Saturday, February 21, 2015


Drums, dancing, and banging on loud box
Honor the elders. Prior to my visit, I had a general understanding that the Inuit cared for their elders in a stronger sense than most people do in the rest of the United States. However, I didn't gain a full appreciation for this until being here in person. Honoring ones elders isn't simply an expression up here; it's a constant part of the daily life. Whether it be at large gatherings, on the radio, walking around town, in a restaurant, on billboards, etc. there is constant conversation regarding the subject. For example, a radio host doesn't simply make a comment in passing. If he is discussing a controversial subject, part of the conversation is that you should seek advice from the elders. They have lived, survived, and thrived in this community for a long time and know what works well and what doesn't. Respect their ability to make decisions as they have more experiences to draw upon and seek their counseling on new topics. This doesn't mean do whatever the elders tell you, but rather ensure that they are an integral part of the conversation and allow them to lead.

Traditional dancing
We had the good fortune of being here in Barrow during the Kivgiq festival last week.  This festival (the Messenger Feast) is held in late Jan or Feb every 2-3 years, attracts people from all across the North Slope of Alaska, Canada, and even Russia for 6 days of solid dancing and feasting.  The name historically comes from the feast for the two messengers sent to travel to neighboring communities and invite them to the festival.  The main celebration was in the high school gym and featured dance troupe after dance troupe dressed in festive clothing, beating whale-skin drums, and performing traditional dances.  Performances would run all day and well into the wee hours of the night, with seemingly no concern for young kids awake until midnight.  Every community in attendance had at least one dance troupe, with seemingly everyone participating in the dances, from the young kids all the way through to the elders.  All elders were given reserved seats up front and each group would usually begin by honoring the elders up front as well as the elders in their troupe.  It was truly remarkable the reverence elders from all regions are shown.

2 caribou stews, frozen fish, whale meat
Wednesday featured the community potluck, a feast attended by several thousand people, quite impressive for a community of less than 5,000.  I had the opportunity to try several different caribou stews, frozen fish, and whale meat of many varieties (boiled, raw, frozen).  Muktuk is the most well-known way to eat whale, where you are given raw pieces of the skin and blubber.  The hardest to eat was a frozen hunk of the flipper that I personally thought needed a chainsaw to get through.  Other than the flipper, I do quite enjoy whale but think I prefer the caribou stew.  As part of the festivities, there was a large craft fair with exquisite hand-made goods including carvings, slippers, earrings, mittens, miniature boats, etc.  The grand finale of Kivgiq came to an end with a procession of all the groups amassing into an epic final series of songs.  The mayor of Barrow gave a few words and the "final" song continued on for many, many iterations.  Eventually I left close to 1:00 am when it seemed the chant for "one more song" would never end.          

Young drummer

Closing ceremony

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