You people who are already tired of winter, we...


January 17, 1994

FOR ALL you people who are already tired of winter, we offer this communication from a pre-kindergarten teacher in the United States' northernmost public school:

"Barrow [Alaska] is a community of about 3,500. Most are Inupiaq (Eskimos). The rest come from all over the world. The Inupiaq culture is alive in many areas and almost extinct in others. There are classes in Inupiaq taught at all the schools. (My 8-year-old son is learning the language.) The native religion has all but disappeared, though. The Presbyterians were assigned this area in the days when tribes were divvied up among the

churches, so that they could be taught, converted, assimilated and saved. So the bulk of the Inupiaq are devout Presbyterians. The Assembly of God and Baptists also have a following, and the Catholics just built a new building. The new kids on the block are Mormons. Fierce competition for the souls!

"This is a whaling culture. Without the bowhead whale, the people would cease to be who they are. They are allotted so many 'strikes' a year for bowheads. If a harpoonist shoots and misses, it is still counted as a strike used. They whale in small aluminum boats in the fall, when the ice is out from the shore. In the spring, when the pack ice is still in, they draw their skin umiaks by sled to an open lead and hunt from the umiaks. The women sew walrus hides together for the umiak covers. They know how to sew a waterproof seam. There are certain procedures to follow when a whale is struck. Alex and I have watched many whales being butchered. It's a community affair; the feeling at the beach when a whale is brought in is one of great joy. I also feel a sense of sacredness.

"The tundra is beautiful in the spring, filled with flowers and nesting birds, water and mosquitoes. The colors of the Arctic are pastels. It's a truly beautiful place.

"Right now, though, it's 10 below zero with a wind-chill of minus 65. It's 12:30 p.m. and dark. The sun will rise Jan. 23 for a few minutes. It set Nov. 18. By May 10 we will have 24 hours of light -- until August."

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