Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#6 Tookaq Neakok

       Tookaq on the Bridge

Sunday morning /afternoon, August 17, 2008

A good night’s watch, coming on just after the engine room took on a sea-water leak as we were ramming some of the first serious ice we’ve encountered. It was pretty quickly fixed and we were in and out of mostly first year ice, with increasing multi-year ice. The night watch is ideal for really digging into ideas about the data we are seeing as the contours of the ocean floor literally unroll before our eyes as we track a side profile (created by a single beam sonar) and a swath multi-beam sonar track. I finally feel familiar enough with the process and understanding the data to begin trading ideas with Larry about various ways to approach both measuring and characterizing certain juridical (vs. geological and morphological) aspects of the shelf. More on that process and some of the questions we are poring over in a later entry.

It was a still, clear watch, allowing us to see the moon rise (see photo, below), which was more or less the same time the sun was "setting" or dipping to touch the horizon, around 0200. It is always light.  Always.  After breakfast I went up to the bridge to watch the ice from the bridge’s sweeping wall of windows, then climbed the ladders up to “aloft conn”, the very highest enclosed point – think “eagle’s nest” - 
above the bridge, where the ship is steered. Silas Ayers, Marine Science Officer, was on watch and gave me a great overview of the decisions, timing and protocols involved as he steered the Healy through the ever-changing ice, using “leads” (open water) and other paths of least resistance. Watching the ice is endlessly fascinating. It was a great “lullaby” before heading off to sleep around 0900.

Awoke bolt upright about 1235 remembering I had not “accounted” … a mandatory check-in (by ship intranet) for all crew at lunch and dinner to be sure that all hands are accounted for. I seem to be adapting to a schedule of about 4 hours sleep after our 0000-0800 watch; then grabbing a nap shortly before the watch begins again. Today I got up in what I had thought was time for the protestant church service, which turned out to be at 1300 rather than 1330.

Instead, I sat down for some quiet time in the “lounge” and a few minutes later Tookaq Neakok came in. We’d kept not finding the time to sit and jaw, so we finally did just that and it was great. Barrow’s Inupiat community sends an observer on the Healy voyages, and he’s along for his first time. Tookaq has several roles: making sure we do not interfere with the community’s subsistence whaling, helping us spot wildlife and ice changes evident to him, getting to know more about Coast Guard operations in the Arctic.
“Inupiak” is used to describe the language when two people are speaking; “Inupiat” when more than two are using it. I love the communal implications of that ruddy distinction.
We are about the same age. Tookaq was born in 1960 and has lived in Barrow all of his life, the youngest of 12 children. His grandmother raised him, and he was named according to Inupiat tradition after her husband, having been born shortly after that man’s death. One is named so as to capture and carry on the essence of the person who is departing. Of Tookaq’s eight daughters, the one who was born shortly after his grandmother died was given her name,  Akbara. This means to run a long time (not like a marathon, Tookaq made certain to clarify, but a solid practical runner). His son, whose name means little black duck, is the youngest, and Tookaq has a nephew currently serving in Iraq. Tookaq told stories of studying in the BIA schools and the shameful punishments and efforts to keep him and his classmates from speaking Inupiat. Now the language is reviving some, as a number of the kids who leave Barrow for college or work return after life elsewhere.

Tookaq’s name means “head of a harpoon”, which turns out to be very fitting. He began a new whaling crew (there are some 40 of them in Barrow) with one of his friends just three years
 ago.  The Quvqan Crew has caught two whales in three years; a remarkable track record, really. He says it’s because they have mostly young strong men, most just out of high school. Obviously, landing a whale is a communal effort. If you are interested in reading more about Inupiat whaling, The Whale and the Supercomputer: on the Forefront of Climate Change, by Charles Wohlforth, is a great source of information. It also provides a look into life in Barrow, and the interactions – or not – between the Inupiat community and the science community that has grown up there since the US decided in the late 19th century to station a research outpost there.

In the hour or so we sat there this morning, Tookaq and I talked a lot about the fundamental changes he has seen in his lifetime. The most profound change is the transition from a subsistence and barter economy to purchasing more of what one needs to live. In just 48 years! His family is
 still able to live almost entirely from subsistence hunting (whale, fish, duck, caribou, a tundra rhubarb-like plant, salmon-berries, black raspberries, blueberries). He observes that the food in Barrow’s only store is far too expensive to buy on any regular basis.

Tookaq thinks that a number of factors have contributed to this transition away from bartering. These include the growing number of non-Inupiat residents in Barrow, who brought currency with them, and the changing weather making it harder to both whale and to hunt on land. He is saddened to see the slow changes to the Inupiat community by virtue of some people now having more wealth than others. When he was a boy they used to trade with the inland communities. Barrow offered fish and whale and the other communities provided caribou. The beads used when one had no goods were varying shades of blue. We talked a lot about food, which proved to be a great common language; about the locavore movement in Vermont; about how long you have to cook whale meat; about how most people don’t know where the food on their plate comes from.

This year in January water came all the way up to the beach in Barrow. No ice. Tookaq said he had never seen that. The ice cellar they have at home in Barrow, basically an underground freezer in the permafrost, is melting, and water is coming in from the sea (permafrost melts from below because of the insulating properties of snow). The one at their fish camp is still functioning pretty well, but that is further inland.

Above, Barrow in September 08

It’s been great to continue conversations with Tookaq, and good to know we still have some two weeks left. When we wrapped up, he said I enjoyed talking almost as much of his grandmother. Given what he told me of the importance of stories being passed on from generation to generation by the Inupiat elders, and of the stories she used to tell, I think I can take that as a compliment, right?

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.