Rose Urban Rural Sister School Exchange guide Veldee Hall reports from the field:
The Sister School Exchange is rapidly approaching its spring exchange season. As a sister school guide (SSG), I have lately been spending time in villages that are participating in the exchange program in order to touch base with their schools and students before they travel. Last week I went with Matthew Turner, another SSG, to Nuiqsut (new-WICK-sit), located in the Colville River Delta, about 30 miles from the Beaufort Sea coast. The community is new to the exchange program but we had great support from the Nuiqsut Trapper School and staff in getting the word out to the families and community.
I was told that daytime weather in the village during the winter is mostly cloudy and not often clear enough to see the sun. Oil fields are interspersed between Nuiqsut and the Beaufort Sea. Frequently a net of fog is cast over the area. The land rolls toward the horizon, merging with the fog to create a semi-twilight effect throughout the day.
At night, the skies clear and we could see the full moon hovering over the horizon, emitting a muted amber light. Sound carries well in the colder temperatures, so we could hear the tread of feet or people talking clearly across the village unless the drone of four wheelers or snow machines droned them out. A time or two we were able to see the ice trucks drive through town, since the Beaufort Sea ice road, a perilous 70-mile route from Prudhoe Bay to Point Thompson, had opened recently.
What I find my mind going back to most about my visit to Nuiqsut is the village’s unique sense of identity. The community portrays an aspect of Inupiaq culture different from what I have seen through my family ties in Nome and White Mountain. I was able to talk with Dora Leavitt from the Nuiqsut Community Center about cultural activities and found that while the community doesn’t push cultural identity, the heritage of its people is clearly portrayed through avid hunting and the traditional whaling practices. I have family from Nome that advocate for history, cultural pride, and education through the Regional Native Corporations and village corporations. They facilitate an active cultural network and make a business of promoting Inupiaq heritage.
Nuiqsut is a relatively new village, founded in the spring of 1973 when a handful of families relocated there from Barrow. I am not sure if it has to do with location or that there is less history tying the Inupiaq to the village of Nuiqsut than in other Inupiaq communities, but there is a sense of newness there coupled with an abundance of the younger generation that gives me a new insight into the future of the Inupiaq. There are young mothers and fathers, many hailing from Barrow or having family there. They may migrate during the year, but are primarily residents of Nuiqsut. They make it their home. I am inspired by their challenges to merge with modern life while continuing to be hunters.
I can only hope that this year’s exchange will aid in bridging the modern with the old traditions. Profiles of the Trapper School cultural ambassadors, including Emily, pictured below, can be viewed here.