As we continue to focus on Native Americans, we’re diving into storytelling.
We’re going to discuss the true crime audiobook/podcast, Midnight Son, written and produced by Alaska Native, James Dommek Jr., with Josephine Holtzman and Isaac Kestenbaum. This is a 2019 Audible originals production, and it’s free to enjoy.
In the vast Alaskan Arctic, legend has it there once lived a mythic tribe—Iñukuns—that only existed in rumors and whispers. A local actor-turned-fugitive, Teddy Kyle Smith, had an encounter that brought Iñukuns from myth to reality. Teddy was an aspiring actor with a promising career until it all came quickly crashing down with the death of his mother, shooting a gun outside the house, and then running away into the Alaskan wilderness. Teddy claims that he was stalked by the uncolonized Iñukuns for 10 days when the law eventually catches up to him.
Who are/were the Iñukuns?
Well, there are many versions of Inukuns, from what we’ve read. They differ from region and tribes. Some IIñukuns have been described as having pointed ears, darkish colored skin, hairy, and very dark eyes. Sometimes even described as childlike. They’re strong, fast, and intelligent, extremely skilled at hunting with a bow, and wear clothes made of animal skins. People claim that one Iñukun can lift an entire caribou by themself. They live their lives according to the “old ways”. Iñukuns are almost like the forgotten tribe that has never been colonized. Some Iñukuns are considered helpful, but sometimes they are considered mean or evil. Iñukuns have reportedly taken people to their homes and let them go the next day, while others never return.
They have been grouped together with other little people from other cultures like gnomes, elves, and pixies.
James Dommek, Jr., is the great-grandson of the last of the Iñupiaq story-tellers and he shares his journey in discovering who Teddy Kyle Smith was, what he did, and what he really saw. Dommek even goes into the mountains to retrace Teddy’s steps in an attempt to experience what Teddy experienced, an encounter with the Iñukuns.
Storytelling is an important part of Native American culture and every culture. In the audiobook, Dommek, Jr comments, “Telling stories is one of the ways we make sense of things up here in Alaska, it’s kept me and my people alive for 10s of 1000s of years…”
Movies tell stories.
We tell stories.
Check out this Ted Talk on Native American Oral Storytelling & History we mention in the podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JcKbN_GjCE
We also mention the ethics and respect required with storytelling that the co-producers, Josephine Holtzman and Isaac Kestenbaum, of the audiobook discuss in this interview:
During Teddy’s time in the Alaska wilderness he encounters two hunters, who he shoots and leaves for dead. Teddy claims it was in self defense because he thought they could be the Iñukuns. When the law eventually catches up with Teddy, he is flown from his small hometown of Kiana to Kotzebue for the trial, but his fellow residents and believers of Iñukuns were not included in the jury. Did Teddy get a jury of his peers?
For more information on Teddy’s case, here is a link to the appeal challenging the exclusion of village residents from juries.
Throughout the story, we are asked if Teddy was actually haunted by the Iñukuns or was it just alcoholism and stress?
Teddy had a promising career and seemed to be making a name for himself. Here’s an interview that is mentioned in the audiobook and our episode:
- Sundance ON THE ICE Interview
But alcoholism is a serious disease in Canada, especially in Native communities. Here is a documentary on Prohibition in Northern Canada we mention in the episode:
Storytelling brings awareness and stories themselves connect us to our ancestors and family. There may not have been photo albums to look back on or keepsakes to rummage through but they are experienced through storytelling.