AKP Teacher's Institute 2009- A Personal Journal


Some people are excited to experience different cultures and environments. Others avoid them whenever possible. This is a personal account of the 14-day journey of a 60-year old white woman from Salem, Massachusetts who relished the chance to go north of the Arctic Circle.







Please be forewarned: I am not a naturalist, anthropologist, or intrepid explorer. That means the following information is offered from my own totally biased and unscientific point of view.

Hope you'll enjoy reading it anyway . . .

Why was I the only one who wanted to go on this adventure?

All 100+ volunteer educators at the Peabody-Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, MA where I have been a docent since 2004, received the following email from our coordinator:

I have attached a description about a teacher workshop, Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resources. It will be held near the Anaktuvuk River, in far northern Alaska...The total cost of the program would be covered by ECHO funds, however, it is important that you read the description very carefully. This is a physically challenging trip and you will be required to produce a product - a lesson plan. If you are interested, let me know by Monday, May 11. Depending on how many people express interest, I'll draw a name.

An important family commitment conflicted with the dates, so I didn't even respond to the email. However, when the plans got canceled in mid-May and no other docent had applied, I was on my way in less than two weeks!


Are you crazy? Many docents and some friends and family expressed dismay when hearing about my plan to live in the wilderness, among total strangers, eating meat (I've been vegetarian for decades) and having to carry whatever I bring.

Except for the wolves and grizzly bears, and despite limited camping experience, leaving my rather pampered, modern lifestyle did not faze me.

Figuring out what and how to pack was a different story, and the puzzle kept me up at night. However, thanks to Kathy, the 2008 PEM-sponsored participant, Google searches and lucky guesses, my "luggage" ended up being a small backpack lent by neighbor Joe, clothes borrowed from friends Damon and Barbara, a few new waterproof items from a local Army surplus store, and my old fleece and hiking boots.

With weather that went from freezing rain to hot and sunny within a few days at camp, I packed well. Able to stay comfortable and dry, I even lent clothes, first aid and beauty supplies, and gave a camera to other participants.

Speaking of which, all the photos offered here were taken with my remaining two waterproof disposable cameras, plus a few shots from Al, Kim and the Internet.

The Course

The 11-day Teacher's Institute course entitled: "Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resources,” was co-sponsored by lisagvik College and ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations).  It teaches participants how to subsist in the natural environment using ancient skills and technologies and, hopefully, gain an understanding of the complex relationship between people, the land and its natural resources. The course also emphasizes culturally appropriate behaviors in the treatment of the land, resources and one another (Iñupiat Core Values) and use of the Native language — Iñupiaq.

Why Anaktuvuk Pass?

In its seven-year history, this course always took place around Barrow on Alaska’s northern coast, not too far from Ilisagvik College. In 2009, for the first time, it was being held elsewhere and in a very different, interior terrain. That meant we would experience none of the following:  salmon, constant wind, polar bears, the harvesting seals, walrus, and whales — and the support of a college and city nearby. It did mean: some small trees, towering mountains, warm weather, relatively abundant and diverse plant life, grizzlies — and the charm and limitations of a rather inaccessible village of only 300 people, more than half under 16 years old.

The change in location started with a suggestion from an elder from AKP (Anaktuvuk Pass), Rachel, a course participant the previous summer. Her idea to use AKP apparently caught fire, got approved and was now a reality. That meant residents of AKP and the 2009 course participants would be pioneering an always tricky "first year away" together. As things evolved, AKP was a wonderful choice. The people were generally very friendly and helpful and the climate, at least while we were there, delightfully moderate and bug-free.

Who's in Charge?

Course leaders were Fannie and her assistant Martha, both employees of Ilisagvik college. From AKP were Camp Guides Ben and Payuk and Camp Instructors/Elders Ada, Lela and Rachel. Assisting was Ben's fiancé Rainey, an artist and educator from Barrow very familiar with camp life and cultural traditions.

All contracted staff were Native people of northwestern Alaska known as Iñupiat. They are part of the indigenous world community from circumpolar regions known as Inuit, formerly called Eskimo. The inland Iñupiat from AKP are known as Nunamiut, and they share much with Iñupiat from the coast: language (Iñupiaq), traditions, government (federal, state and Native/North Slope) and many economic, social and family ties.

Although not official leaders, the non- Native course participants from AKP, school principal Brian, teacher Kerri, and National Park Service Ranger, Al, provided valuable support in the village and at camp. The stories of how they each ended up in AKP from their origins in New England were also quite instructive.

In the end, despite coming from different places and having never worked together or in the AKP locus before, those in charge and their helpers seemed to do a good job. They met most course objectives and kept us safe. I, for one, am most appreciative.