Wednesday, November 7, 2007

When I first came to UAA, I felt awkward and out of place because I was coming from the bay area in California, a very different environment from Alaska. I found myself immersed in Native culture, from my dorm room to the classes I was enrolled in. Before coming to Alaska, I never would have thought that people would need to kill a whale to eat and feed their villages. In my ENGL A108 class I read The Whale and The Supercomputer: On the Front of Norhern Climate Change, and it introduced me to whaling. This picture captivated me because I have never seen something so graphic, and yet so intriguing.

The general time frame of this picture was between 1956 and 1976, a twenty year span. I felt like a bit of a sleuth, decrypting this image for which vilda had posted false information. In the foreground, an Inupiat man is shown cutting up a whale with a flensing blade on a shaft. The archive that this picture was retrieved from falsely states that these men are Unangax whalers. However, it is clear that they are Inupiat (see below). The pieces of whale meat will be distributed to numerous families within their communities. This whale is a bowhead, identifiable because the whale meat is red and the skin is dark. Nannie Kaigelak, a female whaler, told me that she could tell these are Inupiat, because of the fur on the parka the man in the middle is wearing. The Inupiat above are harvesting this whale on the ice using traditional methods. In addition to the regalia being wrong for Aleut people, the landscape in the background is also inconsistent with the Aleutian Islands.

N. Kaigelak (personal communication, November 9, 2007 & November 19, 2007)

Sometimes sources come from the most unlikely places! I met Nannie through pure serendipitous circumstance, while meeting with Chris Smith at a Native Services potluck. Nannie and her family overheard Chris and me discussing the whaling picture, and volunteered to interpret the photo for us. My newfound friend explained the significance of the wolverine fur on the parka, the ice in the background, and the species of the whale, a bowhead, all indicating Inupiat whaling. This is Native knowledge at work! Vilda, the online digital archive from which the picture was retrieved from, erroneously identifies the picture as Unangax Natives harvesting a whale in the Aleutian islands. Through our conversation, I also learned that Nannie's mother was the first woman to be taken on a whale hunt in her village. As a feminist, I was moved by her courage to be the first woman to participate in the prestigious traditional practice of whaling.

Wohlforth, C. (2004). The whale and the supercomputer: On the Northern front of climate change. New York: North Point Press.

This book is a great resource on Inupiat whale hunting and how it is affected by global warming. It pinpoints the divergent epistomolgies between Native ways of knowing and Scientific knowledge in determining how climate change correlates to declining whale populations. Charles Wohlforth engages in participant observations which enables him to write accurately about traditional whale hunting. I read this book in "Introduction to College Writing", and wrote an essay on it. This book allowed me to see that my own convictions about recycling, the environment, and our stewardship of the earth has an impact on traditional whaling in northern Alaska. The Whale and the Supercomputer is the first book to present the issue of the relationship between global warming and traditional Inupiat whaling to a popular audience, enabling the public to discuss these issues in an informed manner.

Bogoslovskayas, L., Caulfield, R., Egede, I., Freeman, M., Krupnik, I., & Stevenson, M. (1998). Inuit, whaling, and sustainability. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

Inuit, Whaling, and Sustainability covers a wide range of issues surrounding Inuit whaling, from the social and cultural, to the economic, health, and political aspects. The book examines the various methods of harvesting whales, as well as the different species that are taken. This ethnography questions whether the big countries involved in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have the best interest of the Inuit at heart when bureaucratic decisions are being made. In the twenty first century, humans are increasingly developing a well pronounced global identity that manifests as a threat to traditional whaling practices, as whales are perceived as global heritage, rather than food resources. This ethnography is a comprehensive study of traditional whaling issues concerning Natives. I personally enjoyed the in-depth analysis of global traditional whaling in Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and Canada.

Rexford, B. (1997). Minerals Management Services: A Native Whalers View. (2006, September 07) Retrieved November 15, 2007, from

This report touches on both the spiritual and mechanical aspects of actually whaling from an insiders perspective. The insiders perspective on whaling that Burton "Atqann" Rexford provides is invaluable in understanding this ancient tradition. Whaling connects Atqann to his culture, and he is responsible in providing food for numerous other villages. The author writes about the danger of ice conditions, and the prohibitive nature of wind during the spring and fall seasons. Atqann explains that towing in a whale takes about 10 hours. However, the whale meat begins to spoil at 12-24 hours after the initial strike, underscoring the importance of being swift and efficient when taking a whale. I appreciate that despite not being born Inupiat, through Atqann's insights I can experience whaling from a Native perspective.

American University, Washington D.C.: ESKIMO Case. (Update not present). Retrieved November 15, 2007, from

This case study discusses the history of commercial whaling and how it has affected Inupiat subsistence practices. The report explains how whaling is central to Northern Eskimo culture, and why it is important to them. In the 19th century, commercial whaling had taken a heavy toll on the whale population, and forced the Eskimo to sharply curtail their whale harvest. This left the Inupiat in a financial predicament until oil was discovered in the North Slope region. The Inupiat were able to use the discovery of oil not only financially, but also as political leverage to become self-determined in their whaling practices. As a result of this, quotas and regulations on strikes and takes were levied, thus insuring whale sustainabilty. This website is very informative, providing a mini-history of commercial and subsistence whaling in the far north.