Skip to main content

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why one story is more popular with readers than others. Some strike a chord with a lot of people. Some are about a topic people are following. Sometimes a catchy headline will make a story “clickable.” Other times it’s apparently just serendipity. It’s a slow news day and someone with thousands of followers shared or retweeted a story and it spread.

Some of my favorite stories of 2021 were popular with readers; others were only modestly so but are still a favorite because they have special meaning to me.

This first story describes a feast, an expression of the generosity that is at the heart of the subsistence lifestyle. It’s a favorite because it highlights something elders so often say: subsistence – the gathering and sharing of food from nature – is the foundation of Alaska Native cultures.

A taste of Toksook Bay, Yup’ik culture, and a way of life, Jan. 21

Obituaries are inherently sad. But some are less so than others because they describe a long life rich with love and joy.

That was the case in this obituary for Rita Blumenstein. She was a fixture at Anchorage cultural events, singing Yup’ik songs, saying a prayer or giving talks. She shared messages of love and forgiveness, and was often laughing, full of joy and also humble as she shared wisdom handed down from her ancestors.

Our healing is for the universe: Rita Blumenstein, Aug. 22

This next story is touching because a community commemorated the return of the remains of a young woman who had been taken from home. Her story was lost to her descendents and her community. However, she represented the many others who either left and never returned, or left and came back profoundly changed.

Return of Aleut girl’s remains eases painful memories, Aug. 4

We hold up so many fields as arenas for success, community service and good works, parenting, athletics, medicine, and business. Academia is held up as a venerated profession less often even though educators are a powerful force in shaping the world view of young people. It felt good to hold up one of our own as a potential role model in this story about a candidate for a chancellor position. In the end, a former governor was chosen for the position over Pearl Kiyawn Nageak Brower.

Indigenizing the universities, May 5

This next story caught the attention of readers. It was a quick and easy story to write, but got 350,000 views, the most of any of my stories ever. I like it because it was popular but also for its conciseness.

Navajo woman chosen to head US Indian energy, Jan. 25

Sometimes as a journalist you can bring the voices of the unheard into the spotlight. The Dena’ina Athabascan people’s homelands are the site of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. In fact some 40 percent of the state’s population live in Anchorage.

But the Dena’ina were long overlooked, either unknown or little known even among other Alaska Natives, until the past few decades. This story was picked up by the Associated Press and carried by newspapers across the country, bringing a celebration of Dena’ina culture to the far corners of the nation.

Bringing Dena’ina into public consciousness through place names, Aug. 5

Sometimes it just feels good to do a story with good news. I also liked this story because of the great photographs.

Six Indigenous artists: ‘bold, artistic vision’, Feb. 8

Here’s another feel-good story, this one about the pandemic relief funding that would soon be headed to Indian Country.

A lot of money moving really fast, June 24

My final favorite story of 2021 ran just before Christmas so didn’t get a lot of attention. It’s actually an op-ed because it’s about my relatives. As Alaskans celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, my great-uncle and grandfather’s names were mentioned in passing only a few times. Their story is important to my family but a handful of respected Tlingit elders and Native scholars also recognize their contributions.

The father of Alaska Native land claims, Dec. 22

Indian Country Today - bridge logo

Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.