A Lesson Learned

With the coming of summer, the village seemed to take on a new sense of liveliness. Hunters, often in groups of two or three, went out after seal, ugruk [large bearded seal], and caribou. Women spent much of their time fishing, butchering and distributing the game brought in by the men. More local residents moved out of their homes into summer tents. Those holding jobs chose locations close to their winter quarters, while those not so employed set up their tents at nearby fish camps. It was obvious from the amount of meat and fish brought back to the village that a significant amount of the daily intake of food was still derived from local sources. Families and relatives with fulltime hunters stored significant amounts of caribou, seal, ptarmigan and duck in ice cellars dug deep into the permafrost for later winter use. The rest relied more on meat, fish and canned vegetables obtained from the local native store. Caribou was always the preferred Native food and seal the least. As far as subsistence was concerned, older hunting and fishing skills seemed well maintained.

Iñupiat clothing, on the other hand, drew more on commercial outlets. Men typically wore leather or rubber-based shoepacks, wool or corduroy pants and jeans, sweater or western-style jacket, peaked cap and fur-trimmed parka. Women generally dressed in a long belted cloth atigi sufficiently large to accomodate a child on the back. Under this fur-trimmed cloth parka was worn either a fur lining or sweater and jeans. In winter, as I learned later, both men and women switched to highly efficient caribou or sealskin parkas. Sealskin pants and insulated clothing of commercial manufacture were also used for hunting trips, gathering ice blocks, and other outdoor activities. In addition, most Iñupiat had at least one smartly styled suit or dress which they wore to church or similar village gathering. Lipstick, make-up, and modern hair styles seemed especially popular among the younger set.

Several weeks after my arrival, I noticed that a number of Iñupiat men from Barrow had been flown in to work at the radar site. Some were newcomers while others were returning to an area in which they had lived previously. The influx of non-relatives, however, did not appear to be large enough to disrupt the close kinship and friendship ties characteristic of local residents.

Contacts between Iñupiat and White workers also appeared relatively amiable, both on the job and in evening recreational activities such as volleyball and horseshoes. A summer construction company employee who had been drinking occasionally strolled over to the community, but the village council policy limiting the admittance of outsiders to approved times kept this potentially disruptive force under control. Those who made friends with the local inhabitants and wished to join in their social, recreational , and religious life were welcomed, while those viewed as a possible threat were excluded. Any radar station or construction personnel whose drinking or sexual conduct was seen to cause a problem in the village was either reassigned to another location or fired outright, depending on the severity of the offense.

Thus, the dramatic changes occurring in Kaktovik during this summer did not seem to seriously affect the internal stability of village life. Games, dances, song fests of both a religious and popular nature, and similar recreational activities continually brought people together for periods of fellowship and relaxation. Well-attended Presbyterian Church services involving as many as eighty percent of the population provided the resident Native lay minister with an excellent opportunity to extol the virtues of Christian living; and the enthusiasm of the congregation, expressed in individual prayer offerings, hymn singing, and "public confessionals" reflected the level of community interest and general support of these religious views. In other day-to-day activities such as helping relatives carry water to the home, hauling a whaleboat up on the beach, or caring for a neighbor's children, face-to-face contact was frequent and for the most part positive.

Of course, one had to be careful in making such summations for Iñupiat cultural behavior placed a high value on "getting along with others" and "being even-tempered." When an argument broke out between family members or among friends, a maximum effort would be made to keep the conflict under control. If a resolution was not forthcoming, it was far better to remove one's self from the scene than express open anger over the matter. Correspondingly, those Iñupiat who stayed cool under such tribulations were invariably held up as models, the villagers making remarks such as, "you never see that person getting angry at anybody" or something to that effect. Those few who expressed their anger openly usually did so following an episode of serious drinking. But in Kaktovik at this time, such an event was quite uncommon.

By the middle of the summer, I too had become at least peripherally accepted as a member of the community. An important symbolic event assisting in that process was a July hunting trip taken along the Arctic coast with Harold and several others - the results of which included the taking of my first seal. After beaching the boat on our return, relatives and friends came down to the shoreline to help drag the animals up the steep bank to the homes of the crew members. Eventually, only one seal remained by the water's edge. Surrounding the animal, the villagers seemed unclear as to what to do. Finally Harold glanced at me and in his usual quiet manner asked,

"Well, Norman. Where shall we take your seal?"

Until that point I had not even considered the seal to be mine. And I certainly had no idea what to do with it. But recognizing the need for action, I suggested that we "take it to Mae." The response was instantaneous. Showing obvious enthusiasm for the way in which I had resolved the problem, intertwined with a few friendly jokes about my hunting prowess, one Iñupiaq attached a rope to the head of the seal and we all hauled it up the bank to the village. Already at work butchering others that Harold had caught, Mae acknowledged the new addition with the briefest of smiles thrown in my direction. From that moment on I became more closely associated with the Kaveolook household - needless to say, an identification that gave me great pleasure. Through the sharing of a seal I had become a part of a family; and through that effort, part of the village. A fundamental lesson in reciprocity was learned.

Story Hour
Differing Perspectives
A Moment of Reflection
Postscript