Story Hour

That evening, while enjoying my newly defined status as a seal hunter, I looked up Vincent Nageak, a well-known whaling captain from Barrow who had recently returned to Kaktovik. Earlier, he had promised to tell me more of the village's past. Arriving at his house, I found him sharing a story with several young Iñupiat.

"Do you know about the White man who had no use for Eskimos?" he inquired of his youthful audience.

Responding in the negative, they encouraged him to tell the story. Hunching forward on his bench, Nageak began:

Several years ago a White man, a big leader, was at his camp [radar station] on the knoll when a large storm came up. He went to fetch his cook who was just a ways down the road. He couldn't believe the weather would do him any harm. You see, this big lea der, an important head, the one who had acquired the name 'general' - just when our weather had become such that nothing could oppose and overcome it - "He didn't want the cook down there to be hungry," he said.

But when this big leader didn't come home, the other taniks sounded the alarm.

"Our head man has become lost," they said.

After putting on our parkas and belts and grabbing some snow knives and saws we went up to their camp. As we entered the building, the taniks, stared at us.

"Our head man has become lost," they said again. "He hasn't gone far. He's probably just in front of the siren sounding area," they said. "Just a short ways beyond the houses."

We went out to look for him, all walking next to each other in a straight line, calling out to each other. The southwest wind was blowing fiercely . We couldn't see each other even though we were close. But we still set out to find him, using only our voi ces. We moved along, moved along, using our voices. We moved along like that until eventually, we heard a voice nearby.

"Over here," someone said. I went there following voices which were making continual sounds. When I reached the place, there was the big leader's vehicle and two men inside. I peered at them but could not make out the faces . Each one was completely white . Looking at the head man, I could see him moving his arms but not making a sound. He was already affected by his ordeal. It was as if he were crazy, this big, important head man; the one who had already voiced his opinion that if there were no Eskimos in these camps it would be okay.

After staring at him for a few seconds, I told him, "We are looking for you," and called him by his name. But he did not respond. Then I took off my belt and turned my face toward him. He finally said something.

"Oh. I see that you are all Eskimos," he said.

"Yeah, we are all Eskimos," I responded, shaking off the snow covering our faces. "We are looking for you, you are lost," I told him.

"I am going to freeze," he said.

"Ah, you baby." I quickly went there and grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the vehicle. We took hold of the other man too, getting him down off of there. I was about to hold on to his hand when Isaac, the one you know, said, "Don't hold on to his hand . Let his disbelieving daring nature take him along!"

He began to reel while walking. He was completely wet, all of him. And he was also without one of his boots. We made him walk, shoving him along once in a while. Finally we arrived at the doorway to his camp. As we arrived, he said "where are we?"

"Quit making sounds. Keep your mouth shut!" I said to him. I scolded him. "You can talk after a little while. Keep your mouth shut."

He stared intensively at me for a few minutes because I was shoving him along, and when we pushed them in, both of them, we all went in too. Those taniks then took him to another room - to a dining table. Reaching the table, they gave him food. ..because you see, he had not eaten. It was around nine o'clock.

Looking intensely for a brief time at the Eskimos that were seated there, the big leader said, "I am not going to eat before these Eskimos here have had something to eat."

"We are going to eat along with you."

"But their clothes," I told the rest of the group there. "Change their clothes quickly, right now. They might get sick from those clothes," I said to them. They then changed two two men's clothes, towling them dry, both of them. And then they had them sit down. The big leader had not yet begun eating, wanting the Eskimos to eat first. We then began eating.

After we finished he said, "I know I would not have been able to last out the night if there were no Eskimos."

As soon as he had said that, another man said to him, "Remember you once said that Eskimos are of no use whatsoever."

"I now realize that only the Eskimos know this weather. And I, myself, do not know it at all," he said.

And so we told him, "This is the very reason why those leaders who came before you placed two Eskimos at each camp. Because the White man could always get lost, these Eskimos would be of some use to them. Even at this camp, although they might reach their door, they would not know where it is. Eskimos have already helped three people who became lost like that. Making them stand up, making them go in right there at their door. We see that you are one of those kind," I said to him.

"I now realize that everyone of those camps should have some Eskimos in them," the big leader responded.

Winding up his story, Vincent Nageak looked at the circle of young people around him and concluded, "From that point on he told me to keep talking about the weather and the sky - even to those who have no use for Eskimos!"

Hearing Nageak's story and seeing the attention it had received from his youthful audience, I knew it was time to visit the radar site. Tensions lying just below the surface of Iñupiat-White relations now seemed more substantial. The next morning I put on fresh khaki pants and shirt, gave myself a shave, and headed for the building next to the futuristic looking radar screen standing high on the knoll a half-mile away.

Differing Perspectives
A Moment of Reflection
Postscript