One of our students here at Iḷisaġvik College was curious about the foxes living out behind our dorms. Olive tells me they will chase a red dot over the tundra, for a little while anyway. She filmed her little experiment.
One of our students here at Iḷisaġvik College was curious about the foxes living out behind our dorms. Olive tells me they will chase a red dot over the tundra, for a little while anyway. She filmed her little experiment.
The sunrise brought a couple sun-dogs with it this morning. By this morning, I actually mean almost noon, but the point is I went out with a camera to see if I could get some nice doggie pics. I wouldn’t say the picture does it justice, but anyway, here is what I got.
Cute little puppies, aren’t they?
Afterwards, I remembered that the ocean has been flirting with solid form lately, so after playing with the sun dogs I turned around and headed the other way for a block or two. Kinda slushy right now, but definitely not my flavor. I expect it will get properly solid soon. In the interim, my hand has suffered enough for my amateur camera games. I think I’ll stay inside and write a bit now.
Might as well add a few more pics from the last month or two. As always, you may click to embiggen.
I live in Barrow, Alaska.
Wait a minute. No I don’t.
I live in Utqiagvik, Alaska.
It turns out that the town of Barrow has elected to change its name to Utqiagvik, or at least we have initiated the process for making this change.
Okay. It’ll take a day or three to get used to, and I can certainly understand some of the reasons for opposing it, but on the whole the recent name change of the town where I live is fine by me. It’s a native designation for a primarily native community. I’m not that involved in local politics, but suffice to say that this is a local decision I am happy to live with.
Thinking about it, a little bit, I am reminded of the way people responded to similar change of names. It was a little over a year ago that President Obama announced the decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali. I recall immediately realizing that this would have little impact on the lives of Alaskans. To us, that was the name of the mountain, Denali, full stop. My favorite story about that change came from a guy on Twitter who related the story of how he learned Denali was Mt. McKinley when he moved to the lower 48 and people began asking about it. He had lived in central Alaska for a couple years, and nobody that he noticed had ever called it Mt. McKinley. So, he simply hadn’t made the connection until non-Alaskans began using the official term as far as most folks were concerned. For myself, the only reason I knew it was Mt. McKinley was because one of the many pilots who called attention to Denali as we flew over actually bothered to mention that it was called Mt. McKinley in the lower 48. If I hadn’t heard that, I might not have made the connection myself. To me, it’s Denali. It’s been Denali since I moved up here, and near as I can tell that’s what the mountain is to Alaskans in general. Sure, there are some other native groups with names of their own for the mountain, but to most Alaskans it is Denali. So, that change shouldn’t have been all that controversial.
…or so one might think!
It wasn’t really all that surprising, but it was certainly worthy of an eye-roll to find how many people viewed the move as an instance of political correctness. Obama was, in their view, caving to the social justice warriors of the world and adopting a new term just to placate Alaska Natives. We all knew it was really Mt. McKinley, so the argument seemed to run, at least it should have been, and it was damned silly to find this mountain whose name we already know getting its named changed just to keep some odd group happy.
I suppose it wouldn’t occur to some folks that the indigenous people in the area might have thought the same thing when the mountain was renamed in honor of one of the nation’s caretaker Presidents. It certainly didn’t occur to some people that the name change might have had overwhelming support throughout the state at large, a marked preference for both native and non-native alike.
There was, as it happens a political angle to this. President Obama was then preparing a visit to Native Alaskan communities even as Shell Oil was preparing to drill in the arctic; the renaming might very well have served to provide a token gesture of good will in advance of a potentially divisive moment of history. But if this is a problem, it is a problem of timing and ulterior motives. As regards the merits of the name change itself? No, that’s not a problem at all.
So the renaming of Denali one of those moments when PC-bashing rhetoric revealed its true colors as a form of political correctness in itself, and those complaining about the name change found themselves triggered, so to speak, by a symbolic issue of little genuine significance to themselves.
So, I wondered…
I wondered what certain ‘conservative’ voices might make of this recent name change? It seems an innocent enough question, doesn’t it? Ah, but in this case an ‘innocent question’ is another phrase for ‘damned morbid curiosity.’ That’s the only reason I can think why I would have found myself scanning the comments section at World Net Daily. I know. It’s a bit like scavenging a garbage dump except I can think of legitimate reasons to look through a garbage dump. As to looking at the comments on World Net Daily, I have only the aforementioned excuse, and it’s not a very good one at that.
But like any other miserable person, I am apparently interested in some company, so let me share with you what I found. The article itself was just a stub and a link to a piece from Alaska Dispatch News, but the comments? Oh, the comments!
Well, don’t get to used to it, before long they’ll be telling us the muslims were there first.
Um, no. But it is fascinating that a perfectly real question about a community that really was here first would be so easily dismissed with a story about one that clearly wasn’t.
How many Inupiak actually lived in “Utqiagvik” prior to its being named Barrow? I would venture even fewer than lived in Iqaluit (which is in Nunavut) prior to its being named Frobisher Bay (which was its name until 1987).
Basically, this was copied from the 1987 Canuck folly of renaming Frobisher Bay as “Iqaluit”.
A bit more detailed than the other folks weighing in on the subject, which is it least interesting. It isn’t entirely cleat, nor is it clear why the renaming of Frobisher Bay is a problem. It’s not what this commenter would like to see, that’s clear enough, but he never does present a clear reason to believe his preferences should weigh more than the preferences of either community. …or that they should weigh anything at all, really.
Oh no… not another passport stamp within our own country !!!
HE IS COMING……………..
Passport? Do we need passports now? I don’t think so. It is interesting though to think that the name of our little town could trigger the second coming? At least I think that’s what the writer is referring to. So, I guess Jesus doesn’t think much of indigenous names. Unless he does. Seriously I suspect the many churches of Utqiagvik are filled with Native people who may have prayed for this very thing, or given prayers of thanks afterwards. I could be wrong of course. Honestly, I don’t know what happens in churches on Sunday, but still. Seriously? He’s coming? Over this!?!
“To [rename Barrow] would acknowledge, honor and be a reclamation of our beautiful language which is moribund.”
Their “beautiful language” is dying is because to embrace that culture is a sure-fire way to wind up spending the rest of your life performing the Inupiaq equivalent of burger flipping. The young just aren’t interested and are leaving for better, easier lives, hence the moribund language.
Okay, this is an interesting narrative. To say that it affirms a kind of cultural imperialism would be putting it mildly, but it’s an oddly caricatured version of the local job market.Simply put, the North Slope of Alaska does not seem to be lacking for jobs, and in particular it does not seem to be lacking for jobs in which speaking Inupiaq would be anything less than a plus. Speaking Inupiat alone could be an issue, but English + Inupiaq? That’s a damned pay raise right there! If people are leaving that’s not it. If the language is floundering, that’s not why.
A barrow by any other name….
Dog gone it !! I missed Indigenous People’s Day again.
So somebody doesn’t give a fuck about indigenous people? Well fuck his fucks anyway.
Re: BARROW, ALASKA, CHANGES ITS NAME … TO ‘UTQIAGVIK’
‘It reclaims our beautiful Inupiaq language’
If memory serves me the people of Alaska recently voted to call Mount McKinley by its original Native-American name.
More than half the US states have Native-American names and there is a reason for that. Native Americans may have fought each other, as well as Europeans, but the Europeans admired Indian bravery and kept most of the Indian names of places for that reason.
Interesting. I don’t think warrior heritage is really the issue in either of these cases, but this does strike me as a reasonable effort to understand what’s going on. It’s nice to see that reasonable happens from time to time, even in odd places.
Well, if I ever have to go to Barrow/Utqiagvik I’ll have to visit the travel agency to book a flight. They’ll never understand what the hell I’m saying over the phone.
Unpronounceable Utqiagvik is so…so…PC!
Always amusing to see someone who has ideas about what other people should be calling themselves complain about their political correctness. And seriously, it’s really not that hard to pronounce. I mean, the ‘g’s around here are not like English ‘g’s but no-one has been executed for mispronouncing a ‘g’ in at least 5 years. Say it like it looks and no-one is going to bug you about it.
Now, knowing we are meant to have a republic, this is one of the few democracy style political decisions I can live with. Doesn’t bother me one bit to have a community decide on a name change…even if I have no hope of pronouncing it in this lifetime.
Nice to see a conservative voice in the comments at WND for a change.
Utki… Oh that was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it?
I guess we can call it The City Formerly Known as Barrow.
…or we can call it Utqiagvik.
We could have its name as ‘UTQIAGVIK’, but since this name seems to be unpronounceable or sounds and looks almost random to most people, I think nearly everyone will continue to call the town “Barrow”. Thanks, though.
Reply 1: It looks like a name some negro might give to their child.
Reply 1a: …could be an Icelandic volcano name
On the first comment here, I find the authorial ‘we’ interesting. If ‘nearly everyone’ is nearly everyone that lives elsewhere, then I suspect nearly everyone here won’t much give a damn. If nearly everyone were here, then well I suspect the vote would have been different.
On the first reply to that comment, I’m guessing this is one of those folks mystified by the way some folks keep calling him racist, but I’m sure I would have no idea why that would be the case.
On the second reply to that comments, I suppose it could, and that would be cool.
I went on a one night trip to Barrow um Utqiagvik back in 1993. Alcohol was prohibited but there was a speakeasy just a snowball throw away from the law enforcement building. I went on a school bus tour and the driver narrated. It was great. There was an italian restaurant that had excellent food. It was an expensive trip but worth it.
Disgusting! We brought these people civilization, yet they still want to celebrate their savage ways
Reply 1: Maybe they didn’t want to be brought into anything! Maybe they just wanted too be left *** alone.
Reply 2: Barrow had Eskimos. They were peaceful until corrupted by alcohol. The noble savages lived in the south and they too became corrupted after being turned on to petrol and alcohol too. The white man did it.
Reply 2a: All the white man did was give them God, civilization, and stopped them from warring among themselves over sparse resources.
Reply2a1: The black man and woman are the start of humanity.
Reply2a2: One more IDIOT that does not know their history the white man sold alcohol to the Indians in the lower 48 and in Alaska also….
Reply 2a3: When before that, they had only Peyote and Mescaline. Fine hallucinogens indeed. Good Grief.
Reply 2a4: I know the white man introduced them to alcohol. The point is that the indian moral character was so weak that their way of life collapsed because of it, so big government has to give them land and take care of them like orphan children
It’s always nice to see bigotry drop the white robes and show its face in the light of day, or at least the internet equivalent. That would certainly cover the first comment. What’s fascinating to me though about this exchange is the use of peyote and mescaline to undermine respect for Inupiat. Those plants are not found in the arctic, so this person is clearly treating the indigenous people of the Americas as one homogeneous group. That he also doesn’t seem to understand much about native use of these hallucinogens is of course par for the course. The mere presence of drugs in the Americas is, for him, sufficient cause to comment on the moral character of all of them.
…and we’re back to naked bigotry, bigotry that’s still going strong at the end of the thread.
Also find it fascinating that such folks could consider themselves conservative. There is simply nothing in conservatism that should contribute to such naked bigotry. And still…
Why don’t they just piut up a blank sign, since the enlightened indigenous people of Alaska had no writen language….or an alphabet for that matter?
I normally make it a point not to use people’s spelling and grammar against them, but I can’t help feeling amused at the difficulties this fellow has writing about the inferiority of those without a written language. I also find it fascinating to see someone hold the lack of a written language against any population. Suffice to say that Inupiaq is written now (hence the ability to write the name, Utqiagvik), and there isn’t much reason to hold it against Inupiat that they learned writing from someone else. …just like most of the peoples of Europe did at one point or another.
How about “Freezeyourassoff”?
been to Barrow, it’s a dump
Reply 1 – So is Detroit
Reply 2 – But it was fun for me. I visit the hood while there but the hooligans were safe. I ate fried chicken at the supermarket and while there checked out the prices of food items. Triple in cost! The beach I went to was cold but nice. It was fun for the one night I stayed.
Your face is a dump!
From now on people will say “so, you’re from Unpronounceable, Alaska”
Reply – Or, gesundheit.
Touché and thank you.
Reply 1 : How do you pronounce this new name!!????
Reply 1a: I guess the Alaska Dispatch News never expected to get national coverage of this story. Either that, or it never occurred to the writer and editor that few people outside of the area would have the first clue how to pronounce the new name.
Reply 1b: oot-GHAR-vik
Reply 1b1: Thank you!
Reply 1c: Utqiagvik… pronounced just as how it looks.
Reply 1c1: It looks pretty messed up.
Reply 1c2: The same forward and backward … at least when I say it.
Reply 1c3: Haha, Okay! That makes my day. I can chuckle all day now.
Us Americans are so darn monolinguistic.
Reply 1c4: “Us Americans are so darn monolinguistic.”
I’ll bet the Romans were too when they were the dominant world power. And very likely whoever comes after us will be as well.
It’s ridiculous to suggest that people should learn a second language “just because” or that not doing so makes one small-minded. It’s about as intelligent as mocking someone because they can’t play more than one musical instrument.
But no doubt it makes you feel somehow more enlightened to make such comments.
And there it is, the right wing reaction to another name change occurring in Alaska. Its an interesting mix of outright racism and the usual complaints about short-sighted thinking associated with political correctness. Some of these folks have very specific objections, and those very specific objections often seem to turn on value judgements the authors take as obvious. In the end, it does appear that respect for native communities simply isn’t very high on the priorities of a good portion of these critics. At least a couple of these guys would appear to object to that value in itself. Others clearly think other things should come first. But what strikes me most about the whole thing is the ease with which this crowd picks apart a local issue in terms of national priorities and ideological assumptions.
I keep coming back to the one person who voiced the notion that the preferences of a local community ought to control the choice of its own name. All other issues aside, I can’t help thinking that’s the winning argument in this case. It strikes me as the sort of argument I would expect a conservative to make on the subject, and this one more reason why the right wing stance in America’s culture wars always seems so disingenuous to me. For all the fretting and fuming over left wing excess in these conflicts, it is as often as not the right wing that seeks to impose national agenda to the issue at hand.
…and proceeds to tell us it is someone else that is politically correct.
As I recall, the picture was a selfie. My student was one of many people who come up here from the lower 48 to teach somewhere in the K-12 system. She was taking a course from me to help satisfy her certification requirements to remain in the state system.
…And there she stood in the picture with a polar bear walking along the beach in the background behind her. No, she wasn’t that close. She was fine, but really, it was a fantastic picture. I could imagine her showing it to people and chattering on about it for years to come. I was happy for her, and just a little jealous, but mostly happy for her. It had to have been a cool moment.
…which is what I said.
To my surprise, a frown immediately captured her face and her shoulders slumped as she looked down. For all the coolness of the pic, it was evidently not part of a happy story. She struggled to explain why. It turns out that someone shot the bear mere moments after she had posed for the picture.
No, this is not a story of criminal activity, at least not that I’m aware of. The hunter was an Alaska Native, and yes, they are allowed to take polar bears for subsistence activities. Still, I couldn’t help but feel for the student in this instance. To see a bear go from shared space in a selfie to dead on the beach in a matter of moments must have generated a kind of moral whiplash.
(Clunky metaphor, I know.)
I can’t help thinking the sudden transformation of the bear from a living breathing subject that one might want to share space with in a selfie to a dead animal must have been a bit shocking. I suspect the issue here is more than the sudden death of the bear; it’s this sudden change in the way circumstances invite her to think about him. One minute, she was celebrating the presence of the bear, and the next it was no longer a presence to be celebrated.
Is a bear fit for a selfie? Or is it fit to eat (and perhaps to wear)? You can answer both of these questions with a ‘yes’, but it may be a little disturbing when both answers play out at the same time and in the same place, and most particularly, with the same bear.
I thought about this over the last week or two as a polar bear had been hanging out near the college where I work for several days. Wildlife had to shoo him off a couple times. For those of us at the college, he was both a source of excitement and at least a trace of anxiety. More than a few of us grabbed our cameras, but even as we took pictures, several wondered if he wasn’t a little too close. He wasn’t so close as to generate immediate alarm, but he was close enough to make us all a little more careful as we went outside. In time, we began to worry about his own fate as well. If he didn’t move on soon, would officials end up shooting him?
I don’t know what happened to the bear. I have some ideas as to why he was here, and I believe he moved on eventually, but I don’t know this for a fact. For the present, the possibility itself, that he could have been shot is the interesting point. What would it mean to me, I wondered, if the bear in these pictures had been killed within days (or perhaps hours) of my taking them? It isn’t simply the possibility that he might die on his own. Hell, cycles of life and all that! No, the point is that a picture of a bear that might be killed because he is close enough to take pictures of him makes for something of an ironic photo subject.
The whole thing reminds me of the old bit from Marshall Sahlins on how you tell the difference between an animal you can’t eat and one that you can. Perhaps, I think, taking a picture with a bear is a bit like giving it a name. It’s one way of imparting a sense of personhood to the creature, one way of making it part of the world of lives about which you have some fucks to give. This is especially true if you hope to tell tales of the creature at some later date. I suppose it depends a bit on the picture, just how much the taking of a picture actually imparts meaning to its subject, but a selfie with a bear is probably on the maximum end of the personalizing spectrum. (We put ourselves in pictures with people and creatures, we like, not usually those who loathe or simply don’t care about.) At the other end of this spectrum, I guess we’d have to count most of the pictures taken by trophy hunters over a fresh kill. If trophy pictures impart meaning to the animal, I can’t help thinking it’s one of conquest. In contrast, I reckon most of those taking a picture of a bear want to talk (and think) about their encounter with an exotic living creature. They might want to think of him, for a time at least, as alive and well and going about his business long after the picture-taking two-legged has found its way to warmer homes and (hopefully) eager ears. At the very least, such stories are compromised by the thought that the very encounter that produced an image of the creature in question could also have reduced it to meat headed for the dinner table.
Good to eat and good to selfie, but not at the same time.
So, if the camera ensouls an animal, so to speak, the gun would seem to do just the opposite, at least for some people. Beyond the actual act of killing an animal, the willingness to do so would seem to transform an animal into something less than personal; it shifts from an end in itself to a means of sustenance.
Or does it?
Certainly not for indigenous hunters. If anything, their own traditions are saturated with motifs attributing personhood to animals. Whalers up here consistently speak of the bowhead as giving themselves to the hunters voluntarily, and similar themes can be found in hunting traditions of indigenous peoples around the world. For example, the oral traditions of hunting peoples often contain references to a time when animals spoke as humans do. As often as not, the loss of this quality in such stories will occur by choice, and as often as not that choice is motivated by the needs of human hunters. In some stories, animals may still take human form under designated circumstances. The upshot is a world in which role of animal and hunter is the conscious decision of persons who must be respected if the relationship is to continue.
But I don’t think the notion of hunting as a respectful enterprise is entirely limited to indigenous traditions, or indigenous people in general. Talk of respect is quite common among hunters, all the more so for those who do so as a means of feeding themselves. Animal rights activists may well dismiss this as convenient rhetoric, but the lives of subsistence hunters are far more intimately involved with the cycles of nature and the lives of animals than those of your modern citizen. There is little reason to believe those who invest a significant portion of their thought and their activities on the animal world come away from this with little but a utilitarian sense of those animals. It might be different for commercial hunters, and likewise for a certain scale of commercial farmer, but the people I know up here who feed themselves from the ducks, the geese, the caribou, and yes, the whale, live lives fairly filled with thoughts about these creatures.
Which brings me back to the shock that shock of becoming an unqitting witness to the harvest of an animal. I reckon, it must be a bit more unsettling to those who’ve never participated in such activities. Folks may know that their beef was once a cow; their bacon was once a pig, and their chicken was once, …um, a chicken, but most have never witnessed (much less contributed to) the process by which the one becomes the other. For the average consumer of market meats, the consumption of animals is easily imagined as an entirely objective process. Vegetarians may escape this tangle of dissonance, but a fair number of those uncomfortable with hunting are fairly caught right up in it. Their discomfort is at least partly a function of seeing (or thinking about) a process which normally occurs out of sight, but which is absolutely essentially to their own sustenance. In contrast, participating in single hunt can be a lasting reminder that the food on your table was once alive. I’m not saying, everyone draws this lesson, but I certainly did (it’s been a log time), and I believe I see similar views in those around me now.
…all of which means, ironically enough, that shooting an animal may not equate to depersonalization after all, at least not for everyone. I reckon, it will always be a bit shocking for those unaccustomed to such activities, and it would be that much more so for anyone unfortunate enough to be sharing a selfie moment with a creature just before seeing it go down, but the real difference in worldview may be less a question of those who appreciate the lives of animals and those who don’t so much as a question of those who remember their own lives come at the expense of others and those for whom that connection is fuzzy at best.
The bear, from a couple weeks back (click to embiggen). He is, I believe, still alive. I’m sorry the pictures aren’t that great. I of course wanted to stay much closer to a door than he was to me.
I took a walk along the beach the other day. It was a nice evening. Barrow nice. So, yes, that included a coat, and yes, you could still see your breath, but it was a nice evening just the same. I kept seeing these little patches that looked like snow. Pretty sure those are what’s left of the great blocks of ice I had been taking pictures of a week or so back. So, I and the dwindling blocks of ex ice say ‘hello’.
…that is all.
I’ve been back in the arctic for a little over a week now. I didn’t really expect to see ice along the coast at this time of the year. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a little surprising. Still, the coast has been littered with the remnants of the melting ice pack the entire time I’ve been here. Thought I’d share a few pics.
It’s odd, I suppose. Over the years, I find myself taking fewer pictures of Barrow. I keep thinking things like ‘that’s old’ and ‘my friends have already seen that’, but I suppose that’s the same thinking that left me with so few images to show for a decade in northern Arizona. Anyway, that’s one thing I like about about getting away. You come back home and remember what’s cool about it.
…in this case literally.
(Click to embiggen!)
So, I spent most of June on the Metlakatla Indian Reserve on in Southeast Alaska. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Its eagles were one of the first things I noticed about the place. It seems to have a lot of them. Locals seemed amused to see me clicking away at the local equivalent of pigeons, but to me they were damned beautiful pigeons, and so I clicked on. These are lazy eagles, or so one my students told me. They don’t hunt as much as eagles out and away from the harbor. These guys obviously get a lot of easy meals off the boats, I’m sure. And still, that doesn’t make them any less majestic looking. So, again, I clicked away.
When an eagle looks back at you, it’s hard to escape the notion that one is being judged. Yeah, judge me if you like dude; I got your picture, so there! It’s really hard to get a decent picture of these guys in flight. I tried hard and almost managed it a time or two. I definitely prefer it when they perch in a tree and pose for me. They can judge all they like, just so long as they give me time to zoom in.
So, I figure, what could be more fitting for an Independence Day post than a bunch of eagle pics? Anyway, have a look!
(You may of course click to embiggen.)
Metlakatla is the only Indian reservation in Alaska. It began when William Duncan, an Anglican missionary separated with his church and brought a portion of his Tsimshian congregation from old Metlakatla to Annette Island, thus founding the community of New Metlakatla. It is still predominantly a Tsimshian community, though Tlingit and Haida, and a whole host of other peoples live there as well. Father Duncan’s faith isn’t the only one here anymore, but with half a dozen churches in a town of 1300, it is still very much a Christian community.
The town has a casino, but that didn’t get a lot of action while I was there, or at least I didn’t notice it. They also have a tourist ship, which seems to get a little business. (At least they did from me.) They also have a cannery, and this meant lots of outsiders showed up as the fishing season started. …Suddenly Russian could be heard all over the place. All in all, it was an interesting place.
(Click to embiggen. You know you wanna!)
I recall talking to someone before I went about activities on the island. She said, there were plenty of good hiking places. I asked if it was dangerous, and was told in reply that there were no bears on the island. So, I hiked a good 5 miles or so away from town out on the beach. Later someone told me they do have wolves.
…good to know.
Funny thing about beaches. It’s no real surprise that refuse washes up on shore and sometimes people leave stuff. They should know better, yes, but they do. What’s not so obvious is just why so much of it gets hung up or stuck on a tree branch.
(Don’t click to embiggen this stuff! Seriously, just don’t!)
One day, I had the oddest exchange. It went like this:
Stranger: Sorry to bother you, I had to check on my log.
Me: Your log?
Stranger: My log.
The mystery was somewhat resolved when a boat came to haul it away. The skipper told me it was going to be a totem.
For most of the time I stayed on the island, local fisherman used drift nets, but the very morning I left, they shifted to seine netting which was a bit more interesting cause you can see the floats.
(Click to embiggen!)
The eagles certainly found these nets rather interesting. They were very interested in seeing the results.
Happy July 4th everybody!
I was a little surprised to see a museum crammed into one of the small shops on 4th street in Anchorage. I was even more surprised to find just how much history they managed to cram into The Alaska Veterans Museum. It’s best to take your time in this place, because every inch of wall space in this venues contains something worth a second look, and maybe even a third.
The museum is of course a testament to the lives and work of Alaska’s veterans. For those of us interested in the history of Alaska, it also contains materials illustrating some of the more interesting parts of Alaskan history. No sooner had I walked through the door, for example, than the volunteer asked me if I knew where the last shots of the civil war had been fired. I suppose “the Shenandoah” wasn’t technically the right answer, but he smiled when I said it, and anyway, the point is they have a section for the history of this Confederate buccaneer up on the wall here.
…which had me smiling from the start of my visit.
The museum also features extensive coverage of the Aleutian campaign. It’s one of the quirks of Alaskan history. Where most of the lower 48 speaks of World War II as something that happened ‘over there’, some of the fighting actually did take place in this state. Not only did the Japanese bomb Dutch Harbor, they also occupied two islands in the Aleutian chain, all of which is well represented in the collections on display here at the museum.
The Alaskan Territorial Guard also gets prominent treatment here, though I am ashamed to say I didn’t get great pictures of that section. Just clumsy lensmanship on my part. The museum itself covers the history of this unit, comprised largely of Alaska Natives under the leadership of Major Marvin ‘Muktuk’ Marston. The unit (including a number of women) was charged with monitoring the coastline to act as a first line of defense. They also had to be on the look out for balloon bombs (sent over the Pacific in the hopes of starting forest fires in the U.S.).
The museum includes several outstanding dioramas, most of which feature naval operations. I struggled to get a good picture of the aircraft carrier, but in the end I had to settle for a few close-ups. The model itself was just too big to get in a single shot.
I was unfamiliar with the story of the U.S.S. Grunion, a submarine lost near Kiska, so this part of the exhibit was entirely new to me. One particular veteran, Percy Blatchford, had a section to himself. You can find him around the net as well. Each of the major conflicts of American history receive some treatment here, in each case focusing on the experiences of Alaskan military personnel.
A couple stories that didn’t get into the museum (at least I don’t think so) would include the Navy’s bombing of Angoon in 1882 and the story of Aleutian internment. They do cover the Japanese internment of Aleutians, but no mention is made of those taken off those Islands by the U.S. personnel. I’m not entirely sure I caught everything during my visits last month, and I am still amazed at the breadth of materials they got into the collection. As I understand it, they have a great deal more in storage, and that storage may be spilling into the homes of those behind the museum itself. It’s obviously a labor of love, so I suppose that is to be expected.
On one of my visits to the Museum, I had the pleasure of meeting Col. Suellyn Wright Novak who heads up the Museum. She had a number of great stories to tell, including that of the Alaskan Territorial Guard statue out in front. Some wonder why it doesn’t have a plaque on it? Those more observant have wondered why the information plaque is behind the guardsman. It turns out, the museum staff just didn’t want anyone to be run-over while reading the plaque from the street.
I am posting a few pics here, but of course they don’t do the museum justice. As usual, you may click to embiggen.
Alaska Territorial Guard
The U.S.S. Grunion
…or the comfort of your home.
When I first got into Navajo country (many years ago) my old boss used to laugh and say that Ricola was traditional Navajo medicine. I remember him singing the name lightly as he got out a piece. No, he wasn’t suggesting that Navajos had invented Ricola. As I recall, his throat used to get scratchy during all-night chants. His remedy of choice, Ricola, helped him get through the long evenings with his voice intact. His phrasing was intentionally ironic, of course, but my old boss had in fact made this commercial medicine part of his own traditional regimin.
You can find that sort of irony in all sorts of traditional indigenous activities. It can produce the sort of wry humor of my old boss and his cough medicine, or it can give rise to deep suspicions. A lot depends on who is calling attention to the irony. The issue often comes up in my classes here on the north slope of Alaska where the dominant traditional themes are associated with hunting and whaling. The indigenous peoples of Alaska retain substantial rights to subsistence activities which include the taking game. That they frequently use modern technology in doing so hasn’t escaped notice, but what of it? That’s an interesting question.
The issue popped up a number of years back when the New York Times published a piece on the Fall whale hunt here in Barrow. Its title put the between technology and tradition front and center:
If the purpose of this rather clever juxtaposition wasn’t clear enough at the outset, one didn’t have to read far into the piece to see the point driven home rather clearly. In the very first sentence, its authors (William Yardley and Erik Olden) declare that “The ancient whale hunt is not so ancient anymore.” They go on to quote whalers themselves saying things such as “Ah the traditional loader” and “ah the, the traditional forklift.” And with that introduction, the authors go on to explore the paradox of traditional activities carried out with modern technology.
Suffice to say, many in Barrow were not amused.
Edward Itta, former Mayor of the North Slope, published his own response in the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN), suggesting that the authors had failed to grasp the cultural context in which indigenous whaling takes place. A subsequent ADN article focusing on Wainwright took the time to castigate Yardly and Olden for focusing on the nature of Fall whaling instead of Spring when whalers use walrus skinned boats. Yardley and Olsen too had commented this fact, but the point was easily lost in the overall narrative highlighting the use of technology in whaling practice.
I keep coming back to this piece, because the questions raised in that article keep coming back to me. Often it’s a student new to the region who fields the question in one form or another, is it still traditional if people can use modern technology? I struggle to get across the best answer I can. I can point folks to Iñupiat who can answer the question much more authoritatively than I can, but frankly, I think there is a reason I get these questions. As another outsider, I suppose, I may be thought a safe person to ask. I reckon they figure I won’t get mad.
…and I won’t.
This does strike me as an honest question, at least in the sense that those asking it usually seem to be sincere. Just the same, measuring legitimacy of native traditions by the use or absence of modern technology does skew the issue in some very toxic ways.
On one level, I find myself wondering if the Amish haven’t become the paradigm case for traditional anything in the minds of so many people. I reckon it’s up to Iñupiat to define their own traditions as they see fit, and to the best of my knowledge, there just isn’t anything in there against using the most productive technology available. The tradition is taking a whale, not doing it with a particularly pristine kind of harpoon, much less butchering it using only native equipment. The notion that using technology constitutes a failure of authenticity is an assumption coming from outsider.
It isn’t a particularly helpful assumption at that.
Which brings me back to the jokes at the beginning of that old New York Times piece. I can’t help wondering if the authors might have gotten the point of the humor wrong. Hell, it might have been their editor who skewed the whole piece, I don’t know, but in its final form that article clearly takes each of those jokes to be an admission of sorts, a subtle concession to the inauthenticity of the activities in question.
I read those with echoes of my own boss singing ‘Ricola’ in the back of my head.
It seems at least as likely that the point of the humor had something to do with the adaptability of tradition. The question may not have been, is this really traditional, but rather how could it be otherwise?
What makes whaling traditional? Yardley and Olsen touched on this when they noted the distribution of boiled muktuk (edible blubber and skin) to those present as the whale was butchered.
Much of the community comes to watch as a whale is burchered. More to the point, much of the community pitches in to help. Even more have helped in one manner or another to provide support for the whaling crews during the course of preparations. Where possible, employers grant leave to those engaged in whaling, and teachers accept absences during whaling season. We’ll work it out later. You would be hard pressed to find a resident of the North Slope who doesn’t provide some sort of support to whaling activities, even if it’s just acceptance of the way the whaling season restructures all of our other activities. Whaling is a community affair, and its impact on the community re-enforces numerous personal relationships.
The tradition is also found in freezers throughout the North Slope, many of which contain muktuk and other delicacies received as gifts from the whalers. It can be seen when a successful crew serves a meal to any who come by their home, and you can see it again during Nalukataq (a Spring festival) when pretty much anyone can walk into a the festival square, sit down, and receive all manner of food from these very same crews. What makes whaling matter is the way that it shapes relations between people all over the north slope, and in that respect it continues many of the same patterns that predate the presence of outsiders like me who ask too many questions, and sometimes fail to learn the answers. If we’re looking for the traditional components of whaling, this is where you will find them.
This social emphasis too is complicated as Hell, but it’s actually relevant. We can ask, for example, how the use of technology ties subsistence activities to modern markets, how use of a snow-machine instead of a dog team changes the work regime for participants in whaling and hunting. We can ask how the presence of grocery stores changes everything, and how the jobs needed to earn money for modern goods and services change the lives of people all over the North Slope. The answers to such questions might also leave us with a less of pristine sense of what tradition means in subsistence activities, but they point to a different sense of the problems at stake in these issues and a different sense of the threats to community practice.
Simply pointing at a forklift is a bit of a gotcha game. Unfortunately, it’s a game played all too often by outsiders looking at indigenous hunting practices. More and more, I find myself thinking the game begins when people look in the wrong place to understand these practices. They come and they watch the whalers at work on the ice or harvesting a catch on the beach.
Where they ought to be looking is in those freezers.
…okay folks, don’t come up here and literally look in people’s freezers.
My point is that people who want to understand the significance of whaling or any other aspect of traditional subsistence need to look at the way the work and the results are shared. They need to look at the festivals, the potlucks, the serving events around town, or simply at the moments when someone walks up and hands someone else a helping of food. That’s where the tradition is held together, and that is precisely why the damned forklift was traditional after all.
Just like the Ricola my old boss used to love.
Catherine Croll (Anna Wyndham) writes about violent pornography. She’s a well known feminist and a successful scholar. So, what is she doing singing the praises of Phyllis Schlafly?
Well it seems that something is missing from Catherine’s life, and that something is the family that conservative anti-feminist Schlafly warned women about so many decades past. Coming home to help her ailing mother, Catherine finds herself living near her college boy-friend, Don Harper (played by Frank Delaney) and his wife. Don’s wife is Catherine’s own former friend and roommate, Gwen (Shelly Wozniak). The two of them have two children. Catherine can see that they are struggling, and yet she can’t help but envy them. Seeing them makes her rethink some of her own life choices, and a part of her wishes she could exchange her life for Gwen’s. Impossible, right?
But what if it isn’t?
As it turns out, Gwen has second thoughts about her own life, and Don? Well, Don still fancies Catherine. So, it just may be that she can have him after all. It may well be that she can step right into Gwen’s life as Gwen runs off to pursue an advanced degree of her own.
Yep! The ghost of Trading Places haunts this play. It does indeed.
There isn’t a lot of live theater on the North Slope of Alaska. No, there isn’t. Heck, there isn’t a lot of movie theater on the North Slope. Nope! Hell, there isn’t even a lot of television theater in my own home. (Okay, that’s my own choice, but still!). So, I often check to see if anything is playing at a local theater when I’m in Anchorage. This time the answer was yes, at Cyrano’s, and my schedule didn’t even stop me. So, there I sat watching the opening scenes of this play and realizing for the first time what it was about.
The play is Rapture Blister Burn, written by Gina Gionfriddo and directed by Krista M. Schwarting. It’s been playing at Cyrano’s since April 1st and it’ll continue running through the 24th. If you’re in the area, and if the F-word doesn’t scare you, it’s definitely worth seeing.
So anyway, there I sat, watching as a series of inter-related stories began to unfold on the small stage in front of me. Much of the action takes place in a class Catherine teaches during the summer. Put together at the last minute, the class ends up with exactly two students, Gwen, and a young college student named Avery (Olivia Shrum). When Catherine’s mother, Alice (Sharon Harrison) joins the conversation, the result is three generations of women gathered together to discuss feminist theory. We are soon treated to a quick and dirty version of Betty Friedan’s critique of domesticity, followed shortly thereafter by an account of Schlafly’s critique of feminism. Throughout this, the focus of discussion remains squarely on the trade-off between family life and a career as each of the characters weighs in on the (dis-)advantages of each.
I’m not normally a fan of explicit theory in a story-line. I always want to ask the writer to write an essay if that’s what they really want to do. In this case, however, all this theory really is part of a story. The real question here is how the women use these theories to make sense of their own lives and to communicate with one another about the decisions each of them face. We are asked to consider the theories, yes, but we are also invited to think about what each theory means to the characters invoking them.
Oddly enough, it is Gwen (the stay at home mother) who champions Friedan and Catherine (the single woman with a successful career) who keeps telling us that Schlafly “had a point.” Avery and Alice are there largely to provide a running commentary as each of the two main participants struggle to rework their own life stories in light of the course material. This is very much a story about women in their middle-ages, women with enough life behind them to have a few regrets and with enough ahead of them to feel a trace of hope.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say how much fun the dialogue can be in this play. each of the characters comes into her own at some point in the story. Even Don has his moments, but for my money Avery has the best lines. Perhaps, it’s just the wicked joy that Shrum seems to take in playing her. At any rate, she had me laughing. But then they all did at one time or another.
Catherine’s praise for Schlafly is ironic, of course. We are supposed to understand this is a heresy of sorts, and yet it’s a heresy born of a deeply personal dilemma. For all her success, Catherine is clearly not happy, and she sees in Gwen’s family something that is missing in her own life. She will of course get a chance to test this theory. She will get Don back, if only briefly. She will get a chance to take care of Gwen’s youngest child, and she will see this arrangement all fall apart before the end of the summer. Gwen will give up grad school and return home. Don will prove himself unwilling to keep up with a successful spouse and opt for the comfortable life he has already made for himself, leaving Catherine with little to do but take up her promising career once again and plow through her successful life without a steady relationship.
It is perhaps not such a bad fate for Catherine, so it would seem. She is free despite herself. In the end, we are told Schlafly was right, though perhaps the lonely fate of a successful feminist is not so bad after all.
I’m back in the North Slope now and still wondering what it was I watched. I find myself in the ever so odd position of feeling a bit out-cyniced. That doesn’t often happen to me. There is a story in here about families. It’s not a very pretty one. Don and Gwen are pathetic. They had created a family out of their own personal failures, and in the course of the story, they recreated it when their newfound courage failed them once again. Catherine and Avery are the only ones who walk away from the story with anything like a future, but they do so with little hope for families of their own. In Catherine’s case, at least, that is a genuine loss. She did want to have her cake and eat it too, and in this case she just isn’t going to get to do that.
So, how do I feel about this? It depends on the stories of the moral.
The play is at its strongest if we minimize the lesson. This can be a story about how life has a way of refuting our theories and foiling our choices. As a story about middle-aged people, this is also a story about how decisions once meant to create a life become the source of limitations inhibiting our lives. We see in this story how Catherine once sacrificed a relationship for a career only to find (too late) the choice cost her more than she imagined. Don and Gwen both chose a family life over career ambitions only to find their own family languishing in the lack of professional rewards. Each of these characters seems to find the down-side of their past decisions a bit more significant than they once imagined. It’s an excellent story about the many ways that simply being human can damned well get in the way of trying to be something else. That’s a lesson I can identify with.
As specific statement about feminism, I can’t help thinking the play is a bit more objectionable. It’s view of family life is especially grim, perhaps unfairly so. (By perhaps, I probably mean something more like “almost certainly.”) What the play says about career women seems still more egregious. It asks us to accept that this one woman, Catherine, must choose between a family and a career, and of course the real problem here is just how much we may generalize about her dilemma. That is where I find myself wanting to back out of the premise.
It isn’t just that I think Catherine should have her cake and eat it too. I could swear that I know women who have done precisely that. I’ve dated women who’ve done that. Hell, I’ve worked with and/or for women who have raised families and enjoyed successful careers. I don’t doubt the stress of doing both may have made misery of their lives on at least a few occasions, and I don’t doubt the cost of trying to do both falls harder on women than it does men. I don’t even doubt that in some individual cases, handling both becomes too much, but my point is that women have done it.
Of course, I can accept the premise that trying to have both isn’t working for a single character in a wonderful little play. But I can’t help thinking the story isn’t just about her. There is a reason, she and the others spend so much time telling us about feminist theory, and it isn’t because this is only a particular story of a particular woman and her particular set of friends.
Which brings us to yet another story. Whatever else this play is about, it definitely contains a story about feminism. But in this respect it is NOT a story about middle-aged women at all. It is a story about elderly and deceased women. I can’t help wondering at the focus on Friedan and Schlafly. These are the iconic figures that haunt the tales told by the characters in this story, the figures who have shaped the stories of those characters. Their choices have thus been framed in terms of gender politics as they were defined quite some time ago. I’m a little out of my element here, but I feel safe in suggesting other theorists might have provided these characters with an entirely different set of questions to struggle with. This is an interesting story, but I suspect one that missed a few options in the telling.
By ‘missed’ I might mean ‘denied’.
(Whenever I’m a Cyrano’s I can’t help wishing I’d been around for a few of these plays. …Jihad Jones?)