“The People of the Whale”

“Kiliii Yuyan is an indigenous Nanai photographer who documents native cultures and wilderness conservation issues. He spent time with the Inupiat, an indigenous community from North Slope Alaska, whose lifestyle and culture is dependent on subsistence harvest of marine mammals.” K. Yuyan, BBC

Flora Aiken gives a blessing to the first bowhead whale of the spring season. Photo- K. Yuyantiff

Excerpt: The people of the whale-By Kiliii Yuyan, BBC

“Members of the community are allowed to catch limited number of bowhead whales a year from stable populations. The first boats to harpoon the whale receive shares. The lead whaling crew divide the head between them.

This camp, erected miles out on the sea ice, is an Inupiat home away from home during hunting season. K. Yuyan

The Inupiat have a rich spiritual life that centres around the gift of the whale to the community. The cure for feeling cold while out on the ice is to eat quok, the Inupiat word for frozen raw meat and fish.

Misigaq, or seal oil

Seal is also a source of food for the Inupiaq. Misigaq, or seal oil, is a liquid made from the blubber of the bearded seal. It is left to ferment for a few days at refrigerator temperatures before eating.

Beluga whales are seen trapped by sea ice as shifting winds create unstable conditions. K. Yuyan

Sigvaun Kaleak and his father, Raleigh, are lifelong whalers. Although commercial whaling has taken a massive toll on the global whale population, the Inupiat have maintained a sustainable harvest.

Six-year-old Steven Reich examines his father’s umiaq, or skin boat used for whaling.

Tad, captain of Yugu crew, expresses excitement about taking Steven out whaling on the ice for the first time. I am proud of my son – he’s here to learn to be a hunter, he says.

Bernadette Adams was the first Inupiat woman to harpoon a whale. “I happen to have no brothers, so I had to find some way to help the family out,” says Bernadette.

Here, successful crewmembers do the blanket toss. They are thrown up to 30ft (9m) in the air, and depend on everyone’s help to land safely.

Inupiat elder Foster Simmonds has been a whaler since he was a child.”


Category: Alaskan Natives