Barrow Project (Utqiagvik): They call it fishing and not catching – An Alaskan Youth Shares His Story


This personal reflection is part of the Barrow Project (Utqiaġvik) – a project of the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions and Fresh Tracks to shed light on the Alaskan village of Utqiaġvik. This project creates a bridge from western societies to Utqiaġvik’s sustainable-traditional culture and community through blogs, videos, and photos. The development of this project requires outside resources and outlets to help expose different communities to the knowledge and culture of Utqiaġvik that would not otherwise be exposed to.

Pikok camp is a special place to me and I only share that place with people I consider to be special. When my sister Kim asked me if I would be willing to take some of her friends from the states camping, I was hesitant about the idea. I have taken “outsiders” out on the land before and I wasn’t very impressed (to put it nicely). Since Kim vouched for them and explained to me that they were different, I agreed to take them. I was pleasantly surprised when CJ and James arrived at the house, well dressed, and well prepared. You can tell how successful a person will be out in the middle of nowhere just by the items they choose to wear and bring. The two of them arrived in appropriate summer-traveling clothing ( I was not going to bring anyone who brought those silly Canada Goose Jackets in August), brought plenty of supplies, and came willing to learn. Being well prepared is a big deal to me since we can only rely on what we chose to bring.

I would not consider myself a leader by any stretch of the imagination so I was really nervous about the whole trip. Things in my life tend to go wrong and that idea was lurking in the back of my head for the entire 8+ hour ride it took us to get to the camp. You could say we had a rough start since it normally only takes about 4 hours to get out there. I quickly became self-conscious about how difficult of a trip it had become. Whenever I take anyone new out there, my goal to make the trip as comfortable as possible so that the person will be willing to go again. The ride out there was anything but that. There was a lot of getting out to push, pull the sled, or help the other machine that was with us.

The ride out there kind of did sold me on these guys though. I’ve been around so many people who would have cried and complained about being in the difficult situation we were in (constantly getting slowed down or stuck) and they both embraced the experienced and helped with a smile.

I had two goals for this trip: To harvest fish and to harvest caribou. I did my best to communicate that I do not have any control over where the caribou are or how the fishing will be. I do not think a person can pick a weekend out of the month and be successful when it comes to hunting. I was afraid that if we didn’t get anything, that everyone would be disappointed in me because I couldn’t find the caribou. We planned a visit to a place called Iviksuk, which is an old hunting “village” that doesn’t see many visitors anymore. I’ve had luck in that area in the past and it is always a fun boat ride to get there.

Unfortunately we did not have any luck the whole day we were out there. We did find a small herd of caribou, but one of the guys we were with had missed his shot. It happens and no one got upset. After that boat ride, we set the fish net and then went back to my little cabin.

Of course fishing also had to be slow that weekend. On a good day, the fish net could average about 30 fish, but that weekend we only got 10. I like to say “they call it fishing and not catching” when we have slow days like that. CJ and James were equally happy regardless of the number of fish we caught. I at least was able to show them the variety of fish we catch and how fishing has been done out there for generations.

My biggest takeaway from the camping trip is the exchange of knowledge that took place and the camaraderie everyone had. All of us were laughing and having a good time regardless of what was going on. I learned that not everyone from the Lower 48 has a TV-born or made up idea of how Alaska is. I also learned that adversity in the great outdoors happens everywhere and it’s what helps build strong bonds and friendships. I was honestly really afraid that the two of them were just going to make hasty decisions out there, but they did anything but that. I look forward to bringing them on another trip as they are welcomed out there anytime they want to go.