Sunday, September 26, 2004


The Inupiat of Northern Alaska Part K

Still, if cooperation remained an important value for most families in the 1950s and early 60s, the increased geographical mobility of village residents reduced the opportunity for its active expression. In families where traditional subsistence pursuits were regularly followed, expectations regarding labor exchange, borrowing, and sharing continued to be reinforced. Men hunted together and shared their catch. Women assisted each other with baby tending, carrying water, and similar household-related responsibilities. Members of related families helped each other too, constructing, repairing, and painting houses, borrowing another's boat, sled or dogs, and sharing the use of electric generators. However, as more individuals left their communities for seasonal or year-round employment elsewhere, this cooperative pattern became steadily harder to follow.

By the mid-1960s, seasonal migration was evident in all Arctic villages. Men left home for summer jobs as soon as spring seal hunting was over in early June. Many sought jobs in central and southern Alaska, or at one of the numerous military sites scattered throughout the newly-formed State. Often they were hired as common laborers or cannery workers, although a few became skilled carpenters, heavy equipment operators, fire fighters, and mechanics. Those joining a union found summer jobs through the employment office in Fairbanks, thereby enabling them to leave directly for their work site. Working "outside" also brought expections that at least part of the wages would be sent home, an arrangement that was upheld by older married men far more often than by younger single adults.

In other villages like Barrow and Kaktovik, jobs were available locally. But even here, the nature of the work left men inadequate amounts of time to engage in subsistence hunting and fishing. Working a six-day week, few individuals could give more than minimal assistance to others and therefore, could expect little in return. With sufficient cash income to purchase most of their food and other required goods, it might have been possible to share these items with the fulltime hunter in exchange for fresh meat, fish, and other traditional food products. But this modern version of reciprocal exchange was unusual, and the transaction most often occurred through the medium of the village Native store.

Many Inupiat expressed great concern over this turn of events; on the one hand wanting the material advantages of a good cash income, and on the other, disliking the penalty that it seemed to require. As the importance of the extended family continued to decline, further reductions in the traditional patterns of cooperation occurred. Could the expression of this value find another institutional base outside the extended family? Non-kin based institutions carrying the greatest meaning for the majority of adult Inupiat were the Christian churches. Here, members contributed freely of their time and energy in support of numerous religious activities ranging from weekday services and mother's club meetings to summer bible schools. Similar efforts were put into the maintainance of church buildings, missionary residences, and the like. But few thought such collective endeavors could replace the deteriorating cooperative ties linking families and generations together.

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