Kotzebue Iñupiaq dancer showcased in Biden campaign victory video

A woman in an anorak holds up a photo frame and looks through it
Jacqui Lambert, originally from Kotzebue, was one of several Americans featured in the Biden campaign’s victory video. (Screenshot of Joe Biden video)

After several days of counting votes across the country, Joe Biden claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election on Saturday morning. 

The campaign circulated a victory video featuring the jobs and hobbies of Americans from coast to coast. Set to Ray Charles’s rendition of “America the Beautiful,” the video portrayed Biden’s promise to be a president for all Americans. Across various social media platforms, it was viewed over 60 million times.

About 27 seconds in, 28-year-old Jacqui Lambert fills the frame, performing an Iñupiaq dance with Cook Inlet behind her. Lambert had posted one of her dances on Instagram shortly after Indigenous People’s Day in October, and she says the video caught the attention of Alex Troutman, an independent videographer with Blackfish Media. 

“He reached out and said that he was in touch with the Biden campaign and they wanted to do this spot about America and having representation of all kinds of people across the nation,” Lambert said.

A couple days later, Lambert filmed the performance at the Carr-Gottstein Park in Anchorage. She says since the performance was filmed in October, she thought it was going to be used to try to get out the vote ahead of the election. By the time November 3 came and went, she assumed they weren’t using it.

“It was surprising to wake up the next morning to the video announcing his victory,” Lambert said. “I knew I was going to be a part of this video, but I had no idea that it was going to be on the morning that it’s announced that he had won, after I’d been waiting for so long.”

Jacqui Lambert performing the “Bow and Arrow No Song” Inupiaq dance in president-elect Joe Biden’s victory video. (Screenshot of Joe Biden video)

While only featured for a couple seconds in the spot, Lambert posted the full dance for her social media followers, which had grown since the campaign video was released. 

“That was… the Bow and Arrow No Song is what we call it in Kotzebue, but it’s danced across many Iñupiaq and Inuvialuit communities,” Lambert explained.

Lambert grew up in Kotzebue and has been dancing since she was a child. She lives in Anchorage now, but continues to perform with the Kikiktagruk Northern Lights dancers. Her performance atikluk in the video was made by Mae Douglas, the dance group’s elder. Lambert says she was happy that the Biden campaign made an effort to show the diversity of America by including its Indigenous people. 

“It was such a relief to be able to see that embracement, where over the past few years I’ve heard so many comments,” Lambert said. “Trump has made comments about Pocahontas, not knowing the terrible story behind who she really is. And kind of arming a lot of people with this knowledge that use a Native woman’s name as an insult in this political ground.”

Lambert grew up dancing at the local NANA museum for tourists, and had always been fascinated by life outside of Kotzebue, and she says she loved being a part of the diversity of the country. 

“My inner child is totally amazed by this experience,” Lambert said. “It just feels a little amazing to see even the stories of all these other Americans in this video as well, and seeing the expansion of who we are. And knowing that my simple life and my simple story of growing up in Kotzebue, there was a glimpse of it shown.”

Lambert says she’s hopeful that the Biden administration will address many issues plaguing Native communities across the country, including the alarming rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“Shining more light onto that and acknowledging the situation within the Native community when it comes to this violence and all of this disruption that’s happening and the way that it comes from a colonial perspective in the past,” Lambert said.

Lambert says Native advocates have been more successful in recent years in highlighting the historically testy relationship between Native people and the American government, and the incoming president would do well to learn from that history as well.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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