Niġliq: Site of an Ancient Trade Fair

Elders, Youth, and Teachers Visit Nigliq

For three days, from July 22 through July 24, 2009, Elders and youth from the North Slope Borough, and educators from the New England whaling town of New Bedford and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians gathered to celebrate and learn about a culturally important place on Alaska's North Slope: Niġliq, the site of an ancient trade fair at the mouth of the Colville River. They met at the village of Nuiqsut which is upriver from Nigliq. To see a GoogleMap of this area, click here and type "Nuiqsut" in the locator window to get the location of the village and the river.

The Program

The North Slope Borough's ECHO program had planned the event. Click here to see a copy of the program.

Participants visit Niġliq

Three dozen people made the boat journey downriver from the village of Nuiqsut to the mouth the Colville River where the island of Niġliq is located. It was windy and chilly, so the hosts set up tents where visitors could observe and try Iñupiaq skills. Participants were divided into three groups, each visiting Nigliq for one of the three days of the conference.

Berry Picking

Crowberries, blueberries, and lowbush cranberries were ripe for the picking on the tundra at Nigliq. Elders -- especially women -- are tireless when they pick berries, bending over at the waist and picking for hours until they have the gallons their families need for the winter.

Younger pickers learned to identify the edible berries -- the easy part -- and also practiced the same necessary persistence and patience their elders show. They also learned to identify some medicinal plants and listened to the plants' healing properties.

Cutting Fish at Niġliq

Local people caught fish, while expert fish cutters taught visitors how to clean and prepare the fish for drying.

Meanwhile, back at Nuiqsut . . .

During each of the three days, 1/3 of the participants were at Niġliq, while 2/3 stayed in Nuiqsut to learn from the elder there. The Nuiqsut dance group Uyagagvigmiut demonstrated, taught, and danced for the guests.

Cultural Exchange in the Spirit of Nigliq

At the same time, Choctaw artists and elders, who had traveled from Mississippi, shared their cultural arts. This basket, made of swamp cane, is a specialty of tribal women.

Youth and Elders in Action

Play the video on the left to see a sample of the activities that participants engaged in during the three days of the conference.