Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost community in the United States, located on the coast of the Chukchi Sea at 71°17' N 156°47' W. According to the 2000 US Census, its population, was 4581, 2620 of whom are Alaska Native, primarily Inupiat Eskimo. Barrow is the seat of the North Slope Borough, a county-like regional government incorporated in 1972 and encompassing the northern fifth of Alaska. The Inupiat name for Barrow is Utqiagvik.
Pt Barrow, a few kilometers north of the city, marks the divide between the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. A prominent coastal feature, the point is biologically significant for the passage of migratory birds and marine mammals. Due to the reliability of these migrations, Barrow has been a favorable site for human settlement for millennia. The current city sits atop prehistoric house sites, and related village sites are found from Pt Barrow itself southwest along the Chukchi Sea coast past the present city. The Birnirk Culture, which flourished around AD 600, is named after a village site halfway between Pt Barrow and Barrow.
The first Europeans to reach Barrow were members of the British Royal Navy expedition (1825-1828) under Frederick Beechey on the Blossom. The crews of the HMS Plover, commanded by Rochfort Maguire, were the first Europeans to overwinter at Barrow from 1852 to 1854. In the 1880s, the International Polar Expedition established a base at Barrow, and Yankee whalers set up shore stations at Barrow to take bow-head whales during the spring migration, before ships were able to reach the area.
The 20th century witnessed a great increase in the presence of non-Inupiat, beginning with missionaries, school teachers, and government officials, and increasing in the 1940s and 1950s with the creation of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory north of Barrow, the building of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line across the top of North America, and the exploration of the surrounding area for oil and gas.
At the same time, the Inupiat of Barrow have played a large part in perpetuating their culture and protecting their rights to the land and its resources. In 1961, Barrow residents staged a "Duck-In," protesting the enforcement of a ban on spring hunting of migratory birds, which resulted in enforcement officials agreeing to ignore traditional harvests. The Arctic Slope Native Association and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, both based in Barrow, were instrumental in the debate leading to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1972. The North Slope Borough created the Inupiat History, Language, and Culture Commission, which has sponsored Elders' Conferences, research, and other activities. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission was founded in Barrow in 1977 to fight a ban on bowhead whaling imposed that year by the International Whaling Commission. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference started at a meeting organized in 1977 by Eben Hopson, then Mayor of the North Slope Borough.
Today, Barrow enjoys many of the amenities of a modern city, although its connection to the land and the surrounding sea remains vital and visible. Subsistence production averages over 100 kg per capita, and bowhead whaling is a focal point for community activities throughout the year. Barrow's current economic base is the property tax revenue from North Slope oil development infrastructure, which has declined in recent years. Future prospects depend on the scale of oil development and the ability of the region to find alternative sources of income.
Henry P. Huntington
See also Birnirk Culture; Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line; North Slope
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Bodenhorn, Barbara, "The Inupiat of Alaska." In Endangered Peoples of the Arctic: Struggles to Survive and Thrive, edited by Milton M.R. Freeman, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000 Brower, Charles D., Fifty Years BelowZero, New York: Dodd Mead, 1942
Ford, J.A., "Eskimo prehistory in the vicinity of Point Barrow." In Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 47 (1959): 1-272 Huntington, Henry P., Wildlife Management and Subsistence Hunting in Alaska, London: Belhaven Press, 1992
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