Location: Lat: 71 32.675 Long: 143 34.607
Sunrise: 8:56 am Sunset: 5:30 pm
As I stated in an earlier journal, we were lucky enough to pick up another passenger while stopped off the coast of Deadhorse. George Neakok joined the crew as the Native Alaskan observer necessary as we traveled into Canadian waters. George has had a long and fascinating life growing up in Barrow, Alaska and I was lucky enough to spend some time interviewing him. At first he is quiet and reserved, but as you get to know him, he opens up with a wealth of information about Barrow, the plants and animals native to the North Slope region and his native culture.
George has lived in Barrow his whole life, just as his parents, grandparents and ancestors have. He is proud father to 7 children - 6 girls and 1 boy, the eldest who will be heading off to college soon. His family is of Inupiat background, more specifically Tagiuqmiut - meaning "people of the sea." He was raised speaking the native language of his people and learned to speak English in school. For work, like several others in Barrow, George has worked as a gas fuel operator in the nearby oil fields. However, in the past couple of years, he has began working with scientists who come to do work in the northern Alaska waters.
In response to an earlier "Ask the Team" question, I talked to George about stories and myths related to polar bears. There is one infamous story in Barrow related to a giant 10-legged polar bear. This bear was said to be 40 feet long and this huge animal terrorized the surrounding villages. One man from Barrow was able to figure out how to capture and kill the bear. This had been a hard year for the people in Barrow, so the meat of the bear provided enough food to save the village for the winter. The bear is known as the bear that saved Barrow.
It also seems that people's father and grandparents have stories of sighting incredibly large bears. For example, there are rumors of bear that is so large that it actually can't get out of the water. George's father spotted the bear swimming and reported the bear had a head that was 5 feet long!
Although not related to the bears, there also exist stories about the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). The native people believe that the lights are the spirits of the ancestors dancing in the sky. George's parents told him and his friends that if they saw the lights at night, it meant that the ancestors were getting ready to play soccer and they like to use heads as the ball. George believes this was mostly a scare tactic to keep him and his peers from being out too late at night - however, it worked. One night, he was out with his friends and the lights came out, rather than challenge their parents story, they decided to play it safe and lay down so their heads could not be used as a soccer ball!
George also shared about living in 24 hours of light and dark periods, surviving bitter cold temperatures down to -80 F with wind chill, traditional hunting to provide food for their community, and changes he has seen happen to the climate and his community in the past 40 years. In some of the future journals, I'll share more of the insight that George shared with me. In the meantime, if you have specific questions for George, please feel free to post them in the "Ask the Team" section.