People of the Arctic
The majority of the North Slope’s people are Iñupiat. We reside in eight villages, with populations ranging from 250 to 4,429. In 2011, there were 9,503 residents. The region has gone through tremendous change in the last few decades, with increasing populations of our friends from other parts of the world. In addition to the Iñupiat, the North Slope’s population includes Caucasians, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, other Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups. More than three-fifths of the region’s population lives in Utqiagvik, the commercial and transportation hub.
The word “Iñupiat” means “the real people.” We have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years, traditionally following animal migrations and subsisting on whale, caribou, walrus, seal and birds.
In one of the earth’s most challenging environments, we developed a rich culture and dynamic array of traditions. Our survival depended on close family ties, a strong sense of community and a deep respect for nature. One of our primary traditions is Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast wherein all villages celebrate the harvest, trade, and renew kinship and partnerships.
Today, we still look to the land for cultural and economic sustenance. Despite changes in technology and lifestyle, we depend on whaling, hunting and fishing for cultural identity and much of our food supply.
Of all subsistence activities, whaling is the most important to coastal villages. When a whaling captain lands a bowhead whale, the entire community comes together for sharing and celebration. During Nalukataq (the celebration held after the harvest of a whale), hundreds of people gather to share in the feast, participate in games and enjoy Iñupiaq dancing. Other resources are just as important to inland communities such as Anaktuvuk Pass and Atqasuk. Caribou, fish, sheep, berries are a few of the many resources our land provides.
North Slope communities are accessible only by air. The only road into the region – the Dalton Highway or “Haul Road” parallels the trans-Alaska pipeline from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, and serves mainly as a freight corridor to the oil fields. The road is now also open to tourist traffic. One major airline provides passenger service between Barrow and the state’s largest cities twice daily, and a smaller commuter airline also has passenger service to Anchorage and Fairbanks, as well as to the villages. Freight arrives by barge in the summer and by air cargo year-round.
North Slope communities are linked to the rest of the world by excellent communications systems. They receive telephone and cable television by satellite, a daily statewide and weekly local newspaper, and bilingual programs from KBRW, Utqiagvik’s public radio station. Region-wide business meetings and educational classes are conducted through the borough’s teleconference network. Utqiagvik residents are able to participate in state government hearings through Alaska’s legislative audio-conference network.
Residents enjoy recreation programs in all communities, often held in local school gyms. Almost every community has a recreation center where programs for teens, children and adults are conducted. During the dark winter hours, most communities hold traditional Inupiat games, and the 4th of July is also celebrated with friendly competitions.
Most villages have general stores and local businesses are growing to accommodate visitors. Because of the high cost of living, many people order their groceries from Anchorage, Fairbanks or the Lower 48.
A Thriving Economy
Three major events occurred in the 1970s that helped shape the North Slope Borough’s economy: passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, formation of the North Slope Borough in 1972, and startup of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the mid-1970s.
Oil development provides the North Slope Borough with most of its operating revenue. In 2006, more than 74 percent of the borough’s income came from property taxes and of that amount 98% came from the oil and gas industry. The North Slope’s oil property tax structure is currently being revised in conjunction with development of the region’s vast natural gas reserves, which could provide a stable source of revenue to the local economy for the next 50 years. But oil continues to play a dominant role in the regional economy as new fields are brought on-line to replace the dwindling reserves at the huge Prudhoe Bay field. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), large areas of federal lands within borough boundaries, are being considered for oil and gas exploration and development.
Under ANCSA, regional and village Native corporations were created and entitled to land and cash as a settlement of the Native aboriginal land claims. As profit-making entities, these corporations helped develop the private sector and create hundreds of jobs. Their shareholders are the Iñupiat people of the region.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) is a diversified corporation with major holdings in land, natural resources, oil and gas engineering, construction, communications and other activities. It owns nearly 5 million acres of surface and subsurface lands on the North Slope, including 92,000 acres on the coastal edge of ANWR.
Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) is the Utqiagvik village corporation. UIC has emerged as one of the most successful village corporations in the state. The company operates a hotel, construction company, engineering firm and several joint ventures, and is a major employer in Utqiagvik.
The North Slope Borough
The North Slope Borough (NSB) was incorporated as a first class borough in 1972, and is now a home rule borough. The borough was guided through its formative years, by the late Eben Hopson, a widely respected Iñupiaq elder, visionary and statesman who defined the primary goal as providing residents with the same basic services enjoyed by other Americans.
This goal has been difficult and expensive to attain especially since there were no regional services before the borough’s incorporation. The new municipality had to develop public safety and fire protection programs, schools, search and rescue capabilities, water and sewer services, planning and zoning, health and social service programs. Providing these ongoing services and the physical infrastructure to support them continues to be an expensive proposition for the borough.
With the exception of the oil industry, the North Slope Borough is presently the largest employer in the region. Its infrastructure and services support economic development in the eight communities of the region.
Learning in our schools is rooted in the values, history and language of the Iñupiat. Students develop the academic and cultural skills and knowledge to be:
- Critical and creative thinkers able to adapt in a changing environment and world.
- Active, responsible, contributing members of their communities.
- Confident, healthy young adults, able to envision, plan and take control of their destiny.
Education is overseen by the NSB School District Board of Education, which firmly believes that the schools belong to the people. NSB schools offer a unique curriculum that frames learning through Iñupiaq history, language & culture. The district’s goal is to provide students with the education necessary to excel in college, vocational training or the workplace, as well as engage in the traditional Iñupiaq lifestyle.
There is a school in every village with classes from Early Childhood Education (for children ages 3 and 4) through 12th grade. All schools have multi-purpose gym facilities, swimming pools, wood/metal shops, computer labs and community education programs.
Health and Social Services
The borough operates a health clinic in every village that provides quality medical, dental and vision care. For more extensive medical needs, residents use the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital (SSMH) in Barrow that is staffed with doctors employed by the Arctic Slope Native Association. Doctors at the SSMH are able to exchange graphic and video images with village health clinics and assist in long-distance diagnosis of injury or illness.
The borough also maintains a range of social services to meet the psychological, emotional and social well-being of residents. Some of these services include: housing, meals and transportation for senior citizens, mental health counseling, and programs for women and youth.
The North Slope Borough realizes that preserving the Iñupiat culture is as essential as providing other services. The NSB Iñupiat History Language and Culture Commission (IHLC) documents and promotes Iñupiat life through activities, research and celebrations. IHLC has played a pivotal role in the development of an Iñupiaq writing system and dictionary. They currently maintain an archive for local oral histories in the Iñupiat Heritage Center and the Simon Paneak Memorial Museum in Anaktuvuk Pass.
The borough sponsors an Elders/Youth Conference and a periodic winter cultural celebration called Kivgiq. The borough is also a strong supporter of cultural organizations such as the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
Wildlife Resource Management
Since the region’s subsistence economy depends on the health of animal populations, the North Slope Borough has assumed management of its wildlife resources – the only local government in Alaska to do so. The borough undertakes scientific research and monitoring of wildlife stocks. Studies on bowhead whaling funded by the borough have helped turn international scientific opinion in favor of subsistence whaling and fostered better management of polar bears, beluga whales, caribou and other species.
Police, Search and Rescue, and Public Works
The borough delivers crucial public services in all of the villages to protect its citizens and ease the challenge of arctic life. The Police Department stations officers in every community for public safety, public education, compliance with local option restrictions on the importation of alcohol, and other community priorities.
The borough’s Search and Rescue (SAR) operation responds to calls for emergency medical evacuation or rescue assistance. When subsistence hunters and other tundra travelers are lost or stranded by equipment breakdown, SAR is the only help available in this vast region. Medical emergencies in the villages or at remote oil installations also require SAR assistance.
The Public Works Department maintains water and sewer systems and operates power plants in the villages. In Utqiagvik, water/sewer and electric utilities are provided by Barrow Utilities and Electric Cooperative (BUECI). The department also plows roads and runways, manages landfills, and oversees the day to day operations in each community.
Services in the Prudhoe Bay Area
Service Area Ten (SA10) was created in 1975 to operate and maintain a system of solid waste collection, sewage treatment and potable water in Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse. These services support the activities of the oil companies, contractors, service providers, hotels, camps, educational facilities and many others. As a secondary service, the SA10 Hotel houses employees that work in Prudhoe Bay, but is also open to the general public as well.