Stories That Lead Us Home

Neets'aii Gwich'in writer and filmmaker Princess Daazhraii Johnson speaks to the transformative power of Alaska Native storytelling.

Alaska Native people know story. We know story is power, is knowledge, is creativity grounded in our values. We understand the significance of story because our very survival in the Arctic over the course of thousands of years has been predicated on our adherence to verbal and non-verbal visual art. Storytelling, in its many forms, is an experience and a reciprocal exchange.

Princess Daazhraii Johnson

Alaska Native storytelling as communication is meant to relay histories, genealogies, relationship to the cosmos and animals we depend upon, values and life lessons. Stories relay the essence of our Ancestors lived experience and pulls us into the continuum as active participants. We have been told that in the distant time, we spoke the same language as the animals and in many of our stories it was the animals that felt sorry for us humans and taught us better ways of survival. We have not forgotten this exchange, nor the ways in which we must continue to live with humility and respect the spirit of not only the animals, but the weather and all the natural elements. Our Alaska Native languages are deliberately rich in metaphor, simile, riddles and tropes meant to convey deep seated knowledge to the listener. And if we listen carefully, we might find ourselves catapulted into invention, community engagement, and spiritual transformation.

During this time of intense change, we have seen how the arts has uplifted our Indigenous knowledge, channeled our outrage over social injustice, provided a pathway into healing, sparked critical thinking, and expanded our imaginations to make room for solutions, for a collective way forward.  We see science now partnering with our Indigenous communities and creating new pathways that are beneficial to us all. The shared struggles we face as human beings living in this distinct moment in time is an opportunity for us to re-examine our shared values and put them into action. 

As we repair, restore, and reclaim our stories and values, we find the ways we will continue to sustain our Indigenous communities and the ecosystems which sustain all life. It is in this empowered manner, which we share out our stories, our art, our values, in hopes that others might also embrace these values of sharing, of humor, respect for Elders, taking care of one another, living carefully, and respecting all living things.   


Tain Guthrie dances in Metlakatla, Alaska.


Aywaa Storyhouse is an investment in elevating the narrative of Alaska Native leaders, storytellers, and artists. Aywaa (pronounced eye-wah”) means north and is the root word for the north wind in the Yupik language. The north wind is known to create favorable hunting conditions and is also known to help people find their way home.  In many ways we are all are finding our way home; examining ways in which we have been educated, the ways we see and interact with the world around us, the ways we may have been displaced from our homelands or communities and re-establishing healthier, more respectful, just, reciprocal relationships to one another, and to the land, water, and animals we depend upon.

It is time for us to tell our stories.

Princess Daazhraii Johnson is a writer/actor/filmmaker. She was the creative producer on two seasons of PBS Kids show “Molly of Denali” and continues to write for film, television, and journals. She sits on the boards of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Native Movement, and NDN Collective. She resides on Lower Tanana Dene Lands with her husband and sons.

You can find out more about Alaska Venture Fund’s work to elevate Indigenous narrative and artistic expression by visiting the Aywaa Storyhouse at, or by connecting with Jonella Larson White at

Published July 9, 2021

Stay connected.

Sign up for updates on how we’re driving change, building powerful partnerships, and creating opportunities for all Alaskans. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Read our Website Privacy Policy to learn more about how we take care of your information.