“I always remember what my grandparents told me about animals. You should not waste them… get only what you need, can eat and use. If we do that, we will have a long life.” – Lulu Foxglove, Selawik, Alaska
An Age-Old Tradition
From time immemorial, the Inupiat people of Northwest Alaska have relied on the land to sustain them. The mighty caribou herd and salmon runs provided enough food to see their dogs and them through the long, lean months of winter. They hunted moose, bear, wolf and wolverine from wooden sleds pulled by teams of domesticated dogs and weathered the harsh Arctic winters in parkas made of caribou hide. Food was stored in baskets made from willow and birch, and during the dark days of winter, stone lamps full of caribou tallow or seal oil provided the only light. To the Inupiat, the far North was a land of plenty.
Much has changed since American explorers first ventured up the Kobuk River in 1850, but the people of Northwest Alaska still rely on the land to survive. Subsistence – noncommercial, customary and traditional use of wild resources – remains an important part of Inupiaq culture today. Sheefish and salmon are staples of many Inupiat Eskimos living along the Kobuk River, just like they have always been, and the people of the Kobuk Valley continue to hunt caribou as they cross the river, just as their ancestors have done for at least 9,000 years.