Young Inupiaq captains provide food for their community Text by Molly Maqpee Lane, Images by Nathaniel Wilder Time stands still when you catch a bowhead whale. Meetings are canceled, work is forgotten about, chores go undone, the kids don’t go to school, and sleep is out of the question. The only focus is on harvesting the giant mammal. Sometimes it can take hours, sometimes it takes days to put away. It’s such a joyous time that it doesn’t feel like work. Thomas Edison once said, “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” That is what whaling is all about. I am from Point Hope, Alaska. It is the oldest continuously inhabited region in North America. We have always been an Inupiaq subsistence community. Thanksgiving of 2022, my in-laws Jacob and Della Lane Jr. passed down their whaling crew to my husband, Jacob Lane III,…
NOTE: Map is reprinted with permission from Travel Alaska (travelalaska.com) and Alaska Native Heritage Center (alaskanative.net); edited text is courtesy of Travel Alaska. IÑUPIAQ & ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND YUPIK The Iñupiaq and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik people call themselves the “Real People.” Their homeland covers Alaska’s northern Arctic region, remote and diverse, and accessible primarily by plane. Filled with an amazing array of wildlife and a landscape ranging from coastline to tundra, Alaska Natives here rely on subsistence. SUGPIAQ & UNANGAX The southwest region’s coastal communities and archipelago are defined by rugged shoreline and terrain. Having long depended on the sea for survival, water is central to the Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq way of life. Their homeland stretches from Prince William Sound to Kodiak Island and along the 1,200-mile-long Aleutian Islands Chain. TLINGIT, HAIDA, EYAK, & TSIMSHIAN The southeastern panhandle is home to the Tlingit, Haida, Eyak, and Tsimshian.…
Loss beyond years and miles I’ve just checked my box at the Ambler post office on a mid-August afternoon; Sarah Tickett might have smiled and handed me my mail; instead, it’s someone else. Just across the trail stands Nelson and Edna Greist’s plywood cabin. The door is open, an armload of wood on the stoop; a familiar, fireweed-framed clutter fills the yard. But there’s no sign of Nelson sitting in his spot to the right of the door, working on a piece of spruce or jade; no huge, squinting, gap-toothed smile as he invites me in with his signature “Gonna coffee!” and he and Edna welcome me like a long-lost relative; no Inupiaq legends or tales of his youth, living from the land in the wind-raked Killik River country, his family sometimes on the edge of survival. Another couple hundred yards toward my place on the downstream edge…
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Modern technology and traditional knowledge contribute to Inupiaq whaling, which is culturally, economically, and nutritionally important.
Based in Wasilla, Bill Hess spent decades traveling to and photographing life in Inupiaq communities along Alaska’s Arctic coast.
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