Answers from the Children of Point Hope-Alaska to the Questions from the Children of Welford and Wickham Primary School-England

Oct. 30 1994



Point Hope is a village of about 550 people on the North Western Arctic coast of Alaska. The only way in and out of our village is by bush plane. I have eighteen 5th grade students who are all Inupiat Eskimos. Though my students are learning to communicate through the internet, this village still follows many traditional ways, including hunting seals, walrus and whales out among the sea ice in skin covered boats called umiaks. Right now our winter has settled in. The sea ice is forming and soon will connect with the permanent pack ice. We have about 6 hours of daylight now, but by Thanksgiving the sun will set and not rise again until Jan. 18th.

Most of my kids have been by plane to Kotzebue--a bush village of about 3,000 Inupiat & Yupik Eskimos. A few more have been to Anchorage--a large modern city in southeast Alaska. Even though we aren't on the road system, there are some cars in the village, but most of my kids have never seen a bridge, a train, a freeway, been to the movies or large department stores.

We don't have running water or flush toilets, though we have satellite TV and Computers!


Questions and Answers


Q: What games do you play?

A: We play basketball, football, kickball, Eskimo kickball and Eskimo basketball.

We play lots of Eskimo games at Christmas time, like arm wrestle, ear pull, finger pull, high kick, and the one leg high kick--for this one you have to kick a bag hanging over your head with your foot, and then land on the foot you kicked with--it is hard, but many people can do it. In the summer at the whale feast we do blanket toss.


Q: Do you have husky dogs?

A: Yes, some people in the village have husky dogs for pets and some for their dog teams.


Q: Do you have snowmobiles?

A: Yes, we have snowmobiles. They are the vehicle we use most. There are streets in the village, but no roads outside the village, so off-road vehicles are the only way to get around, and since we have snow from September until June, snowmobiles are the best off-road vehicle.


Q: Do you have weapons?

A: Yes we have guns--rifles and pistols and harpoons. We use them to hunt animals, and we eat the animals and use their skins.


Q: Is school fun?

A: Yes, we like school. It is fun. We like reading, math, art, painting, social studies, and language.


Q: What do you drink?

A: We drink pop (Coke, Pepsi and stuff) Fresh water from a near by lake is put in a large, heated water tank in the summer, then it is delivered to houses in a water truck. Most of the houses have water tanks that hold about 200 gallons. The truck comes to our houses about twice a week. We can't have water pipes in the ground because of the permafrost. Some people get their water by going to the fresh water lake in the winter on their snowmobile pulling a sled, and cutting ice. Most people think this is the best way to get water, since it is not treated with chlorine or other chemicals, but it is harder work to get it. We also don't have sewage pipes. Our grey water just runs under our houses and freezes. For toilets we have honey buckets. There is a "honey bucket" truck that comes around and empties the buckets when we set them outside. The honey bucket truck tries to get to the buckets before they freeze. We dream about the day we will have "utilidors". These are heated, above ground tunnels that water and sewer pipes can run through to all the house. Some arctic towns already have utilidors. Barrow does.


Q: Do you have fires?

A: We don't have fire places--fuel is too scarce. But there is a lot of driftwood on our beaches, and we use it for our campfires. Our houses are heated with diesel fuel that comes up from the "lower 48" (the continental U.S.A.) in August on a barge. One of the people in our group had a fire in their house and the fire department had to come. A house fire in the Arctic is very bad.


Q: How do you fish?

A: Some times through a whole in the ice. In the summer we use poles and rods. In the fall the tom cod wash up on the beach and freeze. Then we just pick them up and eat them frozen right off the beach. They are good. Our teacher ate some too.


Q: Do you have pets?

A: Yes, we have pets: cats and dogs.


Q: Do you have pubs (bars)?

A: No we don't have pubs. This is a dry village. That means no alcohol can be sold here, imported or shipped into town or made here. Still some boot-legged alcohol is brought into town, and it is a problem. For entertainment adults play bingo at the community center, play cards and visit.


Q: Is it uncomfortable because of the cold?

A: Sometimes, when it is real windy, the wind-chill is down around -85 degrees F. That is uncomfortable. But mostly it is not uncomfortable because we have parkas, boots and ski pants.


Q: Is it safe for children to wander out on their own?

A: Sometimes it is not OK to go out--when there are wild animals in town like arctic foxes and polar bears, or if the weather is very bad like a white out, but everybody goes out, because it is a very small town.


Q: Do children hunt for their own food?

A: Sometimes, but mostly they go with parents.


Q: Do wild animals attack?

A: Sometimes when they come around town hungry. But they don't do that very much. Most animals are afraid of people.


Q: What do you do for Halloween?

A: We trick or treat and munch down! We also had a Halloween carnival in our school gym. It was fun. At Christmas the whole village comes to the gym to celebrate in a feast. We share muktuk (whale blubber with the skin attached) and whale meat. After eating we have Eskimo games and dances and stay late until everyone falls asleep.


Q: What kind of clothes do you wear?

A: Inside we dress like you--jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, running shoes. Outside we wear parkas, ski pants, boots or mukluks, beaver hats, fur gloves. Our parkas have fur ruffs so our faces stay warmer.


Q: What is Christmas like?

A: Christmas time is dark--the sun doesn't rise at all, it is the middle of the dark time. It is cold, usually around -10 or -20 degrees F. But if the wind blows, it is colder because of wind-chill. It is always snowy at Christmas.


Q: Do you go swimming?

A: Yes, we have an indoor swimming pool in our school. It is small, just 4 feet deep, but we have fun. Mostly we don't swim in the ocean, the river or the lagoon because they are frozen most of the year, and the water is very cold.


Q: Are there any hills, and if so do you go climbing?

A: There are mountains about 15 miles away. People go there to hunt caribou and sometimes moose or to trap wolverine.


Q: Has anyone in your class been abroad and what was it like compared to


A: No, no one in our class (except the teacher) has been to any other country. But some kids have been to other states, like Washington and California. A few more have been to other cities in Alaska, like Anchorage or Fairbanks. The big difference between any of those places and here is *stuff*! WE have one store--the Native Store. No restaurants, no movies or anything else. We aren't on the road system, there is no rail road, no freeways, no bridges. One boat--the barge--comes once a year with supplies. Everything else is flown in on small prop planes. Richard said things like that were 20 or 30 miles away from you. They are about 6 or 7 hundred miles away from us.


Q: Do you have computer games and what are they?

A: Yes. Crystal Caves, Outrun, GI JOE, Tetris, Afterburn, Final Lap, Street Fight, Willow, Turtle.


Q: What kind of computers do you have?

A: We have an IBM hooked to the network, and 4 Apples not networked.


Q: How do you get fresh vegetables?

A: Vegetables are sold in the Native Store. They come from Seattle by airplane via Anchorage, then Kotzebue, and then to our village.


Q: Does it smell bad because of all the whale meat and fish?

A: No, it doesn't smell bad. The Arctic has the cleanest air in the world. Our meat is kept in ice cellars called sigluaq. These are pits dug down into the permafrost.


Q: Where do you order your clothes from?

A: Our clothes come from catalogue companies like EastBay, Sears, J.C. Penny's and also from mail order department stores like Fred Meyers.


Q: What are the houses made of?

A: Wood, nails, metal siding, and other things. All the materials come from the lower 48 on the barge. Houses used to be made of whale bone (jaws and ribs) and covered with sod. Nobody has a sod house any more. All the houses are modern.


Q: What are your favourite T.V. programmes???

A: Weird science, Problem Child, Fresh Prince, On Our Own, and Beethoven II.


Q: How do you cook?

A: Many of our traditional foods are not cooked--we eat frozen meats from the ice cellars dipped in hot seal oil. But we also eat western foods. Lots of people have microwaves and propane stoves.


Q: Do you have a McDonald's?

A: We do not have a MacDonald's in Pt. Hope. The closest one is in Anchorage. To get to Anchorage we have to take a bush plane to Kotzebue (about 1 hour) then catch a larger plane to Anchorage (about 2 hours flying).


Q: How do you use the whales?

A: We eat almost everything: The heart, the muktuk (skin and blubber) the meat, the major organs. The baleen we use for weaving baskets and people draw pictures (scrimshaw) on the baleen. The whale bone we use for making masks. We prepare the whale meat in lots of ways: the muktuk we eat uncooked. The whale's tail we ferment all summer and eat in the fall when the ice starts to form on the ocean. We eat the meat frozen, boiled and fried too.


Q: Do you speak Eskimo Language? Does anybody?

A: The elders speak our language the best, but everybody knows some of our language, our language is called Inupiaq. At school we have a bilingual class where we learn more of our language and culture.


Hope this answers your questions. Send us other questions if these don't make sense. Also, thanks to Richard for his answers to our questions!


Sheila Gaquin

Tikigaq School, Point Hope