On the Ice.

     One thing I will say about Whaling is this: It is a way of life that brings the people together. The Inupiaq people feast on these huge animals, and this has been their way of life for over 12,000 years..

Image     The Bowhead whale– A Creature so beautiful, that it truly offers its life to bring these communities together. To feed, and nourish the circle. The people come together, they work together, and they laugh, and they smile. They cry with tears of joy. Families and friends gather and communicate with positivity- With words, and without.                                                                                             

    I can honestly say that the Inupiaq work harder than most people have ever imagined having to work for food. The amount of work that a whale requires is beyond measure. It takes a tremendous work ethic by everyone involved.

Nothing goes to waste.

    These people continue to live off the land in a way that can never be experienced in any other way than this just is. No farm could ever breed a reciprocation of this ancient way of life. It cannot be mocked. The spiritual connection with the land and sea is a powerful feeling. Especially when you are in a boat made of Seal skins which is sewn together by sinew made from Caribou. It holds the crew afloat in water that could take your life in a matter of minutes. There is a fine line between the delicate measure of survival and demise. These boats are sewn together by the women of the tribe who put their love and prayer into these boats, knowing that the men they care for will need to be safe in their creations. 

     It is no doubt that the women work just as hard as the men do. They spend months beforehand preparing the winter clothing so that the hunters can stay warm on the ice. They ready the food, they prepare dinners and celebrations in case a hunt is successful. And if it is a successful hunt, they stand on the edge of the ice waiting for a celebration to begin. If a hunt is not successful, then that is reality and still, they give thanks for life, for the safety of every crew on the water. For what they believe in. This is their Tradition. 

     The men who are on the water risk their lives to do what they must to carry on that tradition. To remain Inupiaq. 

A whale truly gives itself. 

    At an average of 50 tons, they could easily dominate the small Seal skin boat. An elder told me while we were on the ice:

     “We caught a whale a few years back. A Scientist was here to do some surveys and what not. When we butchered it, we found a stone tip arrow head inside of the whale. They carbon dated it to be 211 years old. That old whale must have been 250-300 years old. Who knows. The scientists say they can figure out how long they live, but some of the whales that are swimming out there right now, have been here a lot longer than scientists, so I doubt that.”


     Standing before a one-hundred thousand pound animal that was fifty-seven feet long, and lying on the ice was one of the most powerful feelings i’ve ever experienced. The animal’s spirit lingered in the air and I could feel it. I was overjoyed, yet saddened by her death. It was a she and she lived a long and prosperous life. I imagine she decided it was her time. She lived with pure thought and good intention full of delicate love. She dreamed once. She cried at one time, and loved her young with the love that only a mother carries for her child. She has encountered dangers in the past and persevered. She’s felt emotion as we have. If she could speak, imagine the stories she could tell. I’d like to imagine she even gave thanks to the creator, and I imagine she even prayed in her own primitive way, that is and was as beautiful as ours. She gave her life to us. To the Great Spirit.

We give thanks. Saddened and proud, humbly and solemnly, we give thanks to the Creator and to her for this wonderful gift that will be honored. Whaling is a beautiful kind love that brings people together. Just as the Buffalo once did for the Lakota and Shoshone, and every other tribe that graced the great plains with their presence. Just as the Salmon once did for the Northwest coast tribes. Just as the Sheep once did for the Navajo. Traditional Inupiaq whaling is still pure, and it is still theirs. It remains sovereign. 


6 thoughts on “On the Ice.

  1. This was both beautiful and moving. It is a reminder of how far so many, our people and society as a whole, have fallen. Thank you for sharing the journey, and for letting those who read travel along with you for a time. You remind that the simple complexities of life are to be cherished, revered and passed down with carefully well-calloused hands. This story will ride in me a long time, and shared.

  2. Thank you for sharing. We’re so used to buy our food in the grocery store, and have insane availability of it, and for such a long time, we’ve lost the memory of how hard and dangerous is actually getting the meat we need. We are so used to throw ‘leftovers’ away, we’ve lost memory of how we used to eat and use every single part of an animal. We’ve become so self-righteous and so ‘eco-friendly’ that we condemn this survival tradition of whale hunting, instead of condemning waste. You said it clearly yourself you were ‘saddened by her death’. This is our true life as humans: we are omnivorus creatures and we need meat to be healthy, yet we cannot help feeling other creatures’ life as conncted to ours.

  3. This is a wonderful story about the journey of many lives, the whale’s and those who hunt and are feed by her sharing. She gave her life to feed others, her human brothers and sisters. What an extraordinary experience this must have been for you. Thank you for your generous spirit, for taking us all along. You are a talented writer and story teller.

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