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Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

"Out of the five in the expedition, only one remained alive."

A new short film tells the dramatic story of Ada Delutuk Blackjack, an Inupiaq woman who spent two years stranded 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, six months of it “utterly alone.”

Blackjack had already had a difficult life at age 25, when she decided to earn some money by working for a group of explorers in 1921.

Two of the men left to seek help, never to be seen again. The other two died, leaving her to fend for herself in the extreme cold.

Alaskan production company Peak 3 picked Indigenous Peoples’ Day to release the six-minute film, “Ada Blackjack Rising,” to tell her tale of survival and honor the major contributions of Native Americans to Alaska and the rest of the United States.

“Christopher Columbus didn't get stuck in the Arctic for two years. Ada Blackjack did, and she made it home,” filmmaker Brice Habeger said in a statement. “An Alaska Native, Ada Delutuk Blackjack is an example of perseverance, cultural resilience and ingenuity.”

The film is aimed at honoring her “legacy of hope,” he added.

It’s based on the book “Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic,” by Jennifer Niven. The story is told by a young Native woman living in a rural Alaskan village.

Blackjack’s story, producers said in a statement, is one of grit and humility.

“We are all Ada. Her struggle is ours, surviving in the harshest climate against all odds, and still we are here,” said producer Holly Mititquq Nordlum, Inupiaq, on the importance of sharing an Alaska Native hero.

The main character of the short film "Ada Blackjack Rising" is played by Adelaine Aklaasiaq Ahmasuk, Inupiaq, show here greeting the first sunrise after months of darkness in an Arctic winter. (Photo by Michael Conti, courtesy of 3 Peaks).

Screenwriter Don Rearden said Blackjack's story is the “tale the world needs right now.”

“We all feel isolated and trapped on an inescapable island right now amidst this pandemic, and Ada shows us a path through the darkness,” he said. “We can — and must — follow her example."

The film was produced by ​​Nordlum and Paddy Eason, and directed by Habeger. It has an all-Alaska Native cast. Most of the film is spoken in Inupiaq by Nome resident and teacher Maddy Alvanna-Stimpfle. The original musical score is by Chris David, Tlingit, of Juneau, Alaska.

Producers said the film itself is an example of creativity used to overcome distance and isolation. After pandemic-related travel restrictions kept the crew from traveling to rural Alaska, most of the film was shot in Anchorage. Photographer Dennis Davis, Inupiaq, captured visuals in the Northwest Alaska village of Shishmaref.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Maddy Alvanna-Stimpfle’s name.

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a longtime Alaska journalist.

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