Never Alone is the product of an uncommon partnership of Alaska Native community members and game developers. Through all stages of development members of both communities met extensively to ensure that all creative and business decisions were appropriate considered and supported the goals of all stakeholders. Thoughout the game and in supporting material players will hear directly from members of both communities who were instrumental in shaping the game.
Ms. Harcharek was raised in Barrow, Alaska. She is the daughter of the late Robert, Jr. and Sally Brower and the granddaughter of the late Ned and late Faye Nusunginya. Jana has worked with the North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD) as Director of Iñupiaq Education for five years and as Coordinator of the department prior to that for seven years.
During this time she facilitated a number of initiatives including the Iñupiaq Education Initiative that resulted in the development of the Iñupiaq Learning Framework, which has been adopted by the NSBSD School Board and serves as the foundation for the current Curriculum Alignment, Integration and Mapping curriculum reform initiative.
Jana has been a critical force in promoting and maintaining our students’ grasp of the Iñupiaq culture, language and way of life as evidenced in her direction on numerous cultural units – Time and Ptarmigan, Immiuġniq, Eagle Drums, Point Lay Biographies, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation History, Adventures in Trading, Niġliq-An Introduction to Trade and Holidays, The Duck In, The Voice of Our Spirit – that are currently in use in the district.
Jana additionally provides instruction as an adjunct instructor with IỊisaġvik College and teaches a course on North Slope History every year. Prior to coming to the District, she worked as Liaison Officer for the North Slope Borough Commission on Iñupiat History, Language and Culture for eight years with a short interval in between where she worked for the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation as Director of Communications for two years.
Pausauraq is an active member of the community and currently serves as a commissioner on the Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission.
I was born in Barrow and raised in Kaktovik. We had an Iñupiat grade school teacher who only spoke English in the classroom from nine to four, but when the school day ended he’d speak our language. We had one classroom for everyone, and our teacher used the higher grade children to help teach the younger ones. It was a small village, and we were all related, so we were used to helping out with other kids in our community.
My grandfather was a lay preacher in the Presbyterian church. He would gather his children and grandchildren every night to read a Bible chapter, line by line, in English – teaching us the written language by the Bible. My mom had a first or second grade education in Barrow before the Depression started and everyone was needed to make a living, hunting and gathering. When I asked her for help with my homework in grade school I first realized I was learning something my parents had never encountered before. That’s when you realize you have to listen.
I graduated with my Associates in the class of 1963 from Sheldon Jackson. A bunch of us from the North Slope went to Sheldon Jackson then, and we already knew our language so there was no danger we would lose it. No one spoke English in the street at home, so the only time we were learning it was in the classroom. The idea of getting the Western education was to learn what my grandfather and the people in the community wanted us to learn.
I studied in Tempe, Arizona for a year of Christian Training School, along with other Native ministers from South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota, and I went to seminary for my Masters of Divinity in Iowa, studying Greek and Hebrew. But before seminary I went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When they heard I was coming as a student, the Alaska Native Language Center had just opened, and they asked me to teach Iñupiaq. That was when I first thought about being a linguist. I was teaching at UAF, a full-time student raising a daughter, and giving the Iñupiat service every week at the First Presbyterian Church. Those two years were so busy I don’t remember them, but now I am the voice of the Inupiaq Rosetta Stone and of this new video game, Never Alone.
I believe that through this game, somebody might get interested in the language. It could give them a spark of the possibilities in the Iñupiaq language – in any language. You have to learn a new physiology of how sounds are made to learn a new language. Never Alone could make someone want to do that.
When I grew up, we were nomadic people. My dad, John Aŋŋaaq Hugo, was born in Colville River on the Arctic Ocean, and my mom, Dora Tugli Morry, was born in Canada – before it got so precise where Canada started. We were nomadic, following the caribou. It was fun never being in one place long, but in 1949, when I was five, we walked about 90 miles to Anaktuvuk Pass to live closer to planes and supplies. After moving, we stayed put in the winter. We built a sod house, so it was pretty permanent. That’s how we did it until about 1959, the last year we moved to go after the caribou for skins in the fall.
At that time, I was my parents’ only living child. At eight years old, I left for boarding school. When I first started learning to read, I knew I wanted to learn more, and my parents wanted me to have an education very much. So I went, and I survived. They were pretty strict that we only speak English. We spoke Our language when we were alone, but not in class. My age group started losing their language, but I made up my mind at that very young age that I would not lose my language, because when I went home, that was the language my parents spoke to me. It was hard. When I was ten, my cousin came to boarding school – she was just six, and I was like a big sister to her there. After those two years our parents said, no more. Then we went after the state. The council said, we need our own school here.
I began translating for my parents at that very young age. This was my whole life. Our language is precise. There’s no two ways about saying things. It’s different than the English language, where there’s synonyms—in Iñupiaq language, there’s a specific word for each thing. There’s also a perception of who you are, in both Iñupiaq and English. People who are bilingual have a different view of the world. Many of Our kids now have lost the language, but some are trying to learn. This game is part of that, and by helping to translate for it, I am able to be part of that too—just as when I speak Our language to my four year old grandson. I studied education in Fairbanks and in Iowa, and taught all ages from kindergarten to eighth grade for over twenty years. As a teacher, I always thought about video games as violent. I was concerned, but I thought, there’s got to be a way that the kids would be interested in them and learn something at the same time. And now, Never Alone is doing that.
I was born in Barrow in 1949 and raised at Iviksuk in my earliest years. We lived in a small sod house there and were frequently cared for by our elderly neighbors while my father and his brother Arnold Brower Sr. tended to their trap lines.
We walked to Barrow sometime around 1954 and I have lived here since.
As a child disabled by rheumatic fever, I listened and learned many Iñupiaq myths, legends, history and stories from Elders that frequented my parents home. I would also be invited by Elders to listen and learn my peoples history and life experiences so I may be useful to our community in my adult years. How correct they were in choosing my life path!
I was taught ivory carving and oil painting by my father at 12 years of age. I like to carve from memory about myths and legends and paint portraits of Iñupiaq Elders.
My schooling was through BIA schools in Barrow, the Wrangle Institute, and Mt. Edgecumbe High School where I graduated in '68. I attended college at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks, the Iñupiat University of the Arctic and at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France where I studied art and anthropology.
Working on this game has been incredibly rewarding. The ability to be both a teacher of my culture and a student of game culture was tremendous. I hope people everywhere enjoys playing and learning through this work.”
I was born and raised here in Barrow. Born on a cold, wintery night in December, and according to my father there was a full moon when I was born. I am the twelfth of thirteen children born to Lloyd and Marjorie Pikok. Today there’s only two of us left, my older sister Edith Tagarook who lives in Wainwright and myself.
My first language is Iñupiaq. I learned English in school. Regardless of being punished for accidentally speaking Iñupiaq in school, I learned to read and write. Our school here was not accredited to provide education for high school kids. My age group, we were the fortunate ones that got to stay home during our ninth grade year because the community had just finished building the junior high school here. We were sad, but at the same time I was willing to finish my education, because I had promised my father that I would go on to finish high school and get a degree and come back and be a contributing citizen for our people. There was just too many of us in my grade level to go to Mount Edgecumbe in Sitka, so we were split between three Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools.
I went to Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma, for my tenth and eleventh grade years. There were about 20 of us from Barrow who went as a group. I remember being bussed all the way from Seattle to Oklahoma. It was quite an experience. I went through a culture shock from the weather, but I survived. Me and my best friend Marilyn Itta, we figured out how to fill out transfer papers and were able to transfer to Mount Edgecumbe for our senior year and graduate from there. I knew my parents’ spirits were with me, because they told me before they passed that they would always be with me and give me strength.
I started out as a teacher’s aide in the BIA day schools. When the bilingual law was passed and bilingual education was required in the school, I was one of the chosen ones to become an Iñupiaq language teacher. I relearned the proper usage of our language. Being sent away to high school, I had lost quite a bit of how to converse with our elders. Being able to read and write in our language gave me pride and joy again. To this day I encourage Our young people to become teachers, because it’s a good career and will be rewarding to those who come forward and join us. We have Iñupiaq teachers in all the schools, but there’s quite a few of us that are on the verge of retirement. We’re hoping that teaching Our language from early childhood will instill in the young people to become teachers in the future.
I know Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, and he told me about the video game. He let me know that these folks will be coming up to interview some elders on our way of life, so that they can become more culturally aware of how it used to be long ago and how it is today. When they came, I was curious and volunteered to help them out. They were quite a group to watch! Bringing people in, interviewing them, it fascinated me. When they showed the first clip I thought “Oh, I have a great-granddaughter who would love this! I’m going to learn to play this game with her!” So I’m one of the great-grandmothers patiently waiting for this game to come out.
I grew up six miles outside Hatchers Pass. I liked the freedom. Growing up in Wasilla in the ‘90s was a lot like growing up in a village – four wheeling and hunting for spruce chickens. I grew up on Dena’ina land. I grew up in two cultures, seeing how different it was when my dad’s family would visit than when my mom’s family would visit. And I grew up with my mom speaking Iñupiaq. When you’re a kid you don’t know whether it’s English or Iñupiaq, they’re just the words you know.
It’s really important to me to speak Our language. I drill myself on phrases. I listen a lot. I’m not afraid to ask questions, or say I don’t understand. Imperfect Iñupiaq being spoken is still Iñupiaq being spoken. There is value in it! Within language is the entire spectrum of life. If you don’t speak it, you aren’t any less Native, but it’s about having access to those traditions. One of the things I do is facilitate language circles, working with the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
I went to the University of Alaska in Anchorage, and I have worked with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s Energy Services in every job from an internship to technical writing and quality auditing to government affairs. I first traveled to the North Slope while working to build our Village Economic Development Program. I went to my mother’s home in Wainwright for the first time in 2013. Going there for the first time was a tremendous experience. You come into this community and everyone knows who you are, who your mother is, who your grandmother is. Everyone welcomed me. Everyone kept saying, you are home. I’m really excited about this Never Alone game, because it’s a way to transmit your culture, no matter where you are.
I grew up in Wainwright, on the North Slope. It was safe, and we could play late into the night. I went hunting, went to whaling camp, went up in the land in summertime. Our holidays always went on late into the night.
I also experienced a difficult childhood, but I learned from that. When I was ten years old, I knocked on the door of a construction company in town asking for a job. I worked under the table there, cleaning and washing dishes, and then started waitressing at the hotel at thirteen. I dropped out of high school in eleventh grade and had my first daughter at eighteen. Later, when my second daughter was a baby I got my GED.
I wanted to raise my girls where they could get an education, so we moved down to Wasilla. It was hard to move away from my village, it was a culture shock. I volunteered and taught kids in my daughters’ classes about animals and hunting. Now, my daughter is the first on my mom’s side of the family to graduate college.
In the last five years, my daughters have been going back to my village for their jobs. My daughter got me involved in this video game. I was so excited when she asked me. I like to share back what I have.
I have a four year-old grandson, so I’m learning video games. Before this, the last video game I played was an Atari! If Never Alone would touch the young people, no matter whether they are in a village or outside, it will make them want to connect to their heritage and learn more. I did this because of my grandson. I want him to play a game that has the history of where he came from.
My Iñupiaq name is Angaluuk. My Tlingit names are Khaagwáask’ and Shis.hán. I was born in Sitka, Alaska and raised in Juneau.
Though I grew up surrounded by Tlingit culture through my father, Andrew Hope III, Xhaastánch, my mother, Elizabeth Goodwin Hope, Taliiraq, also attempted to teach me Iñupiaq culture and values. She told me the story of Asraaq, Blueberry Girl Who Became a She-bear, the story of my grandmother’s grandmother. I remember her talking to me as a very young child about serving my community. Later, I found out that this was an Iñupiaq tradition—the young are told from an early age, even in the womb, about what their parents aspire for them to become. For a long time, I took it for granted and was even ashamed of my heritage. In my early adult years, it bloomed. The groundwork my parents laid for me helped me to do the work I do today.
A vast number of stories of indigenous Elders—as it was told in the language— are works of pure beauty and poetry. The team has found a story from such a storyteller: Robert Nasruk Cleveland, whose Unipchaaŋich imaġluktuġmiut: Stories of the Black River People stands with the greatest works of literature we will ever find anywhere and at any time. My friend, librarian Stacey Glaser in Kotzebue, was able to get me a copy of the rare book, and I showed the book to the team at E-Line Media. We eventually worked with the story of Kunuuksaayuka as a focal point of the game.
Though it would require more deep investigation than one video game to fully understand, it is personally satisfying to me that we were able to elevate and celebrate one of the world’s greatest storytellers ever. Pieces of the old-time nourishment of the qargi, the community house, remain. The joy of the feast of wisdom lingers, and this video game offers a tasty morsel, enough to know and to remember what we’ve been hungering for this whole time.
I’m grateful for E-Line Media and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. I’m grateful for working with Sean Vesce, Dima Veryovka, Matt Swanson, and for Gloria O’Neill’s vision and leadership. Everyone did an amazing job. I’m especially grateful for the support of our Elders, such as Minnie Gray, Ron Brower, Sr, James and Anna Nageak, and Fannie Akpik. I’m grateful for my Iñupiaq family, such as my uncles Elmer, Willie and John Goodwin, who teach me as they do many others.
I’m from Barrow, born and raised. It’s home, everything about it, from the people to Our way of life. All my best childhood memories are of being out at hunting camp or whaling, of being out on the land or the water or the ice. Even now, if I’m not hunting, I’m wishing I was out hunting. My life revolves around providing for our family from the land and the ocean. I’m the subsistence research coordinator for the North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management. I document subsistence animals harvested – where we go, what we get, and the frequency of land use, so if oil is found offshore and they want to build a pipeline, we can show where and how we utilize the land. That’s where my passion is: protecting Our land and ocean.
I went out to play college basketball for Montclair State University in New Jersey and wasn’t sure what I was going to major in. I took anthropology and the professor happened to be talking about the Inuit and the Eskimos and how our people were and did things. I was in huge disagreement with what she said, so I raised my hand and said it wasn’t accurate. I found myself doing that a lot. I found that it was supposedly these outsiders who were experts on Our people, and that was really hard for me. Folks said you can’t be objective studying your own people, but I beg to differ. I ended up transferring to a school in Hawai’i where my Kumu Lynette Cruz, was teaching anthropology from the Indigenous perspective. This is the way of life I was taught. It’s extremely important that our traditional way of life is passed on, as we’re living in this Western world, trying to balance the traditional and the modern. What’s really important about this game is having that accurate representation of ourselves. This is the first of its kind. It’s only going to get better from here, I believe.
I first met the game developers for Never Alone when I stumbled across them eating Native foods at my mom’s house. We had a lot of whale, walrus, caribou, you name it, a little bit of everything for folks to try. In our community and in our family, we always talked about how cool it would be to have cartoons and video games in Our language. Our kids could be doing this Western thing that all American kids do, but it would be in their own language. So when the opportunity came, I didn’t know what my role would be but I gave my opinions – if something was going to be made, we wanted it to be as genuine as possible. I see it being a big success among Our people, but I think it will be extremely cool for many folks, Iñupiaq or not. I think this game is going to be a seed, a new emergence of video game culture.
I was raised in Chugiak, Alaska, outside of Anchorage. I am of shared Inupiaq and German heritage. My mother was originally from Nome, her family originating from Teller, Alaska. As the third generation removed from a subsistence lifestyle, I learned about my culture through my mother who modeled traditional values in how she raised us. She has had such a hard life, faced many challenges and has been so resilient, strong, and loving. I couldn’t ask for a better role model.
I grew up hearing some of Our traditional stories, but not fully aware of the values imbedded in those stories. Being a part of the team that made this amazing game has been a gift. I have reconnected with stories long forgotten, and have been able to realize how important storytelling is for passing on wisdom and values.
Knowing that my sons will have a new way to connect to those stories in a medium they relate to is very encouraging for me. I am passionate about my family, Our People and seeing ways I can help be a part of bringing our traditional wisdom to a modern world that has changed the path of Our People forever. Adaptation has been a cornerstone of survival for Alaska Native People (how else would we have survived in such harsh climate?), but we need to be the ones steering how we adapt as a People. Never Alone is another way We can share Our values and culture with future generations and the world.
I was born and raised in Barrow. My dad was Marchie Nageak, who was a whaling captain here in Barrow, and my mom is Lillian Nageak. Both were raised in and out of Barrow. My dad was born on the Colville River. They had traveled around following the animals, nomadic, and then he settled in Wainwright. My mom was born about 90 miles east of Barrow in a wood and sod house. They dogteamed to Barrow when she was seven years old.
My parents moved to Barrow for school and healthcare, there they met and eventually started a family. I have three brothers and one sister. Since birth, we grew up in a hunter gatherer society. Our family eating a lot of Native foods, we’d hunt throughout the seasons. Starting with spring whaling in April and May, then hunting ducks, and following that was geese hunting inland.
We’d make pivsi during the summer months. Pivsi is dried whitefish. We’d try to catch some fish and hunt caribou throughout the summer. We’re also hunting bearded seals in June and July, that’s what we use for our whaling boats. In January and February we get the skins out and the men scrape the hair off to prepare them to make a boat cover. It takes up to seven seal skins per whaling boat. When we hunt caribou in the summer months, we also save the backstrap muscles and the Achilles tendons to use as thread to sew our sealskin boats. My siblings and I grew up whaling since we were kids, we started helping around when were around 5 years old, wanting to go out on the ice. My parents were whaling captains. Since my dad has passed on, my siblings and I have kept our whaling crew going. We had a good upbringing, hunting and gathering Native foods year round. The following spring we’d start all over again. And I continue to do that – I’m 36 now, and I still hunt and fish year round. Throughout the year we’d balance school and hunting. Few years after high school I went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I wanted to be an aviation technology major. I passed my FAA general knowledge written test but I couldn’t afford flying time. I took the basics – math, history, science, English – but at that time I ran out of money. Luckily we had a tribal college, Iḷisaġvik College, in Barrow so I came home and worked full time, taking classes and eventually received an A.A. Degree. I still need to pursue higher education. I’m thinking about studying natural resources, being that we have so much oil and natural gas and coal up here.
Currently I’m the shareholder recruiting manager for ASRC. Before that I was with the North Slope Borough’s Iñupiat History, Language and Culture (IHLC) Division as a cultural resource specialist. There’s so much development on the North Slope. I did permitting projects, making sure none of our cultural sites or archaeological sites were to be threatened by any development activities or ice roads.
I got involved in the game through Chris Danner, who works for the North Slope Borough School District. I used to work with him at the IHLC office. He thought I would be a good person to interview, so I agreed to it. Just reading the storyline of the game, and the context of it, how the story was told and passed down, I thought that was cool. Something close to home.
I want people to know that we are rich in oral histories, and that we are at the forefront of the unfortunate climate change up here. I hope the game succeeds! I hope it picks up and people get to learn, get an idea of the Iñupiaq culture and the stories passed down. Maybe it will open it up for more similar games with oral histories.
My name is Aliitchak, and I was born upriver in Kobuk. Kobuk was the first village in this area. I was born there in 1924. In the year I was born, people moved down to Shungnak and moved the school there also. We were raised there in Shungnak. When I reached school age and first went to school, in January, 1931, our school burned down, just when I started school. When it burned down, we cried for our school. It burned quickly because it was so old. After that we went to school at our church in Shungnak. The church was a log building, all made of wood.
In summer we lived by seining and fishing with nets. We lived through the summer, using dogs to pull the boat along the riverbank, and that’s how we went upriver. We used oars and paddles when we went downriver. That’s how we lived. I always used to like to go to spring camp. When we went out to camp in spring, I learned to shoot muskrats. When we started hunting for muskrats, we would go to lakes and stay there all night. Each time we got muskrats, we brought them home. We slept during the day, and the next night we went hunting again for muskrats.
When I was twenty years old, I got married to Ugiaġnaq (Teddy Jack). When spring came, they came to get me from our winter cabin. In those days people used to arrange for their children to get married, choosing spouses for them. We had one daughter in May, 1947. We stayed together for only four years, because when our daughter was four months old, my husband Ugiaġnaq died. He was sick the whole winter. While I was pregnant, he got sick, and in September, in the fall of 1947, he died. I was a widow then. I was twenty-three years old when I lost my husband.
My daughter was getting bigger. I started trying to get my brother Aŋarraaq (Levi Cleveland) to go to school. I wanted him to go to school. Mother and Father always spent the winter at their cabin and didn’t stay long in the village. I started sending my brother to school. I made money by sewing and so we had food.
After five or six years, I got married again. I got married to Qatlu (Arthur Gray), and he started helping me make a living. I helped him by sewing. Elsie and Hugh Thomas were our pastors at that time. They told us we should go to Bible School. While we were pastors, in 1967 he got sick and went to see a doctor. He went to the hospital, and they sent him straight to Anchorage. There they performed an operation on him and removed one of his kidneys. They must have told him that he had just one year to live. He lived for only one year, and in October, 1968, he went back to the hospital in Anchorage and died there. I kept on working as a pastor till 1971, and in 1972 they asked me to be an Iñupiaq teacher.
One time in summer, Tupou Pulu, our education teacher, the Tongan woman who we gave the Iñupiaq name of Qipuk, started telling me to transcribe my father’s stories that were at the University of Alaska Fairbanks archives. In summer I went there to work on the stories that my father had told. They made my father’s stories into a book. When we became teachers, we taught from 1973 till 1994, and were always traveling and studying. We kept on studying and teaching.
I have four children, three girls. The oldest child is my own daughter from my first husband. The other three are adopted, and the one boy is the youngest. I have eleven grandchildren from them. One grandchild died, Tiriq’s (George Gray’s) oldest daughter. And I have sixteen great-grandchildren. And that’s how my life has been. That’s all.Excerpted from Words of the Real People: Alaska Native Literature in Translation, published 2007 by the University of Alaska Press. Told by Minnie Gray, translated and edited by Tadataka Nagai and Lawrence D. Kaplan
I grew up in Point Hope up on the North Slope. We used to go to school up to eighth grade then. After eighth grade, if you did well in school, you had to hop on an airplane. Education needs to be pursued. When you go away to a different place, you get to meet different people. My first Christmas at Mount Edgecumbe boarding school, there was no snow, only rain. I was used to snow everywhere, all winter. The first few months are difficult to be away from family, but then you meet other people away from their family, too. Although I went away from my village, I did not forget my language. My parents didn’t have any money to send me away to school. I am grateful to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for paying for my school and transportation.
When I finished at Mount Edgecumbe, I went to Haskell Indian Industrial Training School in Lawrence, Kansas. I used to watch cowboys and Indians growing up and root for the cowboys! Going to Kansas changed my attitude. These people were just like me.
I stayed home one semester from Lawrence, Kansas because I wanted to watch the old custom dances they have at Point Hope every Christmas week. I got to see them that year. I lucked out – I stayed home that one semester, and a white man and an Inupiaq man came to teach a course in reading and writing Iñupiaq. That was the first time I was ever in a classroom with my dad – he wanted to learn to read and write Iñupiaq too.
I taught Iñupiaq language in the schools in Point Hope, and my wife was my aide. I got a certificate from the North Slope Borough School District for forty years of teaching. Now I’ve been in Anchorage almost twenty years. We go home once in a while. They need us for Eskimo dance. As long as we have our Native foods being sent to us here from the North Slope, we’re okay.
I got a call one time, my nephew Jeff Kinneeveauk told these guys with the Never Alone video game about me. I came over to the Cook Inlet Tribal Council building and they had a camera. I told a story from when I was growing up. I told it in Iñupiaq too, after I told it in English. I never did forget that story. I thought I’d give them my two cents’ worth about how we do things.
We had two children and one passed away. We have grandchildren we are raising, and we help my granddaughter raise her kids. We moved to Anchorage to be near the Native Hospital for our grandson when he was little. Now he’s graduated from high school. He has special needs. He loves to play video games. I hope this game will help not only the children but the adults in learning more of Our traditions and Our language.
I grew up in Barrow, born and raised. My best memories are all of the hunting trips – whaling, seal hunting, caribou hunting, going out and catching wolverines and moose. Just the adventures and trips. And they still continue today – I mainly hunt with my family, my brother and my dad. I learned basically everything from my dad and my grandfather. We started hunting squirrels when I was about six – started off with BB guns and bows and arrows, and just went from there.
I first started helping with whaling around twelve or thirteen. Started out with small stuff, cleaning up around the tents and making coffee for the older guys who were out hunting. We didn’t participate in the hunt until we were about sixteen. The first time I actually got to go in the boat, I was part of the boat crew. I didn’t participate in the actual killing but I got to deal with a bunch of moving equipment around, handing things to the guys who were hunting – and we did get a whale that first trip.
You have to train while you’re young, get actively participating. When they get older, we’re eventually going to have to take over the hunt. It’s a key part of growing up – they’ll get older and we’ll have to take over. It’s like anything else. They take pride in teaching us everything they know.
Now I’m a polar bear guard. We protect researchers who come up to do Arctic studies, protect them while they’re out in the field from ice conditions and polar bears. I’ve worked on more studies than I can count. This is the baseground for the Arctic thaw that’s going on, so a lot of researchers come up to learn about tundra, permafrost, melting sea ice, bromine in the ozone. We have had some close calls. You have to have a lot of local knowledge to understand the ice and the ocean. In case the ice breaks off, you need to know the telltale signs. We have a lot of local knowledge as hunters.
One of my buddies was working with the Never Alone game group pretty closely. He’s on our whaling crew, so he mentioned I would be good to talk to. I’m one of the few in the community who goes out really far. We have a lot of great stories to tell from some of those expeditions – near death experiences, or even good ones. We went 147 miles this year, on a boat during fall time, and came home with a moose. There aren’t many moose near Barrow. We go a long ways to accomplish that. That came from my dad – he knew they were out there, and he said let’s go get them. That’s been a family tradition. He talked us into it and we’ve been doing it about ten years now. The farthest we’ve gone was probably 220 miles from town, on snow machine. I thought working on this game was interesting. I haven’t really broadcast it to my family or anything, but when it comes out I would definitely get it and show it to them, say hey, I was part of this. They have a good objective – they’re not putting it in a book, it’s going into a video game. A lot of younger generations are focused on video games, so there might be a lot more publicity doing that. Getting all this traditional knowledge out there is a good idea, and it’s fun telling our stories, our life experiences. The place I come from is definitely different from any other setting. It’s like no other place.
I was born and raised in Barrow, but moved to Hawai’i in high school, and went to college in Arizona for four years. I like living here because it is home. Because it is a small community, there’s a sense that everyone here is by extension one big family. That’s a trait and feeling we are brought up in because Our ancestors lived that way to survive.
I’m a technology specialist with the North Slope Borough School District. I create digital lessons using new technology like touch-screen projectors, and I work with our Iñupiaq language teachers, helping them with the technology aspects of their daily lessons. When I was growing up, the Iñupiaq language was rarely spoken in my house. I didn’t get to learn it in school. Anything language-based that I learned was colors and numbers, basic stuff in school. I’m excited that it’s a major piece in the schools’ curriculum now, and not just the language but culture, too. Right now my six-year-old is using an Iñupiaq language computer program that helps teach the language. We love hearing them speak Our language.
The day the Never Alone film crew came in was the first day we got whales that year. The weather was pretty crazy the day before, and it had pushed the ice out. Four miles of ice the ocean claimed, but these guys still flew in and we landed three whales.
I’ve been playing video games my whole life, so when the Never Alone opportunity came up I was drawn to it. When you live in a place like this, you need to fill your time in the winter. A lot of people have talked about making Iñupiaq themed apps or games, and it’s good to see the idea come to fruition. I got to demo the game before release. I thought it was cool – I’d play it, I’d let my kids play it. I hope it gets some major awards, and people get talking about it. I know it's going to be great.