Guest Blogger: Jonny Jemming

My friend Jonny represents the indigenous arctic Inupiat people of Alaska in their struggle against oil companies who want to drill on their land and disrupt their habitat and lifestyle, and has spent some time there visiting and learning their culture, as well as taking part in some of their daily rituals. I'm going to post my favorite of Jonny's blogs from his trip to the arctic in November of 2008, called "The less selfish life." You can read Jonny's blog at

The Less Selfish Life

So, can we unlearn selfishness? I honestly don't know, but I think that's why living here is such a challenge. Quite simply, it is very difficult to live in this Arctic region if you are selfish. We thus have a choice: change or leave.

And yet here we cling. Me, representing this Inupiat Eskimo community and my dedicated family.

I am rightfully an outsider to the people here. This is not my place, as I am constantly reminded, but for some reason, I have already won some measure of respect (Thank God). Perhaps its because I am very self-deprecating and folks know that I love my home just like they love the North Slope and its Arctic Ocean garden.

Some things about the Inupiat that everyone should know.

1) The Federal Government once proposed to detonate a series of nuclear bombs outside of an Inupiat coastal village (about 200 miles from our village) in order to test the safe use of nuclear weapons. (See "Project Chariot" on Google and you'll see what I'm referring to).

2) When the Inupiat Eskimos successfully rallied opposition to the detonations, the government abandoned the project, but went ahead and dumped nuclear waste from the Nevada nuclear test site there instead.

3) In the late 1950's, Inupiat children here were taken from schools without their parents permission and injected with nuclear materials to test their thyroid's ability to regulate heat.

But the story doesn't end with these atrocities. They go on and on and on . . . And now, their pristine Ocean is on the verge of becoming an industrial oil and gas development . . . well, over 73.4 million acres of it, but who's counting?

This place and its native Inupiat people is so deeply sad in so many, many ways, I often don't want to be here. Its not easy to handle if you're fundamentally selfish. Can I change? The Inupiat people I've met, deep down in their core, do not seem to derive from selfish origins. Sure, that's romanticized (I've only been here for 4 months), but it makes sense when you consider that the subsistence lifestyle, to which the Inupiat still cling, is about sharing (for instance, when the whales come in, they are shared with the entire community). How could you come from a place as tough as this and not know how to share?

Teddy is struggling; we are all struggling - except Forrest (who is now known as Nasuk I believe and picks up new Inupiaq words everyday).

I've only been in Barrow since the beginning of October, and I will certainly never be the same again.


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