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Anaktuvuk Pass

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Anaktuvuk Pass, on the north slope of the Brooks Range, is today the only settlement of Nunamiut Inupiat, the Inupiat Eskimo who were land oriented. The Nunamiut inhabited inland northern Alaska until whalers introduced guns, with devastating consequences to the caribou herds that formed the mainstay of the Nunamiut diet. In addition, alcohol and disease introduced by whites forced population shifts and a reordering of the Nunamiut existence. Their precontact population inland was estimated at fifteen hundred; by 1900, it was two hundred to three hundred. By about 1920, there were no Nunamiut inhabiting the inland; they had all dispersed to coastal settlements.

But also by 1920, the caribou population was on the rise, which eventually brought the Nunamiut back inland. In the late 1930s, a handful of families returned to live inland permanently, re-establishing the seminomadic existence they had had before. In the late 1940s, they settled at Anaktuvuk Pass, where there was an airstrip and a temporary school. Regular mail service, construction of a church in 1951, and the appearance of a permanent schoolteacher in 1960 were further inducements to abandon their seminomadic existence and settle at Anaktuvuk Pass year-round, permanently. Today, Anaktuvuk Pass has a population of more than two hundred.

The architecture reflects this shift to a permanent settlement. The traditional winter dwelling of the Nunamiut was a willow-frame structure covered with moss; none of these is known to survive. The summer dwelling was a willow frame covered with caribou skins, which by the late 1950s was discarded in favor of the canvas-walled tent. In the late 1940s or early 1950s, the traditional winter dwelling gave way to the sod-covered house, which had an inner frame of larger logs, as opposed to branches, and was covered with squares of sod. Some of these buildings were standard horizontal log cabins, covered with sod. In the mid-1960s, the sod-covered houses were gradually replaced with plywood-covered frame houses, and more recently with manufactured houses.

Writing Credits

Alison K. Hoagland

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