After spending this past week in the dark, frozen reaches of the village of Barrow, Alaska – located 320 miles above the Arctic Circle – I sit here in the lobby of the Sheraton Anchorage hotel enjoying some much-needed simple creature comforts of life. As I look all around, a fountain display in the center of the elegant lobby, with its flowing, running water, creates a nice aural background to the Russian and Japanese that I now hear being spoken by tourists and families sitting behind me, languages which have now replaced the ubiquitous Iñupiaq and accented English I heard throughout this past week.
Still, although my experiences in Barrow now seem like only a slowly fading memory, I cannot get the thought out of my head that from an Iñupiaq language perspective, the Alaskan North Slope Borough is in a crisis. This thought has somehow connected with my heart over the last few days to create within me a feeling of urgency that some tangible, concrete steps must be taken soon by the elders of not only Barrow but of all of the other villages in the NSB (who each sent representatives to the conference) before it is too late – villages such as Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, Point Hope, Point Lay, and Wainwright.
Throughout the week during the conference, I was inspired on a daily basis by the stories shared by each representative speaker, stories of an interwoven history, struggle, and hope for the future. On more than one occasion, I overheard the natives speaking about the need for healing within their communities – healing from a past where their integrity as a people was constantly under threat because of outsiders’ interests. Also on more than one occasion, tears were shed by speakers and audience members alike, myself included.
The Iñupiat are a proud people, with deep roots as the dominant culture that has inhabited the Arctic region going back millenia. The preservation of their language remains a top priority for them for obvious reasons, and it is my hope that Rosetta Stone will play an integral role in ensuring this happens today.
Here is a snapshot I received yesterday from Patuk Glenn, museum curator at the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, that she took during one of my workshops:
I find this particular photo to be interesting because it showcases nicely the interest that exists between both the older and newer generations of Iñupiat people in their language, which is sacred to them.
Also, here is a random photo of me at the conclusion of the conference, posing on the tundra with Miss WEIO – World Eskimo Indian Olympics (which includes events such as an ear-tugging competition!). She was very, very kind, and hailed all the way from Kotzebue, AK. You can see her wearing her sash and a small brown and ivory crown, which she proudly wore all day, every day of the conference.
In closing, I’m eternally grateful to have had this unique opportunity to experience a land, a life, and a culture so vastly different from my own. In the process, I learned a lot about my own self through my interactions with the Iñupiat, both young and old. It is my sincerest hope and wish that I will one day return to this remote, fragile, and magical land and either continue with the work that has been started, or perhaps many years into the future, be a witness to the revitalization of the Iñupiaq language.
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For further reading, please feel free to take a look at the North Slope Borough website for a message from its first female mayor, Charlotte Brower: