Between 2002 and 2011, the Whaling Museum shared a U.S. Department of Education grant, known by its acronym of ECHO, with several partners, including the North Slope Borough in Barrow, AK. Our National Park Service office had also forged a relationship with the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow. In that time, several of us on the Museum staff, past and present, interacted with NSB and IHC staff at ECHO partner meetings as we planned our collaborative activities. Perhaps the two biggest benefits, personally, were learning the importance of truly listening to partners who have a completely different method of dealing with conflict resolution and experiencing first-hand a culture vastly different than the one we live in here in the lower 48. Early in my NBWM career, I spent four days in Barrow, meeting, interviewing, visiting and listening to the residents. I also gained a sense of the climate that Yankee whalers encountered between 1849 and 1915. It was a very eye-opening trip. I’m sure that my fellow WM employee, Michael Dyer, who spent a week at an Inupiat Immersion Course, would concur.
Unfortunately for these 5,000 people on the North Slope of Alaska, they are the first to feel the effects of a warming climate. The ice comes in later and leaves earlier. The late arrival of the ice makes it easier for the wind to create more wave action which speeds up coastal erosion. Permafrost may actually melt, which will shift the footings on which the houses are built, putting these structures in danger. Less ice also makes it easier for ships and oil exploration rigs to set up in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
This video from KTUU in Alaska gives a 5 minute glimpse into life in Barrow and a look into the Inupiat Heritage Center, featuring friend and colleague, Patuk Glenn.
Ms. Glenn is one of the many Inupiat we met during our ECHO meetings. I know that she has fond memories of her visit to New Bedford. I have fond memories of my visit to Barrow in 2004. Our cities were first connected by whaling. Now we’re connected by the sharing of educational resources and cultural information. May this connection continue for another 160 years.