Today we bring you a special treat: a guest post from our colleague, Igor Krupnik, who is an Anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History. We hope you enjoy reading about his work with the people of Wales, Alaska, to document the many native Inupiaq words for Sea Ice. Yes, there really are over one-hundred Inuit words for sea ice! - Meghan Mulkerin, Rogers' Archaeology Lab.
In October 2012, the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) released its new heritage publication, Kingikmi Sigum Qanuq Ilitaavut – Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary, an illustrated bilingual catalog of traditional Inupiat knowledge about sea ice and change in the North Alaska-Bering Strait region. The 112-page ‘dictionary’ is a product of a four-year partnership of a small team of indigenous Elders, language experts, and scientists, under the leadership of Winton Weyapuk, Jr., a whaling captain from Wales, Alaska, and Smithsonian Anthropologist, Igor Krupnik (see ASC Newsletter 16, 2009). Several other partners, including local Wales Elders Pete Sereadlook and Faye Ongtowasruk, the late Herbert Anungazuk, originally from Wales, were instrumental in the preparation of the ‘Wales Sea Ice dictionary,’ as were also sea ice scientists Hajo Eicken and Matthew Druckenmiller of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguist Lawrence Kaplan, also of UAF, anthropologist Carole Zane Jolles, and others.
Wales/Kingigin, Alaska, population 160, is the northwesternmost community in North America, located on the shores of Bering Strait, right across from the northeastern edge of Siberia. One can really ‘view Russia’ on a clear day from almost any window in Wales, as seen from the photo placed on the dictionary’s cover. The idea to collect traditional Inupiaq sea ice terms in the community of Wales was first discussed in 2006, when Igor secured copies of several historical photographs from Wales taken in 1922 by visiting biologist Alfred M. Bailey, a future director of the Denver Natural History Museum (now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). When several dozen of Bailey’s photos were shown to hunters and Elders in Wales, they were amazed by how much the sea ice around their native place had changed due to rapid Arctic warming. Since the Inupiaq language in Wales is now being used by a few senior adults and Elders only, it inspired a cooperative effort in local knowledge and language documentation. It was endorsed by Native Village of Wales and supported via grant from the ‘Shared Beringian Heritage Program’ of the National Park Service and the matching funds from NMNH and the Arctic Studies Center.
Wales hunters on snow-shoes hunt for ringed seals along the edge of the shore ice in the early spring (May 1922). BA-21-772. From: Kingikmi Sigum Qanuq Ilitaavut-Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary, pp. 80.
Since Inupiaq is not spoken actively in Wales hunting crews these days, Weyapuk carefully prepared the list of traditional Kifikmiut sea ice terms from his youth memories and then cross-checked it with the Elders. He also took over 100 color photos of local ice scenes and ice formations from the shore-fast ice, the nearby mountain, and from a hunting boat. Upon Igor’s suggestion, he inscribed the Native terms for the ice on the photos, so that the readers may view the ice-scape through the eyes of an experienced Inupiat hunter. The Inupiaq-English ice dictionary lists over 100 terms for ice and ice-associated phenomena in the Kifikmiu/Wales dialect, arranged alphabetically and by major groups/types, and with detailed explanations in Inupiaq for major ice terms. Eicken, Druckenmiller, and Anungazuk contributed expanded comments on the ice and ice knowledge in Wales, and Igor added a short story of Alfred Bailey’s sojourn in Wales in spring 1922, as a preface to two dozen black-and-white historical photos from Bailey’s collection at the Denver museum.
‘Wales Sea Ice Dictionary’ was inaugurated at the recent 18th Inuit Studies Conference (24-28 October, 2012) at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Of the thousand book copies printed, four hundred were shipped directly to Wales for local families, school programs, friends and relatives in Alaska and elsewhere. Kingikmi Sigum Qanuq Ilitaavut is another outcome of the SIKU (Sea Ice Knowledge and Use) project that Igor developed and implemented during the International Polar Year 2007–2008, with the support from the National Park Service’s “Shared Beringia Heritage Program” and matching funds from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and NMNH (ASC Newsletters 16, 2009; 17, 2010).
Video of Dr. Krupnik talking about the Sea Ice and Knowledge Use project (SIKU). Source: International Polar Year 2007-2008 website.
In December 2012, the ‘Wales Sea Ice Dictionary’ received an award from the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI), a professional association of atmospheric science librarians, institutions, and organizations involved in atmospheric research. Each year, ASLI recognizes the best books in all fields of atmospheric sciences out of the pool of several hundred printed annually. The Krupnik-Weyapuk heritage volume was the first ever publication in the social sciences and with a Native Alaskan co-author to be awarded an ‘Honorable Mention,’ as the 2012 ASLI’s ‘Choice in the Reference Category’. The award was given at a special ceremony at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in Austin, TX.
The ‘Wales Sea Ice Dictionary’ was enthusiastically welcomed in Wales when the printed books arrived and were disseminated among local families. Winton Weyapuk reported on the reactions of the people in the Wales community, saying:
“…People commented that a dictionary such as this was long overdue and that it was very important to document our Inupiaq language for future generations. One old man said that it may help inspire people to speak more Inupiaq, that books like this are needed, and that we need to preserve our language. Like many Elders he is humble and quiet, but what he said touched my heart. Another young man said he would now study the book to learn the Inupiaq words and how to recognize dangerous sea ice conditions and avoid them. Other people commented that other similar dictionaries with Inupiaq words used every day should be produced. Many people said they enjoyed the photographs, both the contemporary and the historical photos taken in the 1920s. Looking at the pictures side-by-side, our people were able to compare sea ice conditions from the 1920s to what they see today. Our community appreciates all the hard work done by everyone and especially the work done by Igor to bring this project to fruition. We are proud of having such a book produced for the village of Wales, for other researchers, scientists, and extended family and friends everywhere.”
As Weyapuk stated in his Introduction to the Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary:
“…It is our hope that our Inupiaq words for sea ice and the English translations we collected here can help young hunters supplement what they have learned in English about sea ice in our area and how the changing ice conditions are affected by winds and currents. It is also our hope that they can learn and begin to use some of the Inupiaq words as a way to teach those younger than themselves. Language, any language, is beautiful in its own way. Inupiaq, because of its construction and its concise description of the natural environment is no less beautiful. It is, in its way, a heartfelt tribute to our Elders who taught us so much. Without their dedication and instruction our life would be dramatically different today. This book can also be seen as praise for our youth who continue our way of life and whom we love deeply. Enjoy this book for what it is.”
We cannot agree more with his heartfelt words.
By: Igor Krupnik, Anthropologist, National Museum of Natural History.