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Old Sod House

Old Sod House

I spent a couple days at Point Hope in August of 2010, and I thought I’d share a few of the pics from out that way.

Point Hope is a community of a little over 700 people at the far end of the Lisburne Penninsula reaching out into the Chukchi Sea. It is commonly thought to be one of the more culturally conservative communities of the North Slope. At least that’s what folks say up here in the North Slope.

In his Autobiography, Charles Brower, Sr. relates a number of interesting stories about Point Hope and its residents before travelling up to settle in Barrow. It’s a great read anyhow, but I think Brower’s comments on Point Hope are particularly interesting.

(If you zoom out on the map one click at a time, it’s kinda cool.)

There are at least 2 interesting things about Point Hope.

First, according to some sources, Point Hope is the oldest documented settlement in the arctic. I’m a little wary of that particular claim, so we’ll just say it’s damned old. The initial Inupiat settlement at this spot was known Tikagagmiut (there are a few small variations on the name), and its people were somewhat of a force to be reckoned with in the region.

So, why did people settle here? After two days of wind and freezing rain, I was inclined to think it might have been the climate, but I guess that wasn’t it after all. Actually, it was the fact that the region is ideal for hunting both sea and land mammals***. Anyway, the archaeological digs here go back a thousand years or so. I didn’t see anything that old myself, or if I did, I may not have recognized it, but I did get to walk around an interesting collection of old homes and sod houses.

Before going out to look in the old houses, I asked a local if it was acceptable to approach them, and if it would be okay to take a camera. I didn’t want to do anything disrespectful. The advice I got was to call out at the door of any home I saw and if anyone answered, they said; “don’t go in!” …Good advice. One of my colleagues says she lived out here in the 70s. She lived out in the old abandoned houses as a child. Wish I had had her along as I was looking around. I was still new to the area, and had lots of questions.

You can see at least two different types of dwellings in the abandoned housing area which sits just on the other side of the tracks. There are basic wooden houses, many of which piled sod up outside for insulation. One also finds traditional Inupiat sod houses. Sorry folks, Inupiat in Alaska didn’t live in ice houses. They dug down a ways and then used driftwood and whale-bone to create a structure around the pit. Sod was then piled up around this to make the walls. This is a traditional home (or at least the Cliffnotes version thereof). The ice houses most people associate with Eskimos? Well you gotta go way East to find people that live in them.

Older remains can be found underneath the buildings in my pictures and some of the older remains have been washed out to sea (cause all these shorelines up here are receding).

The second thing that is interesting about Point Hope is an event that didn’t happen after all, …thankfully. Around 1958-62, the Atomic Energy Commission decided to create a deep water harbor about 30 miles south of Point Hope.

They were going to do it in a jiffy, so to speak.

Spokesmen for the AEC held a gathering at Point Hope and assured its residents that there were no lasting effects from radiation in Japan, and that any harms experienced by those in the Pacific were due to their own negligence. You may think they neglected a few facts in saying this. One additional fact they neglected to note was that the Inupiat were taping the meeting.

**** I am grateful to Barbara and Jack Donachy of Cutterlight.com for correcting my initial presentation here. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that they left a very informative comment on the topic. Y’all might also want to check out their own blog, because they live in Point Hope right now. ****

All of these were taken on an old Blackberry. I don’t seem to have taken too many pictures in town, so most of these are of the old houses and such. Sadly, I missed one of the most interesting features of th community, it’s huge graveyard. I saw it from above, and my Blackberry went wacko as I was trying to take the picture. Very disappointing!

If you click on a picture it will embiggen.