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On Top of the World

Blanket toss, Nalukataq
The traditional blanket toss during the Barrow whaling festival Nalukataq, June 2014. Photo: Dayneé Rosales, KNOM.

Western Alaska — the region your support allows us to serve — is a place full of incredible communities and breathtaking vistas.

But even in this amazing corner of the world, certain communities are truly exceptional: like Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States and the host of a recent whaling festival witnessed, in person, by KNOM’s second-year volunteer Dayneé Rosales.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Barrow sits on the edge of the continent. The city overlooks the Arctic Ocean and, nestled well above the Arctic Circle, enjoys the most extreme light patterns in all of Alaska. In Barrow, the sun never sets from early May to early August (the midnight sun) and never rises from late November to late January (it’s what’s called a polar night). In a blog post on this website, Dayneé recently reflected on what a special location this truly is:

“This landmass that we inhabit stretches across forests and deserts and cities… for thousands and thousands of miles. Then it stops. It didn’t sink in until I saw it, driving out to the edge of town, the Arctic Ocean on both sides. The road ended. Nothing up ahead but the North Pole.”

In this incredible spot, Dayneé spent a few days as an on-location reporter during one of the town’s most important annual events: Nalukataq (NAH-loo-kah-tuck), which, as she describes, is “a traditional festival that celebrates a successful whale catch.”

“It was a trip years in the making,” Dayneé says, “and I am grateful to KNOM for giving me the opportunity to go and experience it first hand.” Whaling festivals in rural Alaska are, indeed, special moments; they’re touchstones of the traditional, subsistence lifestyles that are at the core of the Alaska Native culture we celebrate at KNOM. Even though Barrow is outside the normal range of KNOM’s AM signal, its cultural embrace of whaling is similar to the communities we reach, where the importance of whaling festivals like Nalukataq runs deep.

In the words of longtime Barrow whaling captain Jacob Adams:

“We celebrate a successful hunt so people won’t go hungry and (to) enjoy the cultural activities associated with a successful bowhead whale hunt — the rituals we(‘ve) follow(ed) since, basically, ten thousand years ago.”

And in Barrow, as Dayneé describes, it’s truly a festival atmosphere: “Most attendees came prepared for a long day,” she writes. “(A)rmed with foldable chairs, blankets, and coolers, Nalukataq was reminiscent of a very large 4th of July family summer cook out, albeit in 30 degree weather.”

To learn more about Nalukataq, listen to the news story (Profile) your support made possible. The photos here include a glimpse of the “blanket toss” that’s part of many traditional whaling celebrations, as well as an in-process whale harvest and carved muktuk (whale blubber), a prized delicacy in rural Alaska. Thank you for helping to make crucial trips like these happen.

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Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.