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There is a war within me. Amongst the other wars. It's a smaller war, to be fair. More like a squabble really. Like two ravens fighting over a tidbit mid-winter. And after thinking about it all of these years, I still cannot seem to really convince myself of either side. I think I keep hoping someone will come up with a happy medium, because my brain cells and heart just doesn't seem to know what to do with it.
It is something that every villager thinks of at some point in their life. I know I have been asked many times about my opinion on the subject, and it just depends on what day it is, what my answer will be. It’s a simple question: What do you think about tourists/visitors/’others’ coming into the village?
As you know I have was very lucky to know several villages. I grew up in Point Hope, a small village on the coast with more than 90% of the population being Native. Tourism is actively fought off, visitors are kept to the minimum and are restricted to what is necessary, if we could have sat at the airport with spears we would have. A person I admire immensely once said, ‘If we could just put a big bubble around our village!’, and I wholeheartedly agreed with cheers and vigorous hand claps. Mostly I agree for a couple reasons. The biggest one is that ‘outsiders’ tend to bring bad things along with them (as a majority). These types of people are usually temporary bursts of Different.
In a small village you usually adhere to a type of social code. A village knowledge base of who is who and what is what. If you think about it it makes sense, considering you will have to live with the exact same (very small amount) of people for probably the rest of your life. You learn what is serious and what is not, and more importantly you learn where to apologize or when to ignore. We also have this clash with teachers, and more often than not it ends with the teacher leaving in frustration or the teacher being asked to leave. Cultural differences often shape the social landscape. Construction workers also sometimes bring drugs to help with the tedious winters, and sometimes hook others onto it. People come in and start relationships willy nilly, or end up kissing a bored wife, or a million other tiny things that are not amazingly bad when viewed alone and without major context, or in a huge lower 48 city. But they leave major hard to ignore scars in a small social setting. In a world where temporary and disposable are the norm, ignorance can harm an old society, one as different as you can imagine.
I also am very lucky to live in Anaktuvuk Pass. Where tourism is tolerated. In the warm months 4-10 planes fly in with it’s load of gawkers and hippies, some adventurers or head hunters. People that want to fill their lives with a tad bit of Different and Amazing. I live near the airport and in one freak of a day I counted about 30 planes, flying in and out. Because of how I make my money I depend on the seasonal income, I sell random art pieces and products at the amazing Museum at the top of the hill. The tour guides lead the group of tourists around the village, pointing out the various bits of history poking out of the tundra. As a resident I find them fantastically annoying. We have playfully nicknamed them ‘terrorists.’
My home is unfortunately on the tourist route, and as a consequence we get the full brunt of their visits. I don’t really blame their curiosity though: my yard is a tidy mini-city, filled with excited burly arctic dogs, fantastic displays of my husbands prized antlers and sheep horns, and the various exotic tools and vehicles needed to live in a arctic world. I am, however, always amazed that they find it acceptable to enter our yard and examine our belongings and poke at our dogs. They laugh and take pictures of themselves with our belongings with their usually incredibly expensive cameras and camera phones. I use to sit at my window and scowl, but for some reason some of the less timid tourists found this as an invitation to approach me and try to get me to pose or to pepper me with questions or ask me to show them what it was ‘really’ like living here. Every one of them did not realize that they are a small annoying pebble in a seasonal avalanche, and some were even offended that I would refuse such as honor as they are. So now….without any shame….I duck and hide when I see them pass by.
For 7 years i lived n Barrow Alaska, the Top of the World, a short stay in arctic terms. It’s population only about 50% Native, and the rest is a beautiful mix of people from much more tropical places and random misfits that found their way there. Tourism is a thriving industry there. It’s a structured and well cultivated system that feeds it’s supporters well. I made a tidy living there easily, not having to rely so much on internet sales or cold calls. It’s a place where Celebrities and famous people stop by, a place where thousands of scientists pontificate, a place where old meets new and melds in a ying yang type situation. Amazing things happen there, but there is the darker side to the mix. A place where alcohol and modern drugs are easy to obtained and abused, a place where cultural clashes become violent, a place where hope is mixed with despair, a place where you can be a stranger and an unknown.
So I have experienced somewhat the various levels of West meeting North and I still can’t see how it may be resolved. I would hope that the villages would take control of the tourist industry in their neighborhood, take the reigns so no one else can drive them. But the village leaders are hard pressed to have nothing to do with tourists be they benign or not. And so we are left with this weird dance of frustration and reliance, of feeling guilty of living in a world that will have outsiders coming in. Of hating the new stuff and loving the new stuff. Its a time of birthing pains with emotion and logic warring in our Inupiaq Psyche.
Next year I plan to nail a tin can next to our dog cage and paint it with a single phrase… “Tips are appreciated.’