Alaska with roots in the Rampart and Kokrines villages. He is a filmmaker focused on telling narrative and documentary stories centered on climate justice, language, and traditional ways of life. He is a co-founder of the indigenous filmmaking company Deenaadai Productions LLC. James spent several years as an Indigenous evaluator before transitioning into filmmaking. He holds a certificate in Rural Human Services and BA in Sociology, both from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is a current participant in the Alaska Native Filmmakers Intensive, an ongoing project through Native Movement and UAF Film & Theatre. Over the past several years, James has served as a primary editor on “Diiyeghan Naii Taii Tr’eedaa” and as DP and editor on another (yet to be released) commissioned short film project. James continues to build on his filmmaking skill sets while staying passionate about the work and impact his projects have on uplifting Indigenous stories.

About the Film Event

Alaskan Healing and Arts Program Brings in Major Star-Power to Shed Light on Pressing Climate Issues

Local youth and Elders gathered with artists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to acknowledge climate impacts to salmon and birch

On Labor Day, an intimate group of about 100 local climate activists, artists, and Indigenous leaders gathered at the UAF president’s house to witness the culminating presentation from this summer’s dynamic Gath & K’iyh: Listen to Heal workshop program in partnership with Yo-Yo Ma’s Our Common Nature, which explores how culture helps us connect to the natural world. This final event brought in some major players to draw attention to climate impacts to local ecosystems, including world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, drag queen and environmental advocate Pattie Gonia, and singer-songwriter Quinn Christopherson. The event included original music performed with Yo-Yo Ma and workshop participants, written collaboratively with composers Eli Wasserman and Mato Wayuhi (composer for the hit series Reservation Dogs), with an original poem read by Princess Daazhraii Johnson. Pattie Gonia and Christopherson premiered their new climate anthem “Won’t Give Up (Glacier)” with Yo-Yo Ma.

This event was the final event in a series of workshops throughout the summer organized by Native Movement, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, Association of Interior Native Educators, and the UAF Climate Scholars program. It aimed to use “Listening to Heal” as a framework to understand the experiences of the Gath and K’iyh* due to climate impacts, address climate grief, and come to a place of hope and action. The group undertook these goals through diverse means, including multiple artistic mediums (such as birch bark and tanned salmon skin), traditional stories from Indigenous Elders, research from UAF climate scientists, experiential exercises, musical exploration, and personal reflections from participants. The group of participants consisted of mostly young people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, aged 18-35.

Says Native Movement board member Princess Daazhraii Johnson, “At this time of great suffering for us and our Mother Earth due to the current climate crisis, these workshops allowed us to collectively express our grief, but also to actively nurture our relationship with the salmon and birch. In so doing, we have renewed and reinvigorated our commitment to protect them as relatives.”

Throughout the final weekend, the participants and organizers collaborated with other Alaskan Indigenous leaders to formulate a “Declaration for Gath & K’iyh,” which documents the impacts these species are experiencing, and states the action needed. This declaration will be presented at New York Climate Week.

“The climate crisis cannot be solved with technical fixes and policy solutions alone. The Declaration for Gath & K’iyh offers resolutions to heal our relationships with the Earth, because Indigenous values of kinship and sacredness can lead us toward a brighter future,” says Native Movement’s Climate Justice Director, Michaela Stith.

More information about the project can be found here.

*Gath is King Salmon and K’iyh is Birch in Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga dialect

Media Contacts:

Michaela Stith, Native Movement
Aurora Bowers, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition
Eleanor Guthrie, Climate Scholars Program

Information courtesy of Native Movement - visit www.nativemovement.org for media contact information.

Downloadable Images

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