TYupik and Inupiat people of northern Alaska and the Bering Straits had been whaling for a thousand years when Yankee whalers arrived in the arctic during the late nineteenth century. More than 2000 commercial whaling voyages sailed from New Bedford—the capital of the global whaling industry—into arctic waters during the following decades. Many Alaska Natives played a direct role in the commercial whaling enterprise and everyone experienced its effects. They joined Yankee whaling crews, supplied local, wild food to the whalers, shared traditional clothing designs adapted to arctic conditions, and sheltered many shipwrecked whaling crews.
The Inupiat Heritage Center was dedicated in February 1999 and houses exhibits, artifact collections, library, gift shop, and a traditional room where people can demonstrate and teach traditional crafts in Elders-in-Residence and Artists-in-Residence programs. As an affiliated National Park, the North Slope Borough owns and manages the Inupiat Heritage Center. The Heritage Center is one of several partners, associated through New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park legislation, who participate in telling the story of commercial whaling in the United States. Park partners operate independently but collaborate in a variety of educational and interpretive programs.