Course in Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resources

Eight Days in the Brooks Range and What I Learned

First Day of Camp

We packed up and took the two-hour ride over bumpy terrain and muddy grass to our prospective campsite in between the mountains.  It took two trips to get all of the gear, people, and equipment over there.  But once we were there, we were there for the next eight days. Quite a bizarre feeling.  We set up our tents, four people to a tent.  People were sent to get snow at the nearby river bank, and to get willow branches to start a fire.  A fire for what?  The obvious reason of turning snow into drinkable water, but also to make coffee.  Yes, coffee.  

Before I left on this trip, one of my only concerns was, how am I going to kick my severe coffee addiction?  As soon as I found out I was going to Alaska, I decided to quit so that I wouldn't have to suffer caffeine withdrawals on the tundra.  Well, as it turns out, Inupiaq Eskimos are addicted to coffee, too!  Go figure. 

The weather was warm, maybe 60s.  When we arrived, the stream was completed iced over.  I was one of the only ones that didn't go out and walk on it.  Kind of wished I had, but oh well.  One can only handle so many firsts I suppose.  

We also set up a "bathroom", a portable tin bucket, and a tarp that hung up on sticks behind three quarters of it.  We also had to dig a large dump out the bucket.

Some of us explored, some of us sat by the fire and listened to the elders talk a unique combination of English and Inupiaq.  We were visited by people from the village who had made their way out to the river for a picnic, something the villagers often do.  Luckily, they gave us some food (caribou legs, hot dogs, and coffee) as our food was still making its way to the camp.  

What I Learned

-When an elder asks you to do something, you do it...NOW

-There is no cell phone reception up there anywhere, they use CB radios

-There is no strict time schedule, and things are ruled by the weather

-If you see a bear you can wave a trash bag to make it go away, or flash it

-Elders have the best stories, and they can usually tell when someone is B-S-ing them

-The 24-hour sunlight isn't that hard to get used to, thanks to the magic of eye masks

-I am actually quite okay without a cell phone, internet, or TV . . . camera, not so much

-Don't talk back, just do it, or say "okay"

-90% of stereotypes abouts Alaskans are incredibly wrong, as are most stereotypes.

-The means of transportation in the village are walking, dirt bikes, bicycles, or argos, eight-wheeled tank-like things

-There is lots of meat, not a lot of fruits, vegetables or milk.  Everything is shipped in by plane or comes from the land

-Appearances and presumptions are quite often misleading: this small village has a museum - a wonderfully thorough and professional one


-Maktak (whale blubber) tastes like sushi, and it's good to eat when you are cold

-Argos can get through any terrain and can float

-You can eat frozen raw caribou meat, sort of like an appetizer 

-Dogs here are used mainly for protection from bears (in the village too), not so much for pets or companionship

-Willow burns easily, but fast

-I can pee anywhere (very liberating actually)

-Argos have their steering wheel on the right side

-Don't throw trash on the fire while food is being cooked on it

-The tundra is squishy

-About 6" under the tundra surface is permafrost