The Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik have traditionally occupied northwestern Alaska – a vast area to the north of a roughly diagonal line from the northeast corner of Alaska to to the center west, north of Norton Sound. In addition, these people live in the northern border of Canada all the way east to Greenland. Their society is based on subsistence hunting of sea mammals and land animals, as well as gathering the resources from land and sea. They are a people of the sea, rivers, and mountains.
The Arctic climate in that region is extremely harsh. People need ingenuity, skill and ability to make use of the resources available. People worked in cooperative groups to hunt animals such as whales and caribou, and to gather. Their living groups were based on kinship and marriage. Each household consisted of three or four generations, headed by a senior hunter and his wife, who were responsible for distributing the food their crew had obtained.
The fourth group in the exhibit were the Yup’ik and Cup’ik people, who occupy southwestern Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands. Their territory extends north to Norton Sound.
When boys were old enough to leave their mothers, they would go to live in the qasgiq, where the older males would teach them how to be Yup’ik or Cup’ik men. Women would bring food to the men, and in the evening joined them for singing, dancing and festive events. The architecture of both the men’s and the women’s houses were the same – a wooden post and beam structure made of driftwood and covered with sod. Seal or walrus intestines were used for a removable window on the roof.
The the spring, communities moved closer to the coast for the availability of sea mammals. Meanwhile, those communities farther inland would wait for the salmon runs by hunting geese and ducks. Those who lived near the mountains went up to hunt squirrels and headed back down after the ice broke up. In the summer, they moved to camps at the head of rivers, where they would catch, smoke and dry the salmon. In the winter, people gathered to repair equipment, share stories and perform ceremonies.
The cultural group from Denali and Fairbanks are the Athabascans. “Denali” is in fact an Athabascan word that means “Great One.” It is the name they had given the highest mountain in North America, which is sacred to them, and finally last year it became the official name by executive order of Pres. Obama, changed from Mt. McKinley.
Athabascan territory covers the largest area and consists of eleven language groups. In addition, the Athabascan language is related to the languages of some native groups in the American Southwest.
The Athabascans were traditionally migratory, traveling in small groups to hunt, fish and trap. Today they live along the main waterways of central and south central Alaska. They adapted their culture and traditions to their nomadic way of life.
The pictures below appear to indicate a more settled way of life, which may be a representation of how they live today.
We did manage to see all the outside exhibits but didn’t linger at any of them too long – usually they are supposed to have representatives of the tribes explain the artifacts and demonstrate one of their cultural traditions, but those people were not there. Perhaps that was a good thing because that would have slowed us down and we’d never get through all the exhibits.
As it was, I rushed into the exhibit room inside, hoping to be able to see some of it. There were native people there, who greeted me; they were selling things. I smiled and greeted them back but didn’t stop to talk to them or look at their merchandise.
I didn’t see much before Dale was calling me again – it was 2:25, time to go to the bus. Even after we boarded, we had to wait for a couple who had lingered longer, and were late. There were only 17 people on the tour.
At about 3:30 we were dropped off at our hotel, where we checked in and went to our 12th floor room, and found our luggage waiting for us there.
The room had a balcony and I took a few pictures of the view from there. We then went back downstairs and walked around part of downtown Anchorage. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and the temperature was about 75°F! We found Kaladi and got coffee there.
There was an outdoor to-scale exhibit of the solar system. On the left is the sun, and spread throughout the city are each of the planets, placed relative to their distance from the sun. The sign on the right explains the exhibit.
When it was close to dinnertime, we ran into our dinner table mates from the cruise ship. I told them we were just about to go somewhere for dinner and if they wanted to join us. But they had another agenda – a theater across the street from the hotel was showing a short documentary about the aurora borealis. The guide they had on their train car that morning had said there was going to be a “major event” tomorrow night. I thought about what our bus driver, Tom, had said: that the aurora borealis rarely made an appearance and when it did, it was usually grayish in color, hardly distinguishable from clouds. This comment had been a disappointment to me, so I was encouraged by this news from our cruise mates. Since the show was playing every hour on the hour until 9 pm, we decided to go later.
Earlier we’d passed by Humpy’s, a restaurant across the street from our hotel and some people coming out of it had great things to say about it, so we decided to go there for dinner. It’s sort of a sports bar, but they have tables outside in the back where it would be quieter.
We shared a table with an American Catholic couple from Michigan who were here on some business with their church but also a vacation. We enjoyed talking to them.
The food was great too: I had a fish taco with chips and salsa; Dale ordered a halibut burger with fries. We both had a glass of white Zinfandel wine.
After dinner there was still an hour of daylight left so we killed time until it was time for the 8 pm showing of the film. It was $11 each with a coupon and a senior discount! We were slightly late, so the movie had already started when we went in. The beginning had the scientific explanation of the aurora borealis. After that were a series of “scenes” of the Northern Lights taken by a professional photographer, with music accompaniment.
The movie was nice, but not great – not what I thought it would be. Was it worth spending $22?
Finally we returned to the Westmark Hotel. It was twilight and all the lights were coming on in downtown Anchorage. I took a few pictures from the balcony.