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Inuit > Alaska

Alaska: Alcohol and Seal Oil

I remember that people often asked us about alcohol use in Nome and on the Seward Peninsula.  It was always a complicated question to answer. I remember a time with a good friend from Nome.

"Seal oil?" my friend would ask, whenever I went to visit.  Along with the oil, which had been rendered from seal blubber, Pilot Bread Crackers and dried salmon were always on the small kitchen table next to the window. In the summer, bright sunshine came in across the plastic tablecloth, checkered red and white. In the winter, icicles hung from the roof down over the windows.

"Sure," I'd answer, and we'd sit silently, or talk together about ancient things, the day's weather, church, or plans for a new hunting camp up the Nome River.
 One Sunday night this strong and vibrant elder showed up noisily at our back door. He came in fast, snow falling from his boot soles onto the brown carpet of our living room; the alcohol on his breath unleashing the deep rage that he normally contained. Anne quickly gathered one-year-old KariAnna and took her to the back bedroom.

"Why?" he shouted at me, coming closer across the carpet. Each desperate cry echoed the breaks in the world that were cracking his life apart: tradition, faith, family, work, past, present, and future. Reaching my side he grabbed my arm, digging deep into my flesh with his nails, locking us eye-to-eye. "Why?"

It seemed a long time—this rage expressed in circular shouts and sobs—before at last he made a slow, spent, stumbling departure, heading back into the black night where the melted snow on his index.php?page_id=305 and clothes would quickly freeze.
"Is there alcohol in your community?" people asked of Anne and me when we lived in Nome.

Yes, alcohol is there—not as cause, but as the result of things gone desperately  wrong, of lives and communities gone desperate.

The icicles hung long the next afternoon. The checkered table had Pilot Bread Crackers on it, a cup of steaming Lipton, and dried salmon,
"Seal oil?"  he asked.

"Sure."  I answered, taking a seat next to the frosted window.



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