Monday, October 12, 2009

Whale Hunting

I saw this interesting article on the Alaska Daily News website this evening. It discusses how a 9-year old boy was the youngest person ever recorded to have killed a whale during a whale hunt. Apparently, someone else "stunned" it, but he "harpooned" it (official whale hunting language here). This took place in Barrow, Alaska which is accessible only by plane and is very far from Anchorage. Barrow is the northern-most city in Alaska. It is very cold there most of the year. In fact, here is the weather forecast for Barrow for Tuesday, October 13th: a high of 34 degrees and a low of 30 degrees. The forecast for Wednesday the 21st is a high of 22 degrees and a low of 19 degrees. Needless to say, Barrow is FRIGID even compared to Anchorage.

Like many places in Alaska, Barrow is home to many Natives Alaskans. "Native" with a capital "N" meaning members of various cultures that were living in Alaska since before the Russians or the Americans came here. This is not to be confused with "native alaskan", with a lowercase "n", meaning someone who was born in Alaska, but is not culturally a part of a Native group. The different cultures include Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. Each of the cultures have their own languages, traditions and ways for subsistence ways of life. For example, the Inupiat culture (the people in Barrow belong to this group), participate in whaling as an important part of life. In contrast, the Tlingit (pronounced Cling-kit) people of southern Alaska, use hunting of small mammals such as deer and bear as part of their daily lives. This difference is due to what is available in the area they inhabit.

I realized just how used to Alaska Native traditions and ways of life I have become in just 6 months. The article referenced above discusses how some animal rights activism groups have commented saying that the boy killing the whale was "disgusting" and other various negative comments. While I feel that senseless killing of animals is indeed senseless and unnecessary, these people depend on the hundreds of pounds of whale meat to survive the long winter. Hunting for whales is as normal a part of their lives as it is for you to drive to the grocery store and buy some hamburger meat.

The article also has some comments from the same animal rights groups suggesting that instead of hunting for whales, the people should just buy their food. This is ridiculous!! Milk in small towns and even smaller villages in Alaska, goes for about $12/gallon!! And the prices for other food items is just as expensive. But, when you factor in the cost of just getting the food and goods to Anchorage from the lower 48, then packed onto a smaller plane, called a "bush plane", this cost for fresh food items is not outrageous. It is just very difficult to get food out there while maintaining its quality and freshness.

I once met a teacher at the grocery store here in Anchorage. He was stocking up to go out to a village to teach and would not be back in town until December (this was in August). He was packing up as many food items as he could and mailing it to himself. But, he told me that he was still going to have to pay the high prices for milk, fruits, vegetable and fresh meat.

If you are interested further in learning about Native culture, the Anchorage Museum has a GREAT exhibit about the various different groups residing in Alaska. There is also a Native Heritage Museum, that is supposed to be pretty good, but Steven and I have yet to venture there.

** In other news, I didn't even know today was Columbus Day. I told Mom that it doesn't count here in Alaska because Columbus didn't discover us! Honestly, there was no mention about it at the school all day either!!

Do not fear, the temperatures have warmed back up again into the 50's. All of the snow that was on the tops of the mountains has melted away! Hopefully it will come back again soon so we can get ready for ski season!!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Rebekah and Steven-
    I read your blog and I LOVE it. Very interesting information and good stoy telling.
    Keep writing and stay warm!!!!!!
    Love, Mom