Alaska Archives - StoryCorps

They Know Suicide Too Well. But One Moment Brought Them Solace

Friends Qaiyaan Harcharek and Don Rearden grew up in small Alaskan towns hundreds of miles apart. But they both have experienced a great deal of tragedy: Alaska has some of the highest suicide rates in the nation, especially in its indigenous and rural communities.

They met as adults when Don visited Qaiyaan’s hometown Utqiagvik, the northernmost town in the U.S. They bonded over their love of Alaskan culture and wilderness — And their grief. At StoryCorps, they remembered a moment in their friendship that brought them even closer.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired March 15, 2024 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Don Rearden and Qaiyaan Harcharek pose with fossilized mammoth ivory in Utqiagvik, AK on July 10, 2018. By Joe Yelverton.
Middle Photo: Qaiyaan Harcharek in Utqiagvik, AK on July 10, 2018. By Joe Yelverton.
Bottom Photo: Don Rearden and Qaiyaan Harcharek in Utqiagvik, AK on July 10, 2018. By Joe Yelverton.

After Vietnam, He Struggled to Be Accepted. Then He Met a Fellow Soldier Who Became His Brother

Cupi’g Alaska Native Eben Olrun joined the U.S. Marine Corps as a young man to fight in the Vietnam War. He returned home in 1972 to find his peers had turned against veterans, and that were few resources for soldiers fresh from combat.

Burdened with long-term injuries from his tour and wanting to forget his time overseas, Eben struggled with alcoholism. His path to healing began when he met the man he would come to call his brother— fellow Vietnam veteran Bill Martin. 

He came to StoryCorps with his son, Owen, to remember him.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired November 11, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Vietnam veterans Eben Olrun (right) and Bill Martin (left) at the Arctic Valley Ski Area in Anchorage, Alaska. Courtesy of Eben Olrun.
Middle Photo: Eben Olrun with son Owen Olrun at their StoryCorps recording in Anchorage, Alaska on July 28, 2023.

“Strong Lines, Beautiful Lines”: Two Alaska Native Women Make Their Mark

When Grete Bergman was in her 20s, she began to think and dream about having facial markings. This was a tradition rooted in her Alaska Native family from the Gwich’in Nation. But growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, she learned a clear message from her father and grandmother that many of their family traditions would not be tolerated, in or outside of the house. 

Nearly ten years later, Grete met Sarah Whalen-Lunn through mutual friends. Sarah’s father is white, but her mother was Inupaq, so she is part of the Inuit Nation. 

Sarah Whalen-Lunn (L), about one year old, with her mother, Irene June Hayes. Grete Bergman (R) age 6 months, with her father, Grafton Bergman. Courtesy of Sarah Whalen-Lunn and Grete Bergman.

Sarah was also drawn to Traditional Face Markings, because she wanted to reconnect with the customs her family had been forced to abandon. In 2016, she enrolled in a program that taught her how to give them.  

Grete Bergman with her Traditional Markings. Courtesy of Sarah Whelan-Lunn.

This is where their paths crossed, and a friendship began. Their connection has helped revive a traditional practice that had been lost to previous generations of women.

Top Photo: Grete Bergman and Sarah Whalen-Lunn at their StoryCorps interview in Anchorage, Alaska on August 14, 2018. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.

Originally aired October 15, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Barb Maglaqui and MaCherie Dunbar

Tech Sgt. MaCherie Dunbar was deployed twice to Iraq in 2007-2008. At StoryCorps, MaCherie told her then-girlfriend, Barb Maglaqui, about one of the hardest things she had to do while overseas.

Where are they now?

MaCherie retired from the Air Force in 2014 and went on to earn her BA in Communications from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Public about her own struggle with combat-related Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD), MaCherie has become a fierce advocate for veterans, especially around issues of healthcare.

Photo: Barb Maglaqui (left) and retired Tech Sgt. MaCherie Dunbar at their StoryCorps interview in Fairbanks, AK. Photo by Daniel Sitts for StoryCorps.

Originally aired May 23, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Suzanne Bishop and LJ Evans

evansxtra11On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

The impact on wildlife was devastating—hundreds of thousands of marine animals died. Clean-up crews poured into the nearby port town, also called Valdez, where the first animal rescue center was established.

LJ Evans (right), who lived in Valdez, volunteered at the rescue center, where she met Suzanne Bishop (left).

They sat down for StoryCorps to remember the days following the spill.

Originally aired March 21, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Archival photo courtesy of LJ Evans

Doreen Simmonds and George Edwardson

George Edwardson tells his cousin, Doreen Simmonds, about watching his grandfather translate the New Testament into Inupiaq, their native language.

Originally aired March 13, 2009, on NPR’s Morning Edition.