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When Students In Alaska Switched To At-Home Learning, Something Unexpected Happened

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

NPR's Student Podcast Challenge has brought us amazing stories from all 50 states. This past year, many entrants found themselves cooped up, feeling stuck in their homes, but not everyone. In one of our contest finalists, three students from a remote part of Alaska told us they were reconnecting with their families outdoors through a tradition handed down over many generations. They took us on a moose hunt. NPR's Sequoia Carrillo reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "Y-K DELTA")

JAMIN CROW: It was cold that morning. It was about 40 degrees, so we kind of had our gear on. It was cold enough to where you could see your breath every time you breathe and the wind would nip at your face when you're driving on the boat. We stopped, and there was a moose. And so me and my brother snuck around, stopped in kind of the middle of the meadow where there was a pile of bushes, and there was a moose wracking in the trees. And your heart's beating super-fast. Time felt like it stopped, and I was just sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: That's Jamin Crow telling us about a hunting trip with his brother. They use motorboats and snowmobiles now, but otherwise, it's essentially the same trip his family has been taking for generations to practice subsistence hunting.

CROW: No meat is wasted. We don't go out just for the antlers. We're not looking for trophies. We're not hunting for something big. We're looking for meat to feed our families.

CARRILLO: For his podcast, Jamin teamed up with two other students. The three met during an internship at member station WUKY. I talked to them recently about their winning entry.

ETHAN LINCOLN: Hello. My name is Ethan Lincoln, and I'm a senior in Toksook Bay, Alaska.

CROW: I'm Jamin Crow. I'm also 18. I've lived here in Bethel, Alaska, all my life.

KAYLEE KING: I'm Kaylee King. I've lived in Atwo (ph) and Mekoryuk, so I'm half Yup'ik and half Cup'ig (ph).

CARRILLO: They told me how the pandemic pushed high school kids in their area back to their roots.

CROW: We just had so much free time. You're sitting alone in your house, and you got to pack your gear and all that stuff. So it's just a planned out process. It's a lot harder to do with sports and school.

CARRILLO: With hunting, you could go out with your family. Jamin hunted often with his brother, father and grandma. Ethan and Kaylee are actually cousins and often hunt together.

CROW: Yeah, nowadays you see everybody go out and hunt. Dads will take their daughters. It doesn't really matter what your gender is. Just - it's something for - to go out with your family and bond over or just enjoy the time with each other.

CARRILLO: Let's hear how they described it in the podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "Y-K DELTA")

CROW: Your ears are ringing after the gunshot. And I look at my brother, and he's given me the happiest look I've ever seen. And it's just - everything's perfect at that moment. After you get a kill, everything's awesome and perfect and you know you succeeded in what your goal was.

CARRILLO: In a year full of frustrations, it was a rare moment of clarity. Jamin was out of school for most of his senior year, whereas Kaylee...

KING: I'm from a village that didn't get hit really hard. There were only about eight to 10 cases there. So at home, I was the only one who graduated this year.

CARRILLO: In such a small village, Kaylee feels a lot of pressure to keep the traditions alive.

KING: The way we used to do things is so different from how we do them now. And even our language is slowly fading away. And my Cup'ig (ph) language is - there's only a few people who speak it fluently. It's how they tell stories, so it makes me really sad.

CARRILLO: That tradition of oral history, of telling stories, Jamin says, made it a perfect fit for podcasting, especially when they combined it with the drama of a moose hunt.

CROW: What we really looking for was something that would grab the audience's attention and make ourselves stand out. It's so unique and so different living up here and the way we live and the way we hunt, and so we thought it was a great story to tell.

CARRILLO: Both Kaylee and Jamin are headed to college in the fall, and all three say they hope to keep telling stories.

CROW: We have pride in our culture, and we love where we are from, and we don't want to see it fade away.

CARRILLO: Sequoia Carrillo, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.