By Garland Kennedy
Sitka Sentinel 

National Geographic outdoors show features Sitka father and son

 

March 23, 2022 | View PDF

Courtesy of RJ Miller

Robert Miller, left, and his son, RJ, during a September 2021 hunting trip.

For years, Robert Miller and his son RJ have hunted, fished and enjoyed the outdoors around Sitka together. And now they have a wide audience through National Geographic's "Life Below Zero: Next Generation" television show.

The show follows the Millers' outdoor adventures from hunting deer in the high country to fishing for halibut in the waters around Sitka.

The elder Miller hopes he provides TV viewers a realistic and positive view of his lifestyle.

"It's a way of life, and it's deeper than that for me," Robert Miller said in a recent interview with the Sitka Sentinel. "I want them to see the real Robert and RJ and the bond. People can put themselves in your shoes and relate. ... I just hope we represent Sitka and Alaska."

As a father, he said, he's also enjoying being outdoors with his kids.

"My favorite part is being able to spend all this quality time with my son, and my daughters have been on a couple episodes, and spending all this time out there doing what I love with them and helping them gain a passion for that," he said. "RJ's already got a passion, but my younger daughter, I'm working with her."

RJ is 25 and works in the summer as a charter captain. His sisters are Ashlyne, 22, and Eva, 9.

With more than a dozen episodes already filmed and more on the way, RJ Miller hopes to tell deep stories that touch a wide range of topics.

"We create purpose and depth to our stories. It can be anything from the history of us growing up and doing this, or Alaska Native culture," he said. "We do it in a way that we're being authentic and sharing basically our culture, whether it's Native American, Native Alaskan culture or our culture as Alaskans or local Sitkans."

He said charter fishing and goat hunting "are probably the two favorites of mine."

"When it comes down to charter fishing, I absolutely love the thrill of being able to give other people an experience that they haven't experienced before, or giving people an opportunity to escape," he said.

RJ and his father have been outdoors together for many years, but it's different with a camera crew along.

"Having a camera crew following you around slows you down, but you know you have to appreciate the process because what they're doing is art," he said. "And it's capturing something that maybe my dad and I would go out and typically take one or two pictures and all we have is our memory for it, and now they're taking this extensive footage from an artist's perspective."

A recent episode released on Amazon's streaming service shows the Millers hunting Sitka black tail deer in the high country near Appleton Cove on the north end of Baranof Island.

It was filmed during a spate of foul weather, and conditions were terrible, Robert Miller said.

"The show made it out to be much easier than it was," he said. "But I think that was without intention. It was just raining so hard that they were breaking cameras, flooding them out."

While camera crews capture hundreds of hours of footage for an episode, it's pared down to just 11 minutes of screen time in the final product.

Beyond the television role, Robert Miller stressed the importance he has always placed on sharing with the community.

"The other part that I love, not about the show but in general, is just hunting and bringing back food and sharing it with people," he said.

"I've done that for 30 years here in Sitka, I've given away tons of deer meat. I've probably given away 5,000 pounds of seal meat in the last eight years. It's something that when an elder gets it, you see a tear come out of their eye and you know you did something good. And that makes me feel good. I've got to get my fur somewhere and I'm not going to waste the meat."

Robert Miller says he's always regarded it his duty to share the meat from his harvests.

"I feel like it's part of my duty and responsibility, because I'm good at what I do," he said. "I'm Tlingit, that's one of the few ways I know how to be a good Tlingit, to take care of my elders and people who need food," he said.

"A lot of what the show circles around us as cast members is that we are basically a family that provides for our community, and so that's their take on us," RJ Miller said. "I think it will be interesting, it will be fun to see how far it will go. ... I feel very lucky to be the person who gets to represent."

During summers while RJ captains his charter boat, Robert Miller works for the U.S. Forest Service on fisheries enhancement projects.

Robert Miller said their TV job began after a 2021 article in Modern Huntsman magazine, written by Bethany Goodrich, a Sitka Conservation Society staff member.

"The producers in Hollywood read that article, the second boss in charge for the whole show read it and said, 'Hey, we've got to check this guy out," Robert Miller said.

"And then the scouts found me and called me and they flew up and when they were talking to me the first time, I said I can do this show, but I've got a partner in crime who doesn't work in the winters because he's a charter fisherman and he would love to be on it with me ... It was just like that and then we were both getting interviewed for the job."

Filming with the Millers began in the fall of 2021. While producers and camera crews change over time, the latest producer is allowing the Millers a great deal of independence, Robert said.

"He really understood the concept of hunting and so he would let us go out there and get our hunt on for three or four days, let us really be ourselves mostly, and then we would have two days of completing the story," he said.

 

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