Alaska Cultural Exchange – Summer 2015 – Field Journal

June 25 – Yikes! Alarm accidentally set for 2:50pm instead of 2:50am. Overslept a little, but up early to catch a shuttle from Mashantucket Pequot Reservation to Hartford for this year’s cultural exchange. This year, I travel with co-chaperone Crissy Gray and four Mashantucket Pequot students, Aakyia Goodwin, Anthony Rose, D’vante Colebut, and C.J. Moore. We made it to the airport with plenty of time and no lines, but for some reason there was lots of confusion behind the scenes and we missed our flight. So we lived in Bradley International Airport for the day! Sleeping, reading, people watching. For me, four hours on the phone trying to get United Airlines and Alaska Airline to speak to one another. Eventually, Crissy, Anthony, and Aakyia took a 4:30pm flight to Chicago and C.J., D’Vante and I caught the 6:00pm flight. We met up and took the midnight red-eye from Chicago to Anchorage. Looooong day…

June 26 – Arrived in Anchorage about 3:30 am. Very tired after very little sleep. The students have been great sports about life in transit! Nestled in the mountains of southern Alaska, we spent the next three and a half hours watching Anchorage Airport come to life. Breakfast, shops opening, napping, reading, etc. We met up with Flora Hank and her newborn who were going to be on the same flight to Barrow. She was heading home to Point Lay. After a brief layover in Prudhoe Bay (yes, we flew over the Alaska Pipeline!), we arrived in Barrow at 10:45am.


Living in an airport for the day. l-r: D’Vante, AAkyia, C.J., Anthony


Crissy catching a pic of Jason on the phone clearing up the flight plan to get us to Alaska.


Finally arrived in Barrow. Anthony is very happy about that!

Our friend Leslie Pierce, from the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, picked us up and brought us to the Arctic Research Facility (ARF) where we dropped our gear, settled into our rooms, and bundled up for Nalukataq. Nalukataq is a whaling thanksgiving, like an Arctic potlatch or give-away ceremony, where successful whaling crews distribute the bounty of their hunt along with other treats like tuttu (caribou) soup, nigliq (white-fronted goose) soup, fresh fruit, mikiaq (fermented whale meat and blood), uuruk (cooked whale meat), and maktak (whale skin and blubber). Nalukataq began at about noon and takes place in a semi-sheltered space about the size of a hockey rink. Today’s event was hosted by two whaling crews, Capt. Eugene Brower’s Aalaak crew and Capt. Gordon Brower’s Ikayuaq crew. We sat in section 12; sections are numbered around the enclosed space to allow the event hosts to direct their crews to make sure that all attendees in all areas are provided for equally (though elder’s are gifted first with some things like akutaq (Eskimo ice cream)). It was cold, and misty to light rain, so we warmed up by walking around and met Inupiat community members including Mayor Charlotte Brower, State Rep. Benny Nageak, and members of the village corporations. We checked out the beach area and sea ice near the old Cape Smythe Whaling Station. After the distribution ended, we took our cooler full of whale meat back to the ARF and repackaged it for transport to Connecticut.

I took a nap and Crissy and the students visited nearby Ilisagvik College for access to wi-fi. We later met up with new arrivals, Dr. Tracy Romano from Mystic Aquarium and Greg O’Corry-Crowe from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida. After a pizza dinner, my Pequot companions went to bed. I stayed up and after some discussion of whaling politics and whale science, Tracy, Leslie, and I went back to the Nalukataq for the blanket toss. We arrived at about 10pm to an ambulance taking an injured tossee away, but watched as the festivities continued. We passed on watching Eskimo dancing as we were very tired. Sleep calls…


Nalukataq, Section 12. l-r: D’Vante, Anthony, Jason, Crissy, C.J., Aakyia. Waiting for tuttu (caribou) soup.


At Nalukataq: Brower crews distribution tables along with some accordion music.


At Nalukataq: Aakyia showing D’Vante and Anthony how to flense a whale tail.


At Nalukataq: Aakyia helping Inupiat elder, May, to cut pieces from a bowhead whale fluke.


Pequots standing in on ice in the Arctic Ocean. Pondering ways to avoid doing a polar plunge. l-r: Anthony, C.J., D’Vante, Aakyia.


Fog rolling in. Sea ice moving out! Leslie and Jason on break from Nalukataq.


Group shot and photobombed by and anonymous Inupiat kid. l-r: C.J., Anthony, Crissy, Jason, Aakyia, anonymous, and D’Vante.


Under the bowhead whale jawbone arch at Old Cape Smythe whaling station, Barrow, Alaska!


Inupiat blanket toss!

June 27 – Up early to write and catch up on emails. Headed to Ilisagvik College, just a short walk away from the ARF. Eventually, Crissy and the kids joined me. Leslie picked us up and, after a quick stop to see a local sled dog team, dropped us at the Inupiat Heritage Center (IHC). We wanted to look for some gifts and the traditional artist’s room at IHC has always been a great place to connect with Inupiat artists who work with whalebone, baleen, walrus ivory, and mammoth tusk. I bought a whalebone-handled ulu; ulu’s are part of everyone’s tool set here and extremely useful for cutting and butchering. We continued to look for gifts across the street at the AC store, Barrow’s mini-Walmart. Local Inupiat folks sell their wares in the lobby and we had the pleasure to meet Earl Aiken. Earl etches small pieces of baleen with scenes from the “Land of the Midnight Sun” and sells them as souvenirs. I bought two. The kids are still looking for gifts, but we have friends in Point Lay who make lots of things.  After the AC, we returned to the IHC to check out the whaling exhibit and to learn about Inupiat life and traditions. This exhibit is one of my favorites and had a new gallery featuring a journal recording the oral history and art of a mammoth hunt.


Three up/three down – WM – Wildlife Management students in the Arctic Research Facility. l-r: D’Vante, C.J. Aakyia, and Crissy (chaperone).


Quick stop to visit sled dogs who were on their way to the beach to get a much needed workout.


Inupiat artist, Earl Aiken, in the lobby of the AC etching scenes of arctic life into baleen.


Sticker shock at the AC store in Barrow!


Touring exhibits at the Inupiat Heritage Center. Standing under a replica of a medium sized (35 foot) bowhead whale. l-r: C.J., Anthony, Aakyia, Crissy, D’Vante.


Part of a new exhibit at IHC about an oral history of a mammoth hunt.

Leslie returned from shuttling Robert, Greg, and Tracy to the airport. They were heading to Point Lay ahead of us to set up the zodiacs, and to complete plans for our arrival tomorrow. We returned to the ARF to prepare for an afternoon outing to Point Barrow, the farthest point north in the continental USA. We paired up on ATVs and made the five-mile trip stopping along the way to check out sea ice that had piled up along the beach, learned about the “frozen family” who have been crushed and preserved by this type of event about 500 years ago. We continued along the way and met some locals who were going to check their fishing net. We took pictures at Point Barrow where the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas meet. We followed our companions to Elson Lagoon to check their net. The net was stretched perpendicular to the beach like a moveable fish weir. It was on a loop like a clothesline, easy to pull in and send back out. No fish, but saw lots of krill-like species on the beach. This is whale food! We did see lots of whale bones on the beach, evidence of earlier hunts took took place. We headed back and saw some small cemeteries from the 1917 influenza epidemic, the wood “head stones” still legible! We were also looking for polar bear tracks but did not find any. We stopped at a tropical place at the fishing village of Pigniq; it had palm trees made from driftwood and baleen. Once back at the ARF, we rested for an hour before heading out to dinner at the Top of the World Hotel. Craig George and Cyd Hanns, from the Department of Wildlife Management joined us as well as Taktuk, a grandson of Sadie Brower Neakok, the late Inupiat elder who shared a magnificent oral history of Inupiat life in the 1980s. To round out the evening, we did our shopping at the AC – wowed by the astonishingly high prices – and left with a $480 bill for a cart of food. Returned home about 9pm, to shower and prepare for Point Lay. I headed to bed; Crissy and kids stayed up and played the game “heads up” with other ARF residents, Nathan, Callie, and Sam.


Outside: the Inupiat Heritage Center. Inside: the skull of a bowhead whale.


Crissy “Polar Bear Bait” Gray can’t wait to go to the top of the world! Outside the ARF gearing up for a visit to Point Barrow. D’Vante, Anthony, Aakyia, and C.J. all geared up.


Pequot students exploring some sea ice on the beach.


Learning about Barrow’s “frozen family,” birdwatching, looking for whales, and watching shifting ice in the Chukchi Sea.


Checking a fishing net in Elson Lagoon.


Playing “head’s up” in the ARF kitchen.

June 28 – Sunday. Packed our gear, boxed our food, cleaned and swept the ARF by 10:30 in preparation our trip to Point Lay (Kali).  We checked in at the airport which took a while because seven of us (including Leslie) were carrying lots of gear and food.  Because of delays, we had a little extra time to go to the AC and have breakfast and get some last minute items.  By 2pm, we were boarding our flight and bound for the Inupiat Village of Point Lay, population about 250.  Once we landed, we settled in at our new accommodations in the classrooms at Kali School.  After a brief orientation and learning some rules of the road, Crissy and the kids went to see Marjorie Long and her family.  The rest of us relaxed a bit.  Later, Robert, Leslie, and I spent time in the kitchen making dinner – spaghetti and meat sauce.


Hopping on a puddle hopper from Barrow to Point Lay!


Departing Barrow – tundra, village, Chukchi sea.


First time on a puddle jumper!


A picture framed view of Point Lay (Kali) from our plane.


Greeted by the kids of Point Lay.

Afterwards, at about 9pm (remember, the sun doesn’t set here at this time of year), we took a walk to the boat launch to check on the zodiacs. Saw lots of kids who were playing with their new guests and chatted with others about fishing and the recent beluga harvest that took place here.  It was rather windy and the prevailing direction out of the northwest was pushing lots of water into the Kasegaluk Lagoon. For another reason, the wind was really welcome: it kept the mosquitos at bay! This time of year, at the snow and ice melts, water pools up in the tundra and provides perfect conditions for mosquito breeding. So with a constant breeze, we continued our hike into the tundra and did some bird watching – saw a snowy owl and several long-tail jaegers, beach combing, and checked out the arctic tundra wildflowers in bloom. On our way back into the village, we were greeted by other members of the village who were cruising around on their ATVs, some on their way home, some searching for their kids, some coming to say hi. We arrived back at the school and were greeted by more kids, many we would like to see participate in the cultural exchange in the future. We talked for a while and then headed in to wind down the evening…

June 29 – Blustery day and mid-40’s. Slow start and waiting for word if we would head across the lagoon to conduct some sampling of the 50 or so beluga whales that were harvested by the community on June 21st.  Still choppy on the water, so we had breakfast, relaxed for a while and played a dice game called farcle, and then went for a walk. Some of the village kids followed us and we eventually ran into Robert Lisbourne. Robert showed us the mammoth tusk he found in the tundra last year and then we asked if we could see his father’s ice cellar. His dad, Julius Rexford, is one of the village whaling captains and the ice cellar are used to store larger shares of whale meat and maktak. The cellar was dug into the permafrost at a depth of about ten feet by using large augers. The lower five feet was expanding horizontally by hand chopping so was about eight feet in diameter. Inside the ice cellar there was a leak that had formed a very large icicle, with water pooled below in a plastic tub. We helped Robert haul out the ice and water by using a 5 gallon bucket with a handle tied to a rope.  After visiting Robert, we headed to the boat launch and back to Kali school for lunch.  Heard that we would hold off on our visit to the barrier island until the winds died down so we relaxed for a while. I took a nap and nearly missed dinner. After dinner, some of us went for a walk to the old Air Force hangar and “raven tower” where the ravens nest.  Willard Neakok, Leslie Stalker, and a group of village kids joined us. We chatted along the way, threw and/or were hit with snowballs, and went beach combing. Along the beach we found a dead beluga and took a sample for genetic testing.  The boys were throwing rocks in the pools of water, finding bird’s nests, and racing off on their bikes.  When we got back the the school, we continued a rousing game of farcle and the Pequot students had finally connected up with their Kalimiut counterparts for the cultural exchange. As I close out this entry at 1am, they are all outside playing basketball.


An arctic tundra discovery! Robert Lisbourne, D’Vante, Aakyia, and Crissy with a fossilized mammoth tusk that Robert found last year.


Robert Lisbourne chopping at a large icicle in the ice cellar.


Inside Julius Rexford’s ice cellar with stored beluga and bowhead whale from recent harvests.


Robert, Crissy, Burton, D’Vante and others looking down at Jason in the ice cellar.


Late evening stroll to the old Air Force hangar (DEW line) and raven tower.


Playing an aggressive game of farcle! Clockwise from bottom left: Leslie, Tracy Romano, Anthony, C.J., Crissy

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Jason trying on a pair of Inupiat snow goggles and photo-bombed by Terry Ferreira.


Nick Hank brought some beluga maktaaq goodness for a midnight snack!

June 30 – Woke up to a pancake and sausage breakfast. Crissy and students slept in as they  have adjusted to the Point Lay schedule and had been spending lots of time with friends in the village. That is, because of 24 hours of light, many people wake up much later in the day. We start to see the kids playing and visiting at 9pm and they are often out until 2 or 3 am or later.  Late in the morning another scientist, Donna, had a arrived. She is a doctoral student interested in beluga behavior, especially in relation to climate change.

Once everyone was up and had eaten we headed to the boat launch at about 1pm to load up and head across the lagoon. It was cooler, about 40 degrees F and breezy – 15 knot winds, so no mosquitos.  The goal today was to take tissue samples from each of the beluga whales that had been harvested on June 21. This was for genetic testing to help develop a better understanding of the long term population dynamics and behaviors of belugas from this area. The cooler temperatures and wind also kept the smell more manageable.  Kyia get a little wet on the way over and the other Pequots were getting cold so Crissy took them for a walk to the old Point Lay village sites to warm up.  They saw house foundations and abandoned ice cellars, found bear bones, and the beluga bone pile from past year’s harvests.  Once we had finished sampling we brought the Pequot back across the lagoon so they could warm up at the school and I went with the science crew to Kali inlet to look for belugas that might be in the area and that might be subjects for tagging.  No belugas, but we did some bird watching and beach combing. I was looking for amber on the beach. Towards the end of our time on the barrier island, I found an area with lots of naturally occurring coal. Where there’s coal, there’s often amber. I found a couple of small pieces.

When we  returned to the school about 5pm, I made dinner while others rested or played the dice game, farcle. I jumped in when I could to play. After dinner, we continued farcle and Leslie Stalker joined us.  Crissy went to visit our friend and former chaperone, Lily Anniskett.  The Pequot students were connecting with Point Lay students and the rest of us had movie night: Big Miracle – about three gray whales trapped in the ice near Barrow.  Based on a true story, we learned about many of the characters and scenes portrayed in the film from Robert and Leslie.  After the movie, at about midnight, we all played floor hockey in the gym. We had a great time and soon after started winding down, thought the Point Lay kids were starting to visit again. We were planning an earlier day out on the lagoon so I asked everyone to get back to our “normal” schedule.  We’ll see…

FYI – Here’s the link to Bill Hess’ blog about the real story of the Gray Whale Rescue.


Science crew geared up and headed over to the old village to sample belugas.


Anthony and C.J. checking out the remnants of an old ice cellar.


The beluga bone pile from years past…


The research team looking at vertebral fusion patterns on adult and juvenile beluga skeletons.

July 1 – Really windy today. And cool. Suspended our plans to be on the water today. Catching up on work.  At noon, we all headed over to the firehouse for Bill Tracy’s retirement party (it was combined with Julius Rexford’s BBQ for cleanup crews).  We saw lots of community members and spent some time talking with folks. Jane Pikok and Leo Ferreira (village council president) let me know that they wanted to have a meeting tomorrow night to hear from us about our research proposal. Afterwards Tracy and I met with Robert and Leslie to discuss our research proposal.  Dinner was FFY (fend for yourself). I had the maktaaq, rice, and veggies that Nick Hank brought over the other night along with some Irish soda bread that Greg made (he’s Irish).

July 2 – Wind beginning to lay down and expected to continue to getting calmer. Relaxed and caught up on work and emails most of the day. Preparing for the village council meeting in the evening.  After dinner, we headed over to the community building for the council meeting. About twenty-five people were present. Leo presided over the meeting agenda and an organized and respectful discussion of issues and concerns followed. At every point, it was clear that attendees were interested in knowing how things would be for the benefit of the village. Robert and Greg were able to update the village on research related issues and towards the end of the meeting, I presented information and a plan for research that Tracy Romano and I have relating to the social networks associated the harvest and distribution of beluga meat and maktaaq.  The council will deliberate about this later and when they have some more detail from Tracy and I.  The meeting adjourned at 9:37pm.  We all headed back to the school for a relatively quick dinner and then prepared for a late night on the ocean looking for beluga.  We were at the boat launch by 11pm and soon after in the Arctic. We headed across the lagoon to pick up the gear on the barrier island and then through Kali Pass. No beluga.  Then south inside the lagoon to 5 Mile Pass and beached the zodiacs. We did spot some belugas and kept an eye on them with binoculars. We radioed to town with hopes to have extra boats help drive beluga into the lagoon for tagging.  We waited for about an hour watching and beach combing (i found some more amber).  Eventually Patrick arrived and we headed out. Belugas were no longer visible so we headed south and then a drive north to push any that we could not see. Still nothing.  On our drive north we did see gray whales – female and calf – at a distance.  Headed in at 4:30am and exhausted.


Leo Ferreira presiding over the Council meeting.



Kali and Mashantucket Pequot students outside the school.



Looking for belugas at Five Mile Pass.


Beach combing for amber.







Dry suits are on and we’re ready to tag beluga!


Surveying the horizon for beluga in the Arctic Ocean. l-r: Jason, Tracy, C.J., Donna.

July 3 – Up at 10am to the sound of a vacuum.  Steven, the school maintenance supervisor, didn’t realize we had been up so late and was cleaning. Needless to say, I got up and made coffee for everyone. Robert and Leslie made pancakes, bacon, and sausage for lunch. Donna, Tracy, and Greg? made sandwiches for our afternoon outing to look for belugas.  Crissy and the students decided to stay in the village to meet up with the Kali students and help to prepare for the festivities tomorrow.  We went to the boat launch at about 3pm and prepared the boats.  Robert and Leslie were in one zodiac, Greg, Donna, and Tracy in another, and Jim Jim Tazruk and I in the third. Robert Lisbourne, Genebyrd Tuckfield, Iqsi Lane, and Cyrus Nukapigak took their boat. We first headed across the lagoon to Kali Inlet beach to pick up the gear we left there the night before and to check for any beluga activities.  Saw a dead juvenile male walrus, but no beluga. Headed south on the ocean side to Five Mile Inlet to check. The other boats stayed about half a mile off while Jim Jim and I went in the pass to check for beluga. Still none, but we saw Leo Ferreira and his family. We stopped to check in and Lena, Leo’s wife, asked for a ride in the zodiac – she had never been in one. I took her for a quick spin in the lagoon and then Jim Jim and I were off heading south about 15 miles to Neakok Pass and then Kasegaluk Pass.   On the way, we saw a harbor porpoise, but no belugas at either place. We stopped at the barrier island at Kasegaluk Pass to rest, eat, beachcomb, and make sure there were no bears in the area. I was still hunting for amber and Jim Jim showed us an area called Amberville. We all found lots and lots of amber in the wrackline and in areas with sea tumbled coal.  By 7:30pm, we packed up and headed north inside the lagoon towards Snow Goose Island. We stopped briefly at Neakok Cabin, an outpost for the community and a favorite place for picking salmon berries.  Robert, Cyrus, Gene, and Iqsi, surveyed the area for caribou to hunt and then we were off. As we approached the Snow Goose Island, the water became very shallow and we spent some time poling and lifting our engine while trying to locate the channel again. We eventually made it to our destination and gathered to discuss the plan to survey the island for snow goose nests. The mosquitos were really bad, so we had our head nets on and plenty of bug spray. The eleven of us spread out and spent and counted about 250 nests this year.  By 10:30pm we were done and back in our boats to look for beluga inside the lagoon and at the inlets.  We got stuck again in the shallows but eventually made it to deeper water.  Still no sign of beluga so Jim Jim and I shot off north checking out some of the bays and deeper areas for the next seven miles north. Back home and wiped out. Not feeling well. Probably dehydration. Drank lots and headed to bed.


At Kasegaluk Pass.


Neakok Cabin.



Inside Neakok Cabin. l-r: Cyrus, Genebyrd, Iqsi, and Robert.




Searching Snowgoose Island and counting nests.


A decent amber stash from beach combing at Kasegaluk Pass and Amberville.


July 4 – I woke up feeling much better and well rested. The most common greeting today: Happy 4th of July! Along with Bill Tracy, we all spent the latter part of the morning cutting lettuce, tomatoes, shucking and boiling corn, and boiling chicken in preparation for the day’s festivities.  By the about noon, we had shifted to the community center, setting up and lighting grills. We would soon be cooking for about 250 people! Burgers, hotdogs, egg salad, pasta salad, fruits, fancy cakes, and more. In the midst of this, many of the games and races were under way. Various running races by age category were organized. I ran and won my category (challenging to do in knee high muck boots!). Donna and I were asked to be judges for the Eskimo donut contest, so got to sample seven different donuts.  Once the grilling was done, the community gathered around the tables, everyone took their hats off, and one of the elders said a prayer. Then we feasted! After the food vanished, there was a short break and then Eskimo dancing began. We watched wonderful and varied dances that many of the Kali participated in either as drummers, dancers, or both.  Near the end, the students, myself, Robert, Tracy, Donna, Greg, and Leslie and other guests joined in the dancing. Then we taught the Kalimuit the round dance, something they all enjoyed doing. We helped clean up, then to the school. The students, Crissy, and I went to the shootout competition at the boat launch. The others stayed in and played farcle and to rest. We didn’t stay too long at the shootout and then headed back to the school. The movie tonight: Little Miss Sunshine. Nothing better for a good laugh.




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July 5 – Slept in till 11am. My time is more in line with Kali time now. Slow start to the day and around the breakfast table, beginning to discuss how the Cultural Exchange went this year and how we might add or change things to build in more structure to the program. Also that we need to start packing and cleaning for our departure tomorrow. Just as we began to settle in to the days plans, we got word that sisuaq (beluga) were spotted at Kali Sinogak (or Pass – I learned a new Inupiat word today). We all raced to get our gear together and down to the boat launch by about 2:30pm. It was about 75F and no wind in Point Lay today and REALLY bad mosquitos! Timm Ferreira and Jim Jim Tazruk joined us as we headed out through Kali and north towards 11 Mile Sinogak. I was in a zodiac with Timm, Jim Jim, and D’Vante and Jim Jim was anxious to get out so we were out in front looking for beluga. The ocean was really calm and we were a ways out. Saw some interesting linear currents off in the distance and Jim Jim said they were whale wakes. About 10 minutes later we spotted a gray whale and two bowhead whales (mother and calf). Lots of water fowl, but no beluga!

We arrived at 11 Mile Sinogak and watched for signs of beluga activity. Bryan Anniskett took his boat along the shoreline with Leo Ferreira Jr. and Mike. We met, snacked, and then Bryan and crew headed farther north to see if there were beluga they could turn back. We beached all of the zodiacs and waited, watched, beachcombed, and enjoyed the very beautiful arctic environment. When we hit the beach, Jim Jim was off and running.  Timothy was not far behind.  Jim Jim found some whale vertebra and rib bones that he stuck in the sand so others would know the beach has been combed.  He proceeded to find a dead walrus and, as putrified as it was, he worked to remove the tusks, calling it “Eskimo money.” After some time wrangling the tusks (all of us helped), they were finally free.  He and Timm kept going. I sat for a bit with the scientists and just watched and listened to Arctic sounds. It’s really amazing to find yourself in a place so remote that it is possible to find no evidence of buildings, cars, trains, planes, boats.  Just waves, birds, and wind through the beach grass.  After some time, we walked south to the sinogak, beach combing along the way. More whale, walrus, and other bones. At the little spit of land at the end, I found a mammoth tooth! We all convened back at the zodiacs and Robert had to take on to pick up Jim Jim and Patrick and his family. Jim Jim had found two more walruses and made out like a bandit! On our way back we stopped at the beach where an estimated 35,000 walrus hauled out last September. They have been doing this since 2007 and this past year it made international news because of heightened interest in global climate change – lack of ice for them to haul out on.  This past year, there was a stampede on the beach and many dozens of walrus died. We stopped to check it out and they were all putrified, tusks removed (post-mortem), and the surrounding stretch of beach was more astroturf-colored grass because of all the walrus scat fertilizer.  After this visit, we headed back towards Kali. We found Patrick and family on the beach with a boat motor that blew, so we towed him. As we passed the old village of Kali, we got news that there were three grizzly bears neat the village.  At about 10pm, we got to the boat launch, cleaned up, dismantled one zodiac, we took the truck to see if we could find them out near the airport hangar.  No sighting…

Back at the school, we cooked, cleaned, and did some much needed laundry in preparation for our departure tomorrow.  The students gave some gifts to their Kalimiut friends and we ended the night with a short film, Arctic Soundings: A Year in the Life of Bowhead Whale.


Whale vertebra that Jim Jim put on the beach as a marker.


Taking turns extracting tusks, “eskimo money,” from a putrefied walrus. l-r: Timothy, Jim Jim, Patrick, and Greg.


Following whale wakes on the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.


Dead walrus from last year’s stampede.


Jim Jim’s prize!


Mammoth tooth found by Jason on the beach.

July 6 – Last day at Kali! 85F and very little wind! Lots of mosquitos!  Slept in a bit, but up cleaning our space and packing for our return trip.  I got on the village radio and announced that our “beluga dip” would be at the boat launch at 1pm.  When we arrived there, we were the only ones and Crissy was mad at me that I was making her jump in.  Marjorie Long wanted to do it as well. By 1:15 or so, there weren’t many people so we jumped in. Not too cold. Once we did that lots more people fro the village came and joined us and we all stayed in the water!! It was a ton of fun! After the dip, we showered up and started loading our gear into Marie and Bill Tracey’s pickup. I visited a few friends and presented gifts and then back to the school for our ride to the airstrip. Good bye Point Lay and Kalimuit friends! Till next summer!


About to get wet!


Oh yeah! And more joined in after this!


With Marie, saying goodbye.


Kali airstrip and the hangar far in the background.


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Alaska Cultural Exchange – Summer 2014 – Field Journal

For the next two weeks, I’m going to blog what will amount to a daily journal of events that take place on the 2014 Mashantucket Pequot/Point Lay cultural exchange.  First, a little background on the project:

Mashantucket/Point Lay Cultural and Educational Exchange

The North Slope Borough of Alaska and the Inupiat Village of Point Lay (Kali), Mystic Aquarium, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (and Museum) have developed a collaborative educational and cultural exchange program. The program is now in its 6th year, and serves to connect members of the Inupiat community of Point Lay, Alaska who subsistence hunt beluga whales and members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe whose ancestors were an integral part of the 19th century Yankee whalefishery.

Part of the program is centered at Mystic Aquarium (MA), one of the nation’s most respected aquariums and leaders in marine science research and education. The mission of MA is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through research, education and exploration. MA has made significant strides in marine science with research on beluga whales, seals, and sea lion populations in the wild and in the collection. One of the main attractions at MA is the Arctic Coast exhibit which features beluga whales and in the future will also include ice seals.

Participants work alongside experts in biology and in history/anthropology. Aquarium research scientist, Dr. Tracy Romano, has been working in the field in collaboration with Dr. Robert Suydam from the Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough (NSB), Alaska since the early 1990’s. Tracy and Robert have been studying wild belugas in order to assess their health and to compare them with the belugas at Mystic Aquarium. For the past few summers, these scientists have returned to Point Lay to collect blood samples from live capture-satellite tagged whales for health assessments as well as blood and tissues from the subsistence hunted whales. Given the changing climate, oil and gas exploration and drilling, as well as other stressors such as pollutants including sound, it is critical to gain some insight on the health of belugas now and to establish a baseline from which to draw from in the future after some of these changes occur. Last year, Dr. Jason Mancini of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum joined this collaboration bringing historical and anthropological perspectives to the project. His extensive work on indigenous seafaring – in particular, whaling – and social networks connects many of the worlds indigenous whaling cultures and brings new stories of connection and collaboration to the public through his Indian Mariners Project.

Through this program we hope to inspire young people from the North Slope and from Mashantucket (and other indigenous communities) to pursue careers in biology and science and ultimately be a resource to their home communities relating to the management of their natural and cultural resources in an ever-changing environment. In addition to the scientific exposure at the Aquarium, students will spend some time at the Pequot Museum participating in educational programming and cultural events. Students from the Point Lay and Mashantucket Pequot communities will be exposed to each other’s culture and traditions and learn about how each relies on the natural resources of our waterways and oceans.

2014 Field Journal

June 26 – Very early morning. Out of the house at 4am to pick up tribal members Noah Cudd and Dennis Charles. They are participating this year in the cultural exchange between the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the Alaskan Native Village of Point Lay (Kali). We headed to the Providence airport to begin our day of travel: Providence –> Chicago –> Anchorage –> Prudhoe Bay –> Barrow. We arrived in Barrow at 6pm and as I walked out of the plane and into the Alaskan air to a mix of rain and snow, I knew it was going to be colder than our visit last year (weather reports ahead of time braced me for this). In spite of this, we were warmly received by our friends Leslie Pierce and Willard Neakok. Unfortunately, during our travels, my bags, Noah’s bag, and sampling equipment from Tracy Romano at Mystic Aquarium parted ways with us somewhere along the way. No more flights into Barrow for the day, so we filed a claim with Alaska Air and hoped for the best.

Leslie and Willard gave us a brief tour of parts of Barrow and then we grabbed a bite at the brand new Top of the World Hotel. I recognized a familiar face in the next booth – Nathan Henry, Jr. (from Point Lay) who had just had a broken collarbone mended. After dinner, we walked across the street to the Cape Smythe whaling and trading station (and, later, Brower’s Store), the first in Barrow, and took pictures under a massive bowhead whale jawbone arch. We parted ways with Willard and continued with more tour before heading to the ARF (Arctic Research Facility) where we would bunk for a few nights before heading to Point Lay. There we met up with friends I met last year, Yosty Storms (a research assistant from the Inupiat Village of Unalakleet) and Raphaela Stimmelmayr (a seasoned wildlife veterinarian originally from Germany) who were in the middle of dissecting the liver of a recently hunted bearded seal (ugruk).   We toured the ARF’s equipment room that included all of the necessary arctic outer layers we would need for Point Lay and in the interim wait for our lost baggage.


Welcome to the Top of the World. Bowhead jawbone arch with an umiak on the left an a Yankee whaleboat on the right. Near the Brower whaling station, l-r: Willard Neakok, Jason Mancini, Dennis Charles, and Noah Cudd.



Cape Smythe whaling and trading station, Barrow, Alaska.


Yosty Storms and Raphaela Stimmelmayr.

June 27 – woke up to a heavy rain and a shallow river of water in the ARF kitchen from a leak in the skylight. Made coffee and met Ian Jon Brower (an intern for the Department of Wildlife Management), Bobby (the fix-it guy), and Billy Adams. Billy is from one of the Barrow whaling families and had invited us to participate in their nalukataq (blanket toss gathering and giveaway) on Saturday. He was in the kitchen making soup for the Department of Wildlife Management (DWM) staff. I asked Billy about the whaling season in Barrow this year. He said seven bowhead whales had been harvested this year so far.

Noah, Dennis, and I met the Department staff in the conference room at NARL (the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory building that also houses Ilisagvik College) where everyone devoured Billy’s soup and other treats. We spent some time there so I could work and catch up on email. We then headed over to the Inupiat Heritage Center (IHC) with Leslie and Nicole Kanayurak (a Dartmouth graduate heading to grad school in Seattle for marine affairs). There, we went to the Traditional Room (a Native artist’s space) and met a friend from last year, Vernon Rexford, one of the most extraordinary carvers I’ve ever seen. He works with mammoth tusk, baleen, and on our visit today, was in the middle of sculpting what must have been a 15-foot long bowhead whale jaw. We chatted with Vernon and other very talents folks for a bit and then went to meet up with Arctic Region Representative Benjamin “Benny” Nageak, who was campaigning for office in this election year. We learned quite a bit about Benny, his involvement in Native affairs for 40 years, as well as his support of local students and interest in our cultural exchange. I also had the opportunity to meet and chat with Van Edwardsen, a local whaler who generously and humorously shared some of his recent experiences hunting bowheads. We toured the whaling exhibit at the IHC – a wonderful assemblage of knowledge and material culture, reminding me especially of the centrality of whaling to Inupiat life in the Arctic.


Vernon Rexford with a recent in-progress sculpture on a bowhead whale jawbone at the Inupiat Heritage Center. Also a partial mammoth skull by his knee.


Dennis Charles, Jason Mancini, Rep. Bennie Nageak, and Noah Cudd in front of a map of the North Slope Borough.


Jason Mancini and Van Edwardsen at IHC.



In the lobby of the Inupiat Heritage Center under a model bowhead whale. l-r: Dennis Charles, Leslie Pierce, Nicole Kanayurak, and Noah Cudd.

After our visit at the IHC, we went to the AC Store (like a mini Walmart) to experience true sticker shock in the north – where a gallon of milk is $10 and a case of soda $36. We stopped at the airport to check on baggage…still none. Then back to the college for a bit where we met one of Alaska’s gubernatorial candidates, Byron Mallot, and his supporters including Alaskan Native rights activist, Willie Hensley. After some exchange, we were able to track down Harry Hank (one of the Point Lay students who visited us in Connecticut back in March). He was in culture camp with other students at the old fishing village of Pigniq (at the north end of Barrow). We warmed up back at the ARF and made some mac and cheese. Yosty had other plans for our dinner and conjured up a fantastic stir-fry and some ugruk meat that we ate with onion and mustard. After our feast, we were invited to Cyd Hanns’ house for a movie (Cyd is a wildlife research assistant and her husband, Craig George is one of the senior wildlife biologists at DWM; he was away with one of their sons on an Arctic expedition). Just before heading out, Leslie arrived at the ARF with our bags! Very relieved. Spoiled with treats at Cyd’s (including Ian Jon’s monkey bread) and headed out at midnight (with midnight sun!).


On the edge of the Chukchi Sea (Arctic Ocean) near the fishing community of Pigniq. l-r: Harry Hank from Point Lay, Dennis Charles, and Noah Cudd.


Yosty explaining to Noah and Dennis how to eat ugruk meat.


June 28 – Finally got our lost luggage last night. Very cold today. Some wind, drizzle, and a touch of snow. Today, all day long, we attended a nalukataq (blanket toss) festival. This is a thanksgiving for a successful whaling season and to honor the bowhead whaling captains. The Hopson and Adams whaling crews had spent the past few weeks preparing for this giveaway. All of the ARF residents attended and we arrived in the windblocked “arena” (about the size of a hockey rink) around noon. There must have been at least four hundred people setting up chairs and coolers around the perimeter. In the center was a sealskin “blanket” made of many sealskins sewn together with ropes loop handles along the outside and ropes extending away in four directions. Large wood X’s laid about 20 feet away would be used to elevate and support the blanket toss. On one side of the arena, long tables were set up where food was laid out in preparation to be given away.


Hopson (blue jackets) and Adams (green jackets) crews and supporters getting ready for nalukataq.


Whaling crew flags (Adams on left, Hopson on right) from outside the arena.

The crews and their families first served niglik (white fronted goose) soup and tuttu (caribou) soup and Eskimo doughnuts and biscuits. Tea and coffee was served by the kids. Then we took a break and went to AC to buy groceries and back to IHC to look for gifts to buy from the Inupiat artists. We returned to nalukataq at 3pm and saw Billy Adams who put us to work moving bags of frozen meat and maktak to the tables. We rejoined the ARF folks and received in succession shares of mikiaq (fermented meat, maktak, and blood), uuruq (cooked meat), and siignaq (stewed fruit mix), bowhead quaq (frozen raw meat), and finally frozen maktak. At 6pm, we took another break, returning to the ARF with a fully packed cooler. Around 9:30, Leslie picked us up and we again returned to nalukataq. On our way, we saw hunters on the ice who had just returned with a pair of bearded seal. When we arrived people were taking turns being flung in the air. It’s easy to think this is like a trampoline, but there is a rhythm of the “toss” that needs to meet the balance and agility of the individual being tossed. People hold handles around the blanket and there is a distinct beat sound once a person is thrown and the blanket is quickly snapped from convex to concave. There is etiquette to getting on the blanket. Whaling crew members (some of whom flung bags candy) are given priority especially if two people jump on at the same time. Females and younger kids also seemed to be given priority. Dennis was particularly interested in trying this and after several attempts to get on the blanket was help on and guided by Billy Adams who was one of the blanket holders. As Dennis got his balance and a feel for the rhythm, the holders counted 1-2-3 and then tossed. Dennis instinctively did a backflip and landed and then was tossed vertically again. On his second try he did another backflip but didn’t complete it, landing face first into the grit on the blanket. He was a little cut up, but thoroughly impressed us and clearly has a fan base among the Inupiat community in Barrow. It was very cold so we went to Leslie and Robert Suydam’s house for tea until midnight and then to the school for Eskimo dancing.  Wonderful performances, but began crashing by 1:30 so back to the ARF for a late morning departure to Point Lay tomorrow (Sunday).


Billy Adams in front of the giveaway tables. Blanket in the background between yellow drums.


Tossing good candy and good tidings!


Yosty modified Eskimo ice-cream (caribou fat and bits of meat) with sugar and berries. Here, coaxing Dennis to give it a try.

June 29 – Packed up our gear and left the ARF. Headed for the airport bound for Point Lay. Flew past Wainwright (near the location of the “Lost Fleet” whaling disaster of 1871; 32 Yankee whaleships were trapped and crushed by ice) and Icy Cape. Arrived at Point Lay where we were greeted by Robert Suydam. We settled into our new accommodations at Kali School where our common area is the home economics room and sleeping quarters in one of the classrooms. Hans Thewissen, Professor of Anatomy at Northeastern Ohio Medical University (mascot is the “Walking Whale,” a contribution from Hans), was also at the school. In addition to helping Robert and Raphaela, we would also be assisting in Hans’ collection of anatomical data from any harvested belugas.

Scouts had been out all day and reported that the belugas (sisuaq) were being herded north from Omalik Lagoon. Noah and Dennis got a tour of the village and boat launch where we were sure to be spending some time, then rested a bit and waited for more reports from the hunters. We met a Turkish sailor had moored his sailboat outside of Kali inlet. The hunters were concerned that this would disrupt the hunt and Robert told him that it would be a good idea to move his vessel to the north about a mile.  Later, Robert and I went to Five Mile Inlet and by just after 8pm saw the stream of ten boats herding about one hundred belugas north towards Kali inlet which was directly across from the village. We sped back to the school and collected our gear, and Leslie, Dennis, Noah, and Hans. By 9:30 we were on the hill by the boat launch watching the crews push the belugas into the shallows of the lagoon. Off in the distance, in the Chukchi, we could see gray whale spouts.  Between 10 and 11 pm, eight belugas harvested. We then headed across the lagoon to the old village beach and helped pull the belugas on shore.


At Five Mile Inlet. The black dots on the horizon line are the boats moving from left to right while herding belugas. If you look closely towards the right side, you will see belugas blowing water.


At Kali Inlet. Just inside and to the right, the boats have surrounded the belugas.


Beautiful Alaskan sky. The science crew on the beach near the old village. On the left are the remnants of old ice cellars for storing whale meat and other foods.

Kali inlet was reopened this past year when an ice dam coupled with melting waters from the nearby river burst to form an opening to the Chukchi Sea. The waters near the inlet were deeper than expected making the harvest more difficult and many belugas escaped.   While we were on the beach a couple of belugas were making their way out of the lagoon and the boat crews were attempting to harvest them.


One last chance. On the bow, harpoon in hand, chasing the white whale. It was indeed a ghost…

The scientists then began the process of collecting samples for the Department of Wildlife Management as well as for others with particular interests relating to beluga studies. We assisted and also collected samples for Dr. Tracy Romano, our colleague at Mystic Aquarium who was unable to make the trip this year. Because it was still light we worked until about 4am. Exhausted, we headed back to the school to get some rest before another long day tomorrow (or is it later today?). One of the community members, Perry Pikok, was planning to stay up for the rest of the night keeping the gulls away and any curious bears until the community returned.

June 30 – Slept in a bit after a very exhausting day. Robert picked up Raphaela at the Point Lay airport and following some brief preparation, at about 11am, we headed back to the harvest site to complete the scientific study of the eight beluga (sisuaq). Soon after we resumed work, collecting samples and removing some meat and maktaq, Robert Lisbourne arrived with family members, as did Willard Neakok. Other families trickled in to continue processing the harvest. Piles of meat, maktaq, and fins that we started the night before, grew quickly with many hands participating. Several men and women were working with one of the community elders, Nora Itta, to collect tendons from the backstrap of the beluga. These would be used to sew bearded seal (ugruk) skins together that would then be used to cover traditional umiaq (boat) frames. Others were boiling fresh maktaq for a snack, so we tried it with some salt. It is delicious like bowhead muktaq but much more tender.


Hans and Raphaela at the boat launch ready to head across the lagoon.


Eating boiled muktaq! In the rear, Perry Pikok, Willard Neakok, and Lloyd. Kids (l-r): Lily, George, ??, Samuel, ??.

At about 5pm, when the sisuaq processing was finished, we were invited to join hands with the community around the piles of meat and maktaq to give thanks for the food that will sustain them for the coming months.  A list was created of the 55 households in Point Lay and then eleven viewers were chosen to ensure the even distribution of meat and maktaq. As I was heading up the hill to take a picture, Lupita Henry asked me to be a viewer. I agreed, and she kindly guided me through the process of the making sure that five shares I was responsible for were fair. Community members, including many kids, were asked to bring pieces of maktaq to each of the 55 locations chosen by the viewers.  This was done one or two pieces at a time until it was gone. Then the meat was distributed in the same fashion.  Tail and flippers were available to anyone who wanted them.  The shares were then chosen by people or family representatives on the site.  Others were left on site for others who were not present.

Afterward the shares were allocated, we packed up our gear and headed back to the village for a much needed rest. We were back at the school by 6:30.

July 1 – Went back to barrier island to do some final preparation for Hans. Took a look around the old ice cellars noticed the Turkish man(name?) and his sail boat was still there. He had stopped by since the harvest to inquire what we were all up to.  He had extended his stay in the area because of the ice up north, his intended route through north and east through the arctic.  He was seemingly unaware that his vessel was interfering with a second hunt by scaring the belugas.  Joseph Neakok and Bryan Anniskett came by to chat for a bit after beluga scouting. Both had been involved in the cultural exchange in years past.  They said the belugas were north but blocked by sea ice near icy cape so were coming south as well.

Nathan Henry stopped by to sell 50/50 raffle tickets for the 4th of July events. Lots of chatter on the radio about this.  Gertie Frankson came by to show us some jewelry her husband made from ivory and baleen as well as some objects/artifacts she found on the beach.  In the evening, Leslie, Robert, and I went for a walk around the village. Several girls kept us company – Teri, Trina, and Torri. Nathan Jr. came to say hi. He was doing well since breaking his collar bone last week.  New houses on the 900 block at the north end of the village were attempting to use new technologies for sewage and for suspension as some houses were settling unevenly into the permafrost.  Robert won the 50/50 and donated it back.  Played the dice game farkle to wind down the evening…

July 2 – Slow day today and some catching up on writing and discussion with Robert and Leslie about the politics of whaling and about the future of the cultural exchange.  Nathan Henry came by for round two of 50/50 raffle.  Tim Ferreira (a former participant in the exchange) came by to talk about opportunities for him as he is heading into his senior year of high school.   He and Nichole Tukrook will be assisting us in the coming days when we head to “snow goose” island. I announced over the radio that Dennis, Noah, and I would be doing a polar plunge at the boat launch at 3pm. Marie Tracy called it a “beluga dip.” Harry Hank and Nichole Tukrook joined us and we had several onlookers as we jumped in not once, but twice! Came home, warmed up, went for walk to the old Air Force hangar with a bunch of kids tagging along.  During the cold war the U.S. military created several Distant Early Warning (DEW line) sites across the arctic, and this is one of the visible remnants of that era.  Climbed raven tower and did some bird watching.  We saw many whale spouts (most likely gray whales) off in the distance and I saw one breach. We started a snowball fight with the kids, headed home, and had beluga meat stir fry.  I won the 50/50 and donated it back. Leslie won the pizza raffle. More farkle and a light night.

snow beach

Hanging out on the snow beach before the beluga dip.


Our little friends wait patiently outside the school for us to join them.


Snow ball fight!

Kalimuit girls

Kalimiut kids!

July 3 – Today we planned a research trip to Snow Goose Island, about 10 miles south of Point Lay.  We loaded up our gear and met Point Lay students Timmothy Ferreira and Nichole Tukrook at the boat launch. They had both participated in the cultural exchange in the past and were interested in helping us out.  We also saw Bryan Anniskett and Joe Neakok at the ramp, about ready to leave and check their fishing net across the lagoon.  We asked if we could tag along to see what they caught.  We followed them in our zodiacs to the net, about halfway between the village and Five Mile Inlet.


Joseph and Bryan checking their net. Robert looking on.

After checking the nets, we headed south inside the lagoon. We unloaded at Snow Goose Island and Robert oriented us to the island and how to identify nests and count hatched or predated eggs.  We spread out and made several passes across the island counting just over 300 nests.  Also startled a red-breasted merganser and a long tailed duck from their nests.  On our final pass across the island, we saw remnants of an old hunting camp with many bones (including walrus and moose?) at the water line.  On our way back we stopped at Tracey Cabin (Bill and Marie Tracey, from Point Lay built it years ago on one of the barrier islands of the lagoon) to look around and beach comb.  I’m trying to find amber, something the folks at Point Lay find often and occasionally use in their jewelry.  We walked for a while and I was hoping to spot some more gray whales. I didn’t see any but all of a sudden belugas appeared!  Their pod was long and broad and heading right towards Point Lay. Tim called his family to let them know. There are many belugas now moving up and down the coast now, so another harvest could take place soon.


Surveying Snow Goose Island.

Survey crew at Snow Goose Island

Leaving Snow Goose Island. With me, are Dennis and Timmothy. In other zodiac, Noah, Nichole, and Robert.


Eskimo dancing at the Point Lay community center.

Around 6pm, we headed back to the village after a great afternoon and relaxed a little. Enjoyed the pizza Leslie won for dinner. Then we went to the community center at 9pm to watch the community Eskimo dancing and drumming.  It was beautiful! Towards the end, Robert, Leslie, and I were invited to participate in the dance with everyone present.  We walked around the village again with many of the kids tagging along with us and playing tag at the same time.  Then back to the school for movie night and bed!

July 4 – Started the morning with many Point Lay folks on the radio proclaiming “Happy 4th of July!” Or “Happy 4th!”  We volunteered to help out with the day’s festivities at the community center. We also heard lots of chatter about the belugas nearby, but generally, folks were more focused on the holiday.  People started arriving around noon. There were games for kids and adults, an ATV parade, and lots of food prep.  We all helped where and when we could. The Point Lay kids have really taken to Noah and Dennis so they were occupied on and off for a couple of hours.  Leslie prepared some food back at the school and Robert and I helped Marie Tracey get the food and supplies we would need to cook.  We lit the grills around 2pm and started cooking about 2:45.  Robert Lisbourne wanted to help but never grilled before (not very common in the Arctic, or at least in Point Lay), so I showed him some tips from the “lower 48.” Turned out he’s really good at it and we had a great time cooking a couple hundred burgers and dogs. Being at the grill for two hours is probably the hottest I’ve been during my time in the Arctic and neither of us have any hair left on our hands 🙂  At 5pm, once all of the food was cooked, the village came together, joined hands, and Lily Anniskett said a prayer. The table was lined with burgers, hotdogs, bowhead whale muktaq and mikiaq (from the Barrow nalukataq), juice, and soda (they love their “pop” here). Elders first, then others could serve themselves.  Leslie, Mary Margaret (an itinerant health aide), and I were asked to judge the Eskimo doughnut contest (a little like fry bread in doughnut form). All were very good, but I was partial to the one with raisins in it.  After several very festive red, white, and blue cakes were devoured, about 30 new bicycles were brought outside and lined up. Each of the kids were given a ticket for a drawing. If their number was picked they could make their choice of bike.  It was wonderful to see some of the kids choose bikes for their younger siblings or relatives.  Those that won also traded with friends or relatives for other things (like access to xbox).  During the evening, we continued to hear chatter about belugas near Kali inlet. The last community event was Eskimo drumming and dancing.  The community performs beautifully together in many synchronized dances and invited us to dance as well in the freestyle dance at the end.


Kali School. Our home while at Point Lay.


Point Lay gathers at the community center for 4th of July festivities!


Bertha on her award winning traditional Inupiaq float. Baleen and mukluks. Only the sealskin seat is missing.

Robert, Robert, and Jason - grilling

Grilling! Robert Suydam, Robert Lisbourne, and Jason Mancini.

Lily and Marie

Sisters, Lily Anniskett and Marie Tracey.

Noah, Jason, and Point Lay kids

Noah, Jason, and Kalimiut kids.

We were tired and headed back to the school to rest at about 8:30, though it was a beautiful night so I went for a walk to the high point in the village, near the boat ramp.  The last few days were warmer (mid-upper 40s), so mosquitos were getting bad, though not even close to last year.  I took binoculars and saw a dozen or so gray whales off in the distance and looked closer at Kali inlet which seemed to be boiling with hundreds of belugas.  As I was watching the belugas, I noticed lots of people and ATV movement towards the boat ramp.  I went back to the school to get Robert and Leslie and we returned to the bluff, watching as the Kalimiut launched their boats and coordinated their hunt.  The goal was for half of the boats to go out on the north side of the inlet and half to go out on the south side and surround them and push them back into the lagoon.  This began at about 10:30pm. Many beluga scattered and most headed for the safety of deeper water. But by midnight, a number had been pushed back into the lagoon and six were harvested.  We headed to the barrier island at the old village along with Point Lay students Harry Hank and Timmothy Ferreira to take some samples from the harvested beluga.  One of whaling captain Julius Rexford’s grandkids, Iqsi (about 12 years old), stayed with us to learn more about what we were doing.  We finished sampling at 2:30am when we heard Julius’ boat lumbering towards us. At 2:45, Julius, Robert (Lisbourne), and Willie brought two more beluga they harvested from Eleven Mile Inlet to the north. We sampled them, then rolled the beluga together into two groups of four and covered them with tarps to keep the seagulls away. No spotters tonite; will keep an eye out for bears when we go back out. We were home at 4am.  Time for some much needed rest.


Dennis and Noah walking home from the boat launch after the harvest. 3:30am.

July 5 – Woke up about 10 and worked a bit. Others up about noon. We headed to boat ramp at 2pm with some sampling material. Overcast, cooler, and windy. No mosquitos. Our goal today was to collect what we could while working alongside the community as they harvested muktaq and meat from the beluga.  Kali folks were at the launch and heading over at the same time.  Thomas Nukapigak, one of the whaling captains, directed us to roll the belugas apart so they could be cut up more effectively.  Robert, Leslie, Noah, Dennis, and Timmothy collected samples and I helped the cutters by making piles of meat and muktaq with some other “hookers” (meat hooks used for pulling the muktaq from the meat to help the people cutting with ulus; then rinsing the muktaq in the lagoon before carrying it to the pile).  Many of the adults were teaching the younger kids about how to butcher beluga properly.  It got colder and started lightly raining soon after we arrived at the barrier island. Robert Lisbourne brought doughnuts and water and some of the women boiled muktaq for a snack.  Marjorie Long showed me how to strip some of the excess fat from the muktaq to avoid an upset stomach. It is very tender and delicious with a little salt.  We were close to finishing and it was getting very wet. Robert sliced his finger with a knife while collecting samples, but a bandaid, duct tape, and a latex glove held him together enough to finish.  All done around 5pm. We thanked the community for allowing us to work alongside them and left them to their division of shares.  We headed back to the school to warm up and make dinner.  Went to store and saw Gertie Frankson.  She said she would stop by because I wanted to buy a small carving her husband, Silas, made. She also brought mukluks to sell if anyone was interested. After dinner we played farkle and then watched The Hobbit.


Nora and Bertha getting muktaq prepared at the shelter.


Snacking on muktaq while Nora sharpens ulu blades.

July 6 – A day to rest. I was up at 7:30 reading and writing. Others slept in.  The village radio was quiet and the Kali kids were slow to stir, but by noon they were anxiously waiting at the school doors for us (especially Noah and Dennis, though they slept in til 1 and 2 pm). It was very windy and cool. Noah and I went for an afternoon walk to the boat launch and Teri Ferreira and Nathan Henry, Jr. joined us. We were hoping to go across the lagoon today to visit the old village, but the wind pushed most of the water out of the lagoon so it was to choppy and shallow to go. On the way back we stopped at the Lisbourne/Rexford house Robert came out to show us the mammoth tusk he found in and dug out of the tundra this winter about 40 miles both of Point Lay (while on his way to Wainwright).  Spent some time in the school library looking at books on the Inupiat history and culture. A re-articulated beluga skeleton was suspended from the library ceiling and Robert showed us another mammoth tusk in a back office that some kayakers found several years ago.  Later in the day Robert, Leslie, and I went for a walk to the boat launch to walk the beach and found the community completing their holiday shooting competition.  Once they were done, Noah, Teri, and Nathan Jr. joined us and we walked the beach and then up the nearby Kokolik River. We found the remnants of a plane crash from 30 or so years ago and then walked across the tundra back to the village.  It took about two hours to make the loop. On a windy and cool day (aka no mosquitos!) this made for a beautiful afternoon; more than that, the tundra wildflowers this time of year are extraordinarily beautiful.  We had a late dinner at 10pm and played some more farkle. At midnight Teri and her little sister, Lauren, stopped by to show me some amber she found locally (since I was asking her about it all week).


Robert with his mammoth find!



Shooting competition.


Checking out remnants from an old plane crash on the tundra.


l-r: Robert, Leslie, Noah, and Nathan, Jr. sitting in the mossy, padded tundra.






Lauren, Teri, and Jason. Teri holding a bag of amber.

July 7 – Up early reading the diaries of Charles Brower, a whaler and trader, who arrived in northern Alaska in 1884. Found an interesting account early in his journal, noting that:

“Captain Smith was a crack shot. He used an old Sharps rifle, and while with us, was always out hunting. There was no deer around that summer, but every day or so there would be a school of white fish come along the beach, These were fine sport for him. He could stand on the bank, and always got two or three out of a school. They would sink immediately, then our neighbors would take their Oomiak (skin boat) and go out to locate them. Being white they were easily seen on the bottom in three fathoms of water. They would take a long pole and fixing their spear head to it soon have their treasure hauled to the top and tow them ashore where they were soon cut up. The white fish are a small species of whale, sometimes reaching a length of fifteen feet. Beluga in the correct name for them.

Here is where I first run up against some of their superstitions, the one I especially refer to was connected with these Beluga.  The second one that was towed in, I happened to be near when they landed. I wanted to start cutting on it at once, but the Eskimo would not permit me to touch the animal, as Captain Smith had shot it and told me I could not have it. I wanted to find out what the reason was. Finally they made me understand that the Sheshoa, as they called it, had to have a drink of fresh water before it was cut up. I found out afterward that this applied to any animal that was taken from the salt water. Living in salt water they needed a drink of water that was not salt. If this was not supplied their spirit would tell the rest of the tribe and no more white fish would ever be taken.”

Charles Brower with baleen plates

Charles Brower with baleen in front of the Cape Smythe whaling station, Barrow, Alaska.

At about 2pm we went the launch and disassembled one zodiac. We left the other incase the winds died down so we could go across the lagoon to the old village.  This was the second day that strong winds from the north pushed and kept water very low in the lagoon.  Too low for any motor boat at the moment.  I could still see gray whale blows out in the distance amidst many whitecaps.  On our way back I took Dennis and Noah over to the Itta’s house. Ira Itta makes jewelry from baleen, walrus tusk, and amber and I wanted to buy something from him.  Went back to the school and took a short break to read an archaeological report on the “frozen family” in Barrow, discovered in the early 1980s. Also started reading Etok: A Story of Eskimo Power, about the life and experiences of Charlie Edwardsen, Jr.

At 6pm, we were invited to dinner at the Community Center, where people from Shell Oil Corporation were going to make a presentation or “status update” to the community about their leases and prospective drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea about 50-60 miles off shore from Point Lay. All of the food and “door prizes” were provided by Shell. During their presentation there were many chances for community to engage and many were very vocal about their concerns.  Notably, community members were concerned about the lack of disaster preparedness and environmental damage (the Gulf Oil Spill came up several times) and sound pollution that would affect their subsistence hunting activities. They were also concerned about the lack of employment opportunities for community members and the “big oil” opposition to a coastal management plan for the North Slope.  The Point Lay community was necessarily protective of their resources and their way of life and I know the Pequots and others tribes in southern New England would have loved an opportunity like this to voice their concerns.


At the Community Center. Shell Oil presenting information.

After Shell’s presentation, some of the village council asked the community to stay so they could learn about our visit to Point Lay and about the experiences that Point Lay kids and chaperones have had in Connecticut.  Twenty-one students and seven chaperones from Point Lay have come to Connecticut  and five students and two chaperones from Connecticut have gone to Point Lay.  Several of us spoke to the community and some of the council encouraged the Shell presenters to fund this educational and cultural exchange to give students new opportunities to enrich their futures.  I was so heartened by the community interest in this.  After the meetings ended at 10pm, we headed back to the school.  The kids followed us.

July 8 – Spent most of the morning packing and getting ready to go. Put some gifts to the community in the school library (moccasins from Mashantucket Pequot tribal member Shariff Patterson, Pequot Story Blanket, and Pequot book) and returned all of the books we had been skimming.  Headed to the boat launch and dismantled the second zodiac (winds still too strong).  On our way back, we ran into Leo Ferreira, president of the village council, and gifted him a wampum necklace on behalf of the tribe. He was incredibly grateful and wanted to know more. We talked on the way to the school and told him about the library display. He wanted to take them and make them more public since our presentation the last night was ad hoc and different from the exchange the year before.  We spoke at length about leadership and concerns about and for indigenous communities today.  After Leo left, we loaded up the truck and gave some of the Point Lay “nerd club” wampum necklaces, encouraging them to study hard so they can visit us in Connecticut in the coming years.  We gave Marie Tracey wampum earrings as a thank you for all of her help and generosity during our stay and I also gave her a knife and sharpener I found on Snow Goose Island. It was inscribed “WHN” for Warren Harding Neakok, her brother.  We said goodbyes and headed to the airstrip for a 4pm departure back to Barrow.


A comfy place to rest.


Home ec room or research space?

Arrived in Barrow safely at 5:30. Headed to the ARF, cooked dinner, and time for rest.

July 9 – Up early and off to see the top of the world. Took ATVs through the fishing village of Pigniq and to look for polar bears (or at least their tracks).  On our return to Barrow, much of the ice that had been close to shore was gone – pushed out to sea by changing winds and currents.  At we approached the point we saw carcasses of seal, caribou, and large whale bones. The whale pile from last summer was gone – bulldozed out to sea – but the area was still a disposal area to keep scavengers out of town. We did see polar bear tracks and avoided continuing in the same direction since it was a bit foggy out. As we headed back, we stopped to visit the driftwood and baleen palm trees. Then to lunch with the Department of Wildlife Management staff and others from Ilisagvik College, including the college president, Pearl Brower.  Craig George was back from his wilderness travels and shared an exciting story of a bear encounter.


At Point Barrow following some pretty large polar bear footprints…



Top of the world, looking south!


At Pigniq checking out umiaks, old (bearded seal skin) and new (fiberglass).



Craig George and Jason Mancini.

A tour of the NARL archaeology lab with Anne Jensen.

After lunch we went to NARL to meet Anne Jensen, an archaeologist who has done some very interesting work in Barrow, including her involvement in studying the “Frozen Family” that I had read about earlier in the week.  She showed us around the lab and discussed various artifacts that had been recovered locally. After our visit we headed to the IHC and AC to meet some of the local Inupiat artists and purchase gifts. I had missed Earl Aiken last week but was happy to find him selling is baleen etchings in the AC lobby.


Went back to the ARF to pack our gear and the foods we received at nalukataq.  We dropped our bags at the airport and had some downtime so went to the actual site of the “Frozen Family” and saw the bluff and incredibly well preserved artifacts washing out onto the beach. We went to the top of the hill and saw the remains of several sod houses that were on about an acre of land known as Ukpiagvik.   After tho brief jaunt, we were off to the airport.  We said our goodbyes to Robert and Leslie and I will definitely look forward to future visits. I hope Noah and Dennis will too.  Heading home to much warmer weather, trees, sunsets, and 24 hours aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan!


Robert pointing out structural remains from the house of the “Frozen Family.”


Among the ancient sod houses of Ukpiagvik.


Goodbye to the land of the midnight sun…


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Voyaging on the Charles W. Morgan (Or, the Indian Mariners Project Goes Before the Mast)

The 38th Voyage of the American whaleship Charles W. Morgan is fast approaching and I will be one of the voyagers aboard her when she sails. This has been an extraordinary multi-year restoration project during which time I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the finest scholars and museum professionals. I will be voyaging, journaling, and blogging at sea from Provincetown to Boston (sailing window July 15-17). Below I am including an overview of the themes that myself and other voyager applicants were asked to consider, excerpts from my application indicating what my research on the voyage will involve, and finally, a description of our Voyager training day.

38th Voyage Approach and Themes (courtesy of Mystic Seaport)

Commercial whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries had a complex and deep impact on our nation’s economy, culture, and global position. Its complicated cultural, historical, and environmental legacy continues to influence the nation and world today. This 21st-century project emphasizes the continued relevance of the topic to Americans today, as we grapple with similar tensions between environmental health, economic and industrial needs, cultural practices, and inter-species relationships. At its most basic level, our focus is on a nexus of people, ships, water, and whales.

We will neither overly celebrate nor outright condemn the historic practice of the whale hunt. Instead, we will respect and strive to understand its many facets, even those that are contradictory or controversial. We will examine the interconnectedness, complexity, and long-term impacts – positive and negative – of this core American maritime experience.  Each 38th Voyager project should connect to one or more of the four major guiding themes, described below. These are humanities-based themes, but all have strong, natural links to other disciplines in the arts, natural sciences, and social sciences:

1) Changing Perceptions about Whales and the Natural World: Americans’ prevailing beliefs about humans’ place in the natural world have shifted dramatically since the active whaling years of the Charles W. Morgan. A century ago most Americans saw the ocean’s seemingly boundless resources as solely sources of profit. Today, commercial whalers’ overharvesting of the world’s largest mammals baffles or angers many 21st-century Americans. But the human-whale dynamic has always been more complex than it first appears. The 19th-century whalers’ deep knowledge of the sea and its creatures contributed greatly to scientific exploration and study. While subsistence whaling is still practiced on a small scale by some indigenous groups in American waters, many more whales are stressed and threatened by 21st-century acts such as ship strikes, net entanglements, and sound pollution. Exploring the causes and consequences of our changing perceptions and behaviors will show that preserving a historic whaleship and conserving today’s whale populations are compatible endeavors.

2) The Perils and Profits of Commercial Whaling: Commercial whaling was a volatile, high-risk and high-profit industry of the kind often glorified as a distinctive American practice. It had a clearly devastating impact on the world’s whale populations, and an arguably ambiguous impact on humans. Whale oil lit the homes and streets of the U.S. for decades, lubricated the machinery of the Industrial Revolution, and spawned tremendous profits that were used to build railroads, factories, hospitals, and libraries. For tens of thousands of men, from Massachusetts to New Zealand, Alaska to the Azores, working on American whaleships provided the benefits of employment and world travel. For those marginalized because of their racial or ethnic background, whaling voyages often offered escape and self-realization. Yet these trips also served as a vector for disease, death, discrimination, and suffering among both human and ocean populations.

3) Whaling as a Cultural Crossroads: Whaling voyages created opportunities for immigration, cultural exchange, and artistic inspiration from all corners of the globe. Whaling communities grew and flourished along the New England coast (Nantucket, New Bedford, and New London among them) but also had a presence in the Pacific (including San Francisco, Hawaii, and Alaska). As de facto immigration ships, whaling vessels routinely stopped in remote places such as Valparaiso, the Galapagos, Cape Verde, and Tristan da Cunha. Larger ports in Hawaii and the Azores supported sizeable ex-pat communities where whaling captains’ wives and children, whaling agents, and whalemen might spend weeks, months, or even years absorbing the sights, sounds, and values of vastly different cultures, returning home with new tastes and ideas, which became inspiration for artists, writers, and musicians in many different cultures.

4) Impact on American Culture: The Charles W. Morgan is nearly identical to the whaleship on which Herman Melville sailed to the Pacific, later inspiring Moby-Dick. Thus this vessel is one of American literature’s most significant artifacts—sailing aboard is equivalent to staying a night in Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. As they traveled the globe in pursuit of their prey, whalers accumulated knowledge about other cultures, whales, and also of the ocean itself, its currents, creatures, and moods. Men, women, and children onboard left behind a rich trove of first-hand testimony including letters, journals, onboard sketches and photos, and oral histories. Brought home and shared, this informed the work of artists, authors, scientists, and mapmakers that was more widely circulated to the public. Whaling also inspired masterpieces in maritime folk traditions such as scrimshaw, figureheads, ship models, music, and tall tales. Whales, whaling, and whaleman continue to occupy a prominent place in America’s cultural landscape today, from the popularity of whale-watch cruises to Hollywood films, operas, and online memes.


Excerpts from Dr. Jason Mancini’s Voyager application

My principal goal as a “Voyager” is to understand both whaleship and ocean as extensions of indigenous cultural space. Currently, neither has been considered in scholarship relating to New England’s Native people. I intend to use this experience to further connect my research on Indian mariners to three interrelated Core Voyage Themes:

Theme #2 (Perils and Profits) → For Indians, whaling and the whaleship provided opportunities to adapt their social, political, and economic systems to the realities of colonization. My research explores the lives and careers of Indian whalemen, interaction with their shore-side families, political dynamics at sea and home, and maritime related businesses of community members.

Theme #3 (Cultural Crossroads) → The central and unifying component of my research has been identifying, defining, and mapping maritime social networks (by intersecting crewlists, voyage logbooks, and GIS/Google Earth) as Indian men moved between land and sea. Globally, as indigenes were dispossessed of their homelands, the whaleship became a vital part of the “cultural crossroads” that I have been mapping. Whaling histories have rarely probed the depths of human social impact but my work illuminates how whaling became a mechanism of culture change as it facilitated a truly global indigeneous network.

Theme #4 (Impact on American Culture) → The absence of Indian men from the reservations produced ideas about Native people that have endured in American popular consciousness since the 19th century. Notably, that Indians had vanished (i.e. Last of the Mohicans) and Indian people were less authentic because communities had absorbed people from other races and cultures.

As an anthropologist, participant observation is critical to understanding and capturing impressions and experiences in new places, so I aim to participate in many onboard activities and discuss these with relevant crewmembers. While voyaging, I will also use journaling and photography to capture and inform my work. Voyage preparation includes my ongoing work to document the voices and perspectives of the region’s descendant Indian communities, all of whom have ancestors, stories, and artifacts associated with the whalefishery. As I have become intimately familiar with the presence of Native people and their roles from various written accounts and oral tradition it will be most useful – when writing – to experience the language and living quarters of a ship, and the activities that Indian men would have performed on board from cook to captain.

My experience will contribute to two final products. First, I will be submitting blog posts to my Indian Mariners Project website ( During the past six months, this site and my blogs have generated over 5000 views from more than 35 countries, revealing an engaged global audience. Second, my participation will inform an updated “Peter George, Whaler” exhibit at the Pequot Museum as well as a planned exhibit/education collaboration between Mystic Seaport and the Indian Mariners Project. The principal audiences at the museums are educators and K-12 schoolchildren. Smaller but important audiences include the Native American community, and those interested in social and indigenous history.

Training Day

April 30th was a wet day. Somewhat cooler as well. I headed to Mystic Seaport with my friend, fellow voyager, and house guest Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock). We were attending an orientation with other voyagers for a day of introductions, information, and training for our upcoming voyages this summer. With some adjustment to the day’s schedule with hopes of avoiding rain, we headed to the docks. There, we rotated between rowing whaleboats and climbing the rigging of the training vessel Joseph Conrad. We did not avoid rain; rather became one with it. After this soggy experience (one I welcomed since every time I’ve been to the Seaport for this type of event, the weather has be perfect; here I learned more of what all mariners would have contended with regularly – less the rolling ocean!), we were broken up into three groups that alternated between touring the Charles W. Morgan, visiting the collections and research center, and discussing voyage logistics. Towards the end of the day, every soggy voyager convened in the Fishtown Chapel to meet with Seaport president Steve White and discuss the 38th Voyage. We learned just how much vision, planning, and care went into the restoration and voyage preparation for the Morgan. Great conversation and many laughs soon turned to thoughts of what will happen beyond this summer’s events. What will the future hold for all of us given the honor of sailing aboard the “lucky ship”? With cooling temperature came visible breath and final tour of the Morgan to show us our accommodations in the fo’c’sle. Before heading out for a drink with the others, Courtney and I collected quahog shells on the dock, broken by enterprising seagulls. The purple lip of the shell caught her eye. Wampum beads and other ornamentations made from the shell remain important to the region’s Native American communities and again reminded me of the enduring connection Indians in this area have had to the sea.  


Ready to row whaleboats on the Mystic River in the poring rain. Training vessel Joseph Conrad in the background.


In position in the whaleboat and ready to pull!


Climbing the rigging of the Joseph Conrad.


Warming up in the chandlery.


Ship Charles W. Morgan – the only remaining 19th century whaler.


The forecastle (or fo’c’sle). This is where voyagers will sleep.


Below deck in the cargo area. The 38th voyage will bring home a cargo of ideas and experiences.


More on the 38th Voyage…

For more information on the 38th Voyage of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, visit:

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The Life and Career of Peter George and his Voyage on the Bark North America: An Illustrated Whalehunt

I’m working on several biographies of Indian mariners to understand the flow of their lives as they move between the land and the sea. I thought I’d start close to home and examine the careers of a couple of Mashantucket Pequot seamen.   One in particular is Peter George. Peter was a career whaleman and at the center of a whaling and maritime dynasty that emerged out of Mashantucket in the late 18th century.  “Captain” Peter George spent nearly 30 years of his life traveling the world’s oceans.

Existing records indicate that Peter’s maritime career began by at least age 21 and continued till 47 or possibly 49 years old. He was on seven known whaling voyages, but I suspect that he may have been on at least two more.

Here is a biographical sketch of Peter’s life:

1805 – Peter born to Peter George and Polly Apes
Apr. 24, 1819 – signed Pequot Petition against overseer William Morgan
Oct, 20, 1820 – medical bill for Peter’s care – Pequot overseer
MISSING VOYAGE??? 1821-1824
Mar. 9, 1825 – signs Pequot petition for Erastus Williams as overseer
June 2, 1826 – accused of adultery with Lucretia, wife of his brother, Peleg
Nov. 29, 1826 listed as seaman in The Courier
Ship Friends (New London; Pacific Ocean) – Oct. 31, 1827 – May 19, 1830
Home 2 years
Feb. 7, 1831 – signs Pequot petition to keep overseer
Ship Palladium (New London; East Cape) – Mar. 26, 1831- Feb. 23, 1832
Home 5 weeks
Ship Palladium (New London; East Cape) – May 2, 1832 – Feb 6, 1833
Home 2 years, 4 months
May 2, 1832 – married Lucy Fagins
Feb. 1833 – court records re: cutting and selling wood meant for house
Dec. 12, 1833 – on member list for “Pequot Tribe which belong and reside in Groton”
Jan 1834 – paid rent for house at Mashantucket
Feb. 7, 1834 – logs cut for Peter’s house
Ca. 1835 – Lucy Ann George born
Ship Neptune (New London; South Atlantic) – June 10, 1834 – Apr. 16, 1836
Home 2 months
Ship Flora (New London; South Atlantic) – June 21, 1836 – Jan. 18, 1837
Home 5 ½ months
Bark Jason (New London; South Atlantic) – July 1, 1837- Apr. 9, 1839
Home 6 months
Bark North America (New London; Pacific O.) – Oct. 20, 1839 – June 20, 1842
Home 6 years, 4 ½ months? OR…
MISSING VOYAGE??? 1842-1847 to Hawaii???
Jan. 10, 1848 – son – Roswell born, spouse – Sally George
Aug.-Oct. 1848 – John Hyde Ledger
Ship Hudson (Mystic; Falkland Islands) – Nov. 3, 1848 – Feb. 26, 1852
May 2, 1853 – bill paid by Groton selectmen “for support of Peter George”
Ship Kensington (New Bedford; Pacific Ocean) – Oct. 11, 1852 – July 25, 1857 [possibly Peter – listed as boatsteerer at a 1/90 lay]
1854 – P. George house at Mashantucket appears on New London County map
Jan 30, 1855 – signs Pequot petition against overseer Amos Latham
Apr. 21, 1856 – signs petition against Pequot Land Sale
Apr. 21, 1857 – signs petition against Pequot Land Sale “Capt. Peter”
Nov. 3, 1857 – sues Pequot overseer for membership rights
Apr. – June, 1859 – appears in Pequot overseers account
May 10, 1861 – in Pequot Overseer records – John Gore
Aug. 4, 1861 – Peter dies


I have not been able to locate much detail about the first five of Peter’s known voyages. His last two known voyages on the Bark North America and Ship Hudson are much better known because published accounts are associated with both.  In 1841, Francis Allyn Olmsted published his “Incidents on a Whaling Voyage” based on his experiences on the Bark North America from 1839 to 1841.  He notes three Indians aboard the whaleship including Peter George, George Cottrell (also Mashantucket Pequot), and John Uncas (a Mohegan noted in Olmsted’s book, but does not appear on the voyage crew list).  Olmstead produced about a dozen lithographs for his book but noted in the introduction that they were very expensive and could not furnish the complete set of 50 or 60 illustrations that he drawn in his journal.  I knew that I needed to track down his journal and, since Olmstead was from New Haven, I suspected that it might be at the Beineke Library.  My colleague Michael Dyer at the New Bedford Whaling Museum confirmed my suspicion.  I recently made the trip to New Haven with my research assistant, Debra Jones (Mashantucket Pequot) and photographed Olmsted’s two journals.  Below I combine Olmsted’s lithographs and watercolors to illustrate the whale hunt and other scenes from the voyage of the Bark North America.  All journal images appear courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


Bark North America. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


“Barque North America.”

03 - whale diving

Sperm whale diving. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

04 - whaleboat and crew

Whaleboat and crew. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

04 - whaling irons

Whaling irons. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

05 - harpooner

Harpooner (unnamed). Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

06 - The Chase

“The Chase.” Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

07 - The Attack

“The Attack.”

09 - Perils of whaling

“Perils of Whaling.”

08 - whaleboat and whaletail

Whaleboat and whale tail. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

10 - The Dying Whale

“The Dying Whale.”

11 - Cutting into the Whale

“Cutting into the Whale.” Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

12 - Pulling Teeth

“Pulling teeth.”

Aground at Chatham Island

Aground at Chatham (San Cristóbal) Island, Galapagos Islands. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

voyage route - Bark North America

Voyage route of the Bark North America. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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She Dreams of Home

From the outset of the Indian Mariners Project, I have wanted to demonstrate for a wider audience the intersection of history, community, and identity in Native New England (and by extension, Long Island).  My friend Courtney Leonard has brought that to bear through her art – most recently in her collection/exhibition called “Breach.”  This was rooted in some of her earlier work – She Dreams of Home – that is currently housed in the collections of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.   She shared with me the following:

“She Dreams of Home crosses and links both the creation story of sky and earth to that of cultural and symbolic elements from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York.  The ‘matcik’ (or sea turtle) is the foundation where the breach of the whale tail emerges from the form.  This blend and action is illustrative of our connection to both male and female as our ancestors whaled for centuries prior to colonial banning off the coast of Long Island New York during the late 1800s.  The turtle is one of the only creatures on earth that has a relationship and connection to earth, water and sky.  The species carries this record upon their back with the development of thirteen scutes, referenced in this piece as the thirteen moons.”   – Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock)


She Dreams of Home by Courtney Leonard. Collections of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.


She Dreams of Home by Courtney Leonard. Collection of the Mashantucket Pequot museum and Research Center.

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Pequots, the Lost Ship Hudson, and the Giants of Patagonia

As the Indian Mariners Project continues to unfold, I probe ever deeper into archives that I think I know well, only to find more.   This is not a story of shipwrecks, ghost ships, or anything of that sort.  It is for me a lesson that there are many hidden histories yet to be uncovered that tell of the experiences of New England’s Native people.

On a recent visit to Mystic Seaport’s Collections Research Center I was investigating the career of Mashantucket Pequot mariner Austin George, considered by some in the industry to be “one of the best whalemen that ever stepped aboard a ship.”  While examining a folder full of interesting records in pursuit of Austin George, I stumbled upon a document that caught my eye.  At the top it read “An Account of Articles Sold At Auction Belonging to J.M. Oat – Found After his Disertion, December 30th 1849.”  No ship name was noted and I might otherwise have continued flipping through the materials, BUT when I read through the list of names of mariners purchasing items at this auction, I saw some very familiar Pequots: Amos George (Austin’s brother), Peter George (Austin’s uncle), and Peter Babcock (also Mashantucket Pequot).

Purchased items:
Peter George – 1 duck frock, 1 dictionary
Amos George – 1 pair duck pants, 1 pair boots, 1 flint?, lot of books and tracts
Peter Babcock –1 vest, 1 pair duck pants, 1 flannel shirt, 24 heads of tobacco, 1 bottle


Auction aboard the Ship Hudson, 1849. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Collections Research Center.

I checked through all of the Customs Records from the Customs District of New London (includes the ports of New London, Mystic, and Stonington) for crew lists that might have included these men during this particular time.  Strangely, nothing was there. And none of them were noted in tribal archives for some time before or after 1849.  I had been confident that these records were complete and all vessels leaving local ports were documented.

Fortunately, because I have built tribal biographies elsewhere through the People of Color database (housed at the Pequot Museum), I did locate Amos George in the Stonington Census for 1850. He was noted as a crew member of the Ship Hudson.  This was an important clue! Cross referencing this ship name with an index of whaling voyages in Alexander Starbuck’s “History of the American Whalefishery” brought me to Captain Hiram Clift who commanded the Hudson on a voyage that left Mystic on November 3, 1848 and returned on February 26, 1852.  The vessel, with the three Pequots aboard, had traveled to the Falkland Islands to hunt whales.

My search for the logbook has begun, though it is not in any known repositories identified in Judith Lund’s fantastic and exhaustive compilation “Whaling Masters and Whaling Voyages Sailing from American Ports.”  In the meantime, a search through historical newpapers and books provided some exciting information on the Ship Husdon during its 1848-1852 voyage. It turns out that while at “Port Santa Cruz” – now Puerto San Julian, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina – with its “tender” Schooner Washington (also not recorded in Customs Records), the Ship Hudson welcomed aboard for nearly a month, Benjamin F. Bourne.  Bourne, who was a mate aboard the New Bedford Schooner John Allyne earlier in 1849, had just escaped 97 days of captivity with the Indians of Patagonia.  The accounts he shared with the crew of the Hudson soon made it into wider newspaper circulation around the Atlantic. His account was such a sensation that, in 1853, he published a book about his experiences called “The Giants of Patagonia.” The search for more continues…

Giants of Patagonia

Many thanks to Maribeth Bielinski, Carol Mowrey, and Paul O’Pecko for their ongoing and very generous help and guidance through Mystic Seaport’s archives. 

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Visiting Mashpee and Aquinnah

This past Friday I drove up to Mashpee to visit my friends from that tribe and to give a talk at the Mashpee Public Library on the Indian Mariners Project.  Once I arrived in Mashpee, I stopped by the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum to deliver a toggle harpoon (made by Bill Sheer of Mystic Seaport) for their new exhibit on Indian whalers.  The museum committee did a wonderful job assembling information and materials on their whaling ancestors that will certainly inform the public about Mashpee history and culture and, for me, will help guide some of my future work for the Indian Mariners Project.  A portion of the exhibit also included an iPad audio selections of a conversation between Ramona Peters and I that we had recorded last month when she visited me at the Pequot Museum (during Mohegan Wigwam festival).


A roadside view of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum.


Harpoon delivery and the Mashpee Whalers exhibit. l-r: Ramona Peters, Kitty Hendricks, Bernadine Pocknett, Leslie Jonas.


Panel installation for the Mashpee Whalers exhibit.

From the Museum, I went to my friend Jessie Little Doe Baird’s house for a lobster mac and cheese lunch with her and Trish Keli’inui (Mashpee Tribal Councilor).  I had just met Trish a few weeks ago at Schemitzun powwow and we became fast friends. Jessie had obligations with the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (she is founder and director, and a MacArthur Foundation Genius award recipient…and Mashpee Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman), so Trish showed me around a bit.  We helped the Museum committee set up for my talk and then she took me to the Old Indian Meeting House  – a place where Rev. Wiliam Apes (Pequot), Blind Joe Amos (Mashpee), and others preached many years ago on behalf of Indian civil rights.  We ran into Anita “Mother Bear” Peters (Ramona’s sister) and her grandson and I got the grand tour of the facility and of Anita’s handiwork. Trish made sure to bring me upstairs and show me some of the “graffiti” etchings of schooners and sloops that Mashpee kids made long ago.


The Old Indian Meeting House on Meetinghouse Rd. in Mashpee.


Etchings of schooners and sloops in the upper level seating inside the Old Meeting House.

My talk was well attended by the public and by many members of the Mashpee tribe. Afterwards, I was gifted a beautiful wampum necklace in the shape of a whale tail by the Museum committee.  Chief Earl Mills, with whom I have enjoyed a number of conversations over the past few years, presented me with his most recent book, “Talking with the Elders of Mashpee: Memories of Earl H. Mills, Sr.”  As I browse through his book now, I am struck by the extraordinary amount of information on Mashpee maritime traditions.  My blog readers should expect to see some of this material in the future.   Trish and I later met up with Bobby Foster (Mashpee Tribal Councilor), Francie Dottin, and David Weeden and took a tour of their new government building (scheduled for completion in November). At Chief Mills suggestion, my hosts brought me to the Raw Bar for an amazing seafood dinner – Wamp style!


Wampum whale tail from the Museum committee. Made by Mashpee artist, Carol Lopez.


Some Mashpee Museum committee members. l-r: Pauline Peters, Chief Earl Mills, Jean Peters, Putnam Peters.

On Saturday, I drove to Woods Hole and hopped on the Steamship Authority freight ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I was greeted by Tobias Vanderhoop who brought me to the Aquinnah Cultural Center where I would be presenting my research.  As we drove down island, I was reminded that the last time I had been to Martha’s Vineyard was 12 years ago when I first met Tobias, then a tribal councilor for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).  We arrived at the cultural center and I was greeted by Linda Coombs, also a member of the tribe and one of the founding members of the Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimouth Plantation where she was employed for 30 years.   The Cultural Center is located in the Edwin Vanderhoop homestead overlooking nearby beaches and the Atlantic Ocean near the Gay Head cliffs. For those not familiar with this area, Gay Head is the name for the multi-colored clay cliffs located at the southwestern end of the Vineyard.  They are significant to the Wampanoag (see my blog on Moshup, Whales, and Wampanoag Maritime Narratives) and have been identified as a National Natural Landmark.

I did not have much time on the island, but was able to explore the Vanderhoop homestead and find many signs of Aquinnah maritime heritage including the whale vertebra at the home’s entrance, foreign coins, tapa bark cloth, a list of whale men from the Island, and a try pot just outside.


Aquinnah Cultural Center at the Edwin Vanderhoop homestead.


Whale vertebra at the Aquinnah Cultural Center entrance.


Tapa bark cloth from an unknown Wampanoag mariner’s travels to the Pacific Ocean.

Aquinnah - whalemen

A list of Aquinnah mariners (whalemen) from 1860.


Try pot originally from the yard of David Vanderhoop. Try pots are essentially vats that were used on whaleships to boil and process whale blubber into oil.

On my way home, I stopped by Bernadine Pocknett’s house. She had made some snapping turtle soup for me.  It is one of my Mashpee favorites – and something I look forward to every year during powwow season from her daughter, Sherry Pocknett, at Sly Fox’s Den.


To date, most of the Indian Mariners Project has focused on the Customs District of New London, Connecticut. This visit has reawakened me to Mashpee and Aquinnah and the richness of their maritime heritage. My friends there remind me how important the estuaries, coastal waters, and ocean are to them every day.  As Chief Mills said in a note to me, “my ancestors were a gentle people, and the presence of the sea, in particular ‘the tidal shore,’ presented the best opportunity to eat, settle, increase, and learn.”  I look forward to spending much more time with my Wampanoag friends, sharing histories,  and digging into the customs records and other maritime documents in New Bedford, Fairhaven, and Nantucket.

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