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31 March, 2003

Village Tour

Lee gave me a guided tour of Diomede Village last evening along with Jim and Lou. The narrow path we follow is carved out of the ice and snow and winds steeply from house to house, building to building. The village is small and all of the buildings are tightly tucked closely together since flat space is extremely limited here.

The village consists of several small gray wood houses, most of which rest on posts, a school, power facility, water facility, two small stores, and a limited number of other structures. The island has a helicopter pad that is in use during the summer months and provides the only service to and from the island. In reality, the entire village could fit on an area not much larger than a football field.

Roughly 130 Native Inupiats live here year round and when the weather is favorable hunting is a common daily activity. Seal, walrus, beluga, bowhead whales and the occasional polar bear provide the residents with food and materials. Residents also catch fish and crab.

What strikes me most about this setting is not the hand made wooden boats with walrus skin stretched on them, the whale vertebrae hanging outside houses nor is it the polar bear skin drying on a wood rack next to a row of snowmobiles. What strikes me most about this isolated village is the deep sense of community it possesses and radiates.

It is truly a community built on family and traditions. The few residents that I have had the pleasure of meeting have been extremely friendly and curious about what I do. They are very proud and protective of their island and surrounding area and all seem to have a story to share about their heritage and the environment they are a part of.

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