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    It is Joe Mello’s first year as captain of the Leavitt Whaling crew. Moments after catching his first whale, Joe calls his family and other whaling crews, using the local vhf radio, to report the good news. When a whale is caught, it is customary to raise one flag on the ice and hang the other flag on the apex of the captain's house in town, inviting all to come celebrate and eat. The crew will wait patiently as more than 60 family members and friends rush to their site and pull the bow-head onto the ice.

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    Bryan Toovak is a 7-year-old Barrowite. He goes to this playground from spring to fall despite the below-zero temperatures. On this rather mild spring day in early May, temperatures rose to almost 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius).

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    Mabel Panigeo, 81, has lived in Barrow, Alaska, her entire life. Only recently have modern amenities like the Internet, television and brand-name clothing become available in this isolated town. Like most of the older natives, she hand made this traditional Eskimo parka from a pattern that has been passed down for more than 1,000 years. Mabel is concerned that her grandchildren’s generation will lose the traditional Inupiat values and customs if she doesn’t continue to reinforce their integrity.

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    Pierre is one of the few Haitians living in the Arctic Circle. He left his home country in 1998 and has lived in many U.S. locations since. He finds similarities between the struggles the people of Haiti have endured and surviving in this harsh arctic climate. Working for the airline, Pierre flies for free on his days off. He loves the freedom of being able to travel and says otherwise living in Barrow’s isolated setting wouldn’t be possible for him.

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    Fannie Akpik is one of many female hunters in the North Slope Borough. She uses her 16-gauge shotgun to hunt geese in the spring and caribou in the fall. When asked how many geese she catches a season, Fannie says she counts by the sled full as opposed to exact numbers.

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    Arctic Grocery has the lowest prices in town, although its products cost twice that of prices anywhere else in the United States. Shipping accounts for 50 percent of the price of groceries, raising the price of a gallon of milk to $9.85. Lynn Kiriputt is one of five employees at Arctic Grocery. Before moving to Barrow two years ago, she directed her own graphic design firm in Thailand. Despite the drastic change in climate and lifestyle, Lynn is happy with the choice she has made to live in this small town.

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    Elder Harris and Elder Lewis are living in Barrow as part of their two-year Mormon mission. Filipino is one of six people whom the elders have baptized; all the others are white. The two missionaries have been more successful converting non-natives. The native Iñupiat people in Barrow have been very welcoming and happy to invite them into their homes. However, the two have had a difficult time with families who struggle with alcoholism, as it remains one of the most difficult struggles in town despite being a “damp” community. Alcohol cannot be legally bought or sold in Barrow.

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    Ji Hoi Kim and his wife, Yong, catch up on Korean news during Ji's lunch break. As a taxi driver, Mr. Kim provides a modest income for his family. He has managed to tuck away some savings for retirement. However, this past winter, the couple had to spend what they had saved while their car was held at the town’s only mechanic for three and a half months waiting for parts. They dream of one day saving up enough money for retirement in Fairbanks, AK.

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    Captain Quilling and his nephew, Paul Patkotak, have broken trail for the last three weeks to get to their lookout on the ice. The nine-mile trip from town on the ice-covered arctic is a rough one. Before the whale hunt begins, the amateur members of the crew hack and chop away big chunks of ice to ensure a smooth ride out for sleds, the skin boat and the rest of the team. Last fall, at only 9 years old, Paul became the youngest Eskimo to have ever harpooned and killed a whale.

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    In Barrow, preparing for a burial is a community affair. Andrew Brower is one of many friends and family who are working together to dig a seven-foot-deep hole for the casket. The frozen ground and cold temperatures make digging a grave far more difficult than in almost any other climate. Traditionally, it would have taken 15 people three days to dig a sizable grave, but the giant auger shortens the process to only six hours. Those who are not participating in the digging contribute by bringing food and drink or just paying a visit to support the family.

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    Marsha is one of many non-natives who moved to Barrow later in life. Transporting vehicles into Barrow is one of the greatest challenges for people moving to this isolated area. Each summer, a barge carries automobiles to Barrow at a price of $6,000. Marsha owned several cars including more practical ones, but she decided to take only this convertible bug, despite the frigid cold weather. In the summer when the temperatures rise to almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), Marsha doesn’t go anywhere without the top down.

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    Taaqpak Panigeo, 23, moved from Barrow to Anchorage at 16. Having returned to Barrow two years ago, she said she never wants to leave again. Her time away from home as an adolescent motivated Taaqpak to become more involved and invested in her native Iñupiat culture. She plans to take classes in the fall to learn the language. Taaqpak made this traditional Eskimo parka by hand, using her grandmother’s pattern.

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    Bart and Carolina moved to Barrow from Tuscon, Arizona, in February to run their own chiropractic business. One of the first things Bart purchased for their new home is this S.A.D. lamp, in anticipation of treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun dips below the horizon line in the middle of November and doesn't rise again until the end of January. The couple is confident that this form of light therapy will keep their spirits up during Barrow’s long winter months.

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    About 100 homes in Barrow continue to use “Honey Buckets” in place of toilets. These five-gallon buckets, often topped with a toilet seat cover, aren’t dumped until they’re almost full. Glenn Robbins stops by each house and dumps the buckets' contents into the truck hopper six days a week. Mostly native elders still use this system, which may be due to the cost to switch over to the septic system or simply because habits are hard to change. Despite having a master’s degree, Glenn says he is "not too good to pump sewage, or do any job for that matter."

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    An employee of Barrow Utilities and Electric, Matt is also the town’s fix-it man. Since Barrow is abundant in jobs, Matt is one of many who have flocked to this northern destination as employment is sparse elsewhere in the United States. Matt has now endured the cold, harsh weather for nine years in order to maintain his property in Los Angeles with hopes that one day he can retire “there, not here.”


Barrow, Alaska

Located 320 miles above the Arctic Circle, Barrow, Alaska is one of the northernmost communities on Earth. Only accessible by plane or boat, visitors venture to this road-less destination for the pure anomaly of having stepped foot on arctic ground. Barrow’s climate is frigid during the winter and cold the rest of the year, making it a an extremely difficult place to call home. Despite these harsh circumstances, cultural diversity has found its way to the frozen tundra and Natives now only make up 60% of the population. Regardless of the polar climate, people from as far away as Haiti and Samoa manage to find redeeming qualities that keep them returning to this vast treeless plain. Although more than twenty other ethnicities co-exist with Native Iñupiats in Barrow, whaling is still limited to the Natives in efforts to protect their cultural heritage. Natives and whaling are no longer the only way to characterize this arctic town, globalization and development have turned Barrow into a thriving community with people from all over the world.

Since its establishment as a city in 1972, Barrow has seen rapid development and growth. The population has since doubled and the town has become the economic center of the North Slope Borough, America’s largest county. Complete with everything from a local government to a tanning salon and pizza delivery, Barrow is joining the modernization movement. Just ten years ago, there were less than twenty cars that drove on the unpaved roads of this detached little city. Now, one in three people living in Barrow own their own automobile. Barrowites have access to internet, cable television and brand name clothing. These luxuries come at an inflated price, but are available nonetheless. Everything from produce to Huggies diapers comes to Barrow on commercial airliners that fly in daily. The economically savvy order their groceries from Anchorage. Those who don’t import visit one of three grocery stores in town and pay double what they would in the rest of the continental U.S. Currently available to those who live in Barrow, the use of alcohol is constantly debated. However, as a damp community, alcohol cannot be bought or sold in town, but anyone with a permit can place an order and have it flown in from Anchorage. Once home to a primitive subsistence culture, Natives, locals and transplants alike have all come to depend on the amenities and advances of the developed world.

Mushing dogs has come and gone and snowmobiles now bring whaling crews out to the ice. Once on the arctic shore however, certain aspects of the hunt remain the same. Bowhead whales have the longest life expectancy of any mammal on the planet and have been hunted for centuries. While harvesting their whale, crews will occasionally find embedded harpoon tips that have been there for over two hundred years. As traditional a practice whaling is, technology has even penetrated it to some degree. The modern harpoon in use today releases a projectile explosive that is attached to a buoy so crews can spot the whale if it gets away. Once the whale has surrendered other crews come out on their aluminum motor boats to help bring the whale to the edge of the ice. In order to catch a whale, crews sometimes have to stay out on the ice for weeks at a time. The hunt is an age old test of patience and cannot be rushed. In fact, many Iñupiats work part time to accommodate their schedule around whaling and some jobs are structured so they can take “subsistence leave.” Whaling is considered a subsistence practice because in order for it to be legal, whalers must use every part of the whale. Each catch provides thousands of pounds of meat and maktak (blubber and skin) which is shared by all the people in the community and beyond whether they are Native or not. Portions of each whale are saved for celebrations at Nalukataq (the blanket toss or whaling feast). Every facet of the hunt is a collaborative effort, maintaining values of the past associated with Iñupiat culture. Although non-natives are not technically allowed to participate in the “hunt”, they are more than welcome to join in the feast. Nationally and culturally controversial, whaling is surprisingly not debated much in town between natives and transplants; instead it is widely understood and accepted among everyone.

Barrow may be commonly known for its whaling or climate, but not as widely understood are the many different walks of life that make up this community. Some come from places with palm trees while others are more accustomed to flat land with no trees. Regardless of their origin, people from around the world get used to the cold temperatures and simultaneously culturally adjust. Most brave outsiders only plan on staying for short periods of time, but once their skin thickens, and the cold is no longer such a daunting obstacle, transplants make this place home. Whether they’re from Bankok, Port Au Prince, Los Angeles, or Seoul they all coexist in what was once a bleak and homogeneous settlement. Each and every one of those who live here carry their own individual story; these are the people of Barrow, Alaska.