“We don’t waste anything,” says Daanax.ils’eik Chuck Miller, at the beginning of the latest episode of “American Innovators.” The film links Sitka’s forward-looking approach to energy development to a millenia-old tradition of sustainability. (Consensus Digital Media image)

A short documentary about energy resilience was released to a national audience on Wednesday (11-30-22), and the central character is Sitka.

The film is part of the “Made in America” series produced by Washington D.C.-based Consensus Digital Media. The filmmakers view Sitka’s relative self-sufficiency as a model for a more sustainable energy future everywhere.

Like many communities in Alaska, Sitka produces its own power. But it’s among very few communities that produce power almost exclusively with renewables, and is hoping to do even more.

That put it on the radar of Consensus Digital Media, which produces a series about American Innovation called “Made in America.”

Consensus creative director and producer Kate Tucker says the film project featuring Sitka didn’t sound very sexy at first, but it quickly snowballed.

“So we looked at Sitka, because, while it’s actually not the most exciting reason to start, we were looking at energy storage — something maybe you don’t want to watch a whole episode about,” said Tucker. “But it turns out that you have some really exciting innovations happening there: ‘How do we, as an islanded community that’s completely responsible for our own power make sure that everybody’s lights, stay on, and everybody’s buildings stay warm In the winter? How do we make sure that we have something that’s sustainable and resilient?’”

The film ties modern energy resiliency to culture. It opens with Tlingit culture bearer Chuck Miller.

Excerpt: My Tlingit name is Daanax.ils’eik, and I got that from my great uncle. My English name is Chuck Miller, I’m of the Raven Moiety, Silver Salmon Clan – we refer to ourselves as the Coho Clan. We don’t waste anything. We take what we need and leave the rest. And if we take too much – which is not on purpose – we share with everybody…

The narrative shifts to Miller describing the struggle to maintain the furnace in the Alaska Native Brotherhood Founders Hall, where he attended culture classes, and the decision to invest in heat pumps. In addition, the story describes other ways Sitka’s electric utility is exploring to capture its excess hydropower, and transform it into commodities like zero-carbon fuel, fertilizer, and heat.

Tucker says Sitka’s approach to community-based problem solving transcends politics, and made it an attractive subject for the series.

“We’re looking for examples of Americans who are working across party lines,” said Tucker, “working in ways that might be surprising, working in ways that can help us come together around shared values and working with to solve problems that have been overly politicized. And really, we can’t afford to let that happen.”

The American Innovator episodes of the “Made in America” series are about 15 minutes long, and are aimed at an audience on digital media that Tucker says is around 3.5 million viewers. Sitka – and all of Alaska, for that matter – already have significant allure for audiences; Tucker hopes that viewers might come to the film for beauty, but stay for the lesson that Alaskan communities can share with the rest of the country.

“It just seemed that Alaskans were really taking care of each other and doing right by nature and doing it in a way that was reaching across political divides,” said Tucker. “And I think that this is going to be a really inspiring episode for all of America to see.”

The nine-member crew from Consensus filmed in Sitka and Juneau last August. The weather mostly cooperated, but the ferry schedule did not, and they chartered an Allen Marine catamaran for the day trip from Juneau to Sitka. The unscheduled tour through the remote country of the Inside Passage provided context for how isolated Sitka is, and how determined it is to stick around.

“Look, there’s this town that’s doing it all,” she said, “and it’s doing it in a way that’s ensuring their survival. And is absolutely necessary for their resilience for the future. And we can learn something there. Plus, we got to take a five hour boat ride and see whales!”

Note: Consensus Digital Media also produces a podcast series called Hope is My Middle Name. Earlier this month, the program featured Sitkan Mary Goddard discussing her work in “Restoring Native Culture with Regenerative Tourism in Alaska.”