The Bones of a Village

New enough to reveal steel and aluminum nails, old enough to be well-weathered by the Arctic climate, the bones of this seal-skin whaling boat were left behind when Point Hope (Tikigaq) relocated two-and-a-half miles inland in the 1970s. Point Hope is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America.

The Inupiaq name for Point Hope Village, Tikigaq (tick-ee-yahk) means index finger and described the way the gravel point once hooked into the Chukchi Sea. Time and tide long ago washed away the crook of the finger, leaving behind a triangular point near enough to deep water that the whales that first drew the Inupiat people here thousands of years ago still swim close to shore. The 2.3 mile hike from the current town out to the point gets a little tough once the road ends and the pea-to-chunk-size gravel begins, but it is well worth the effort. In addition to bowhead and other whales, which are frequently sighted, the collision of currents at the point holds large schools of finger-sized baitfish, which in turn draw flocks of Arctic terns, gulls, murres, puffins, jaegers, guillemots and ducks while various sandpipers patrol the shore. At times, the sea and sky are filled with hundreds–if not thousands–of birds. The small fish also attract roving schools of pink, silver and Chinook salmon and sea-run Dolly Varden which in turn are followed by spotted, common and bearded seals. Walruses show up from time to time as well.

The walk to the point passes through the Old Village, a ghost town of semi-subetranean homes made from sod, whale bone and driftwood as well as more modern, wood and metal houses. It’s fascinating to walk through the Old Village and contemplate what life would have been like up here before electricity, running water, guns and gasoline engines–when the only “grocery stores” were the great herds of caribou 25 or more miles to the east, bowhead whales swimming in the freezing Arctic Ocean, and the various fish, seals, berries and plants gathered in their seasons.

Parki

The Inupiat Eskimos in Shishmaref wear these beautiful coats. Up here, they call them “parkis.” At first glance, they look like brightly colored, thin, pullover-style coats, trimmed in fur. As I have gotten my hands on a few (I have literally petted several), and talked to people, a more interesting coat was revealed.

While it’s true that the outer layer is colorful and sometimes is made of very thin fabric, it is actually only an outer layer. Underneath is a very heavy layer made of animal skin. In many cases, it is spotted seal or caribou. The bottom of the skin is ruffed in a more ornate fur, like beaver. You can see my young model’s parki is ruffed in beaver. The cuffs and hood are also ruffed with fur designed to be attractive and also designed to keep the wind and cold away from the face and hands. I’ve spoken with a few people about different animal furs. It seems wolverine and polar bear are very warm and shield well from the wind and blowing snow. The creation of the parki is definitely women’s work. I understand that some women teach their daughters to pass the skill down and other women take classes that are offered in the community.

(I did get permission from my young friend’s guardian to post her picture. But because of the insanity of the world, that is as much as I will share about her.)