Barrow/Utqiagvik

Life at the top of the world

[by Michelle Theall]


Barrow, officially Utqiagvik since last year, is the nation’s farthest-north community. Perched at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, it’s known for its extreme location. In summer, the sun doesn’t set for weeks, and in winter, it doesn’t rise for weeks. Barrow/Utqiagvik’s residents take their unique town in stride, though, enjoying subsistence activities and annual festivals like Nalukataq, which celebrates the successful spring whale hunt.

At the Inupiat Heritage Center, learn about Inupiat history, language, and culture. Explore whaling traditions, historical tools, clothing, and masks. Talk to staff about the differences between traditional whaling and today’s practices. Meet Native artisans as they craft items like ulus, sealskin zipper pulls, baleen etchings, and ivory carvings, all of which are available at reasonable prices in the gift shop. Visit the library next door to discover even more about Barrow/Utqiagvik.

“Living on top of the world is incredible!” says Herman Ahsoak. “We eat and live off the animals we harvest from the sea and land, but the biggest nutritional food that our Heavenly Father provides is the bowhead whale. When we eat it, it  fills us mind, body, and spirit, and for that I am truly thankful.”


Utqiagvik: The name means a place for gathering wild roots and comes from the word now used for potato, utqiq.

Say it this way, with guttural back-of-the-throat sounds for the representative “k” and hard “g” in the middle: oot — kay-ahg — vik.”