“OUR HOME IS DROWNING”: IÑUPIAT STORYTELLING AND CLIMATE CHANGE IN POINT HOPE, ALASKA*

Authors


  • *

    I am grateful for the financial assistance provided by the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (No. 0526168; Geography and Regional Science Program and Arctic Social Science Program), the logistical support of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium and the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, and grants from the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University, the Department of Geography, and the Native American Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. As a doctoral candidate in geography I was fortunate to have been guided by Bob Rundstrom, my former advisor, who introduced me to Ernest “Tiger” Burch and his work. To Tiger, I greatly appreciate your encouragement. I thank Karl Offen for his personal and intellectual empowerment and fulfillment throughout my fieldwork and writing phases. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Craig Colten of Louisiana State University and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and enlightenment. Last but not least, my deepest gratitude goes to the people of Point Hope and Barrow, Alaska, for their continual encouragement and friendship since 2004. They are the real people; they are my teachers. Their invaluable help and willingness to share the depth and breadth of their knowledge and experiences made my research possible, rewarding, and productive.

Abstract

ABSTRACT. Contemporary storytelling among the IÑupiat of Point Hope, Alaska, is a means of coping with the unpredictable future that climate change poses. Arctic climate change impacts IÑupiat lifeways on a cultural level by threatening their homeland, their sense of place, and their respect for the bowhead whale that is the basis of their cultural identity. What I found during my fieldwork was that traditional storytelling processed environmental changes as a way of maintaining a connection to a disappearing place. In this article I describe how environmental change is culturally manifest through tales of the supernatural, particularly spirit beings or ghosts. The types of IÑupiat stories and modes of telling them reveal people's uncertainty about the future. Examining how people perceive the loss of their homeland, I argue that IÑupiat storytelling both reveals and is a response to a changing physical and spiritual landscape.

Ancillary