As described on the Bio page, I have worked on traditional and later historical materials from Point Hope, Alaska, since 1973.
Three main books have been commercially published:
The Things that were Said of Them (University of California Press, 1990) is a volume of Inupiaq texts with commentaries.
Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, Farrar Strauss and Harvill 1993-2001), in a series of prose essays and poems, explores ritual and shamanistic practice in traditional Point Hope.
Ultimate Americans: Point Hope, Alaska 1826-1909 (University of Alaska Press 2009) is an account of the interactions between Inupiaq people and commercial whale hunters, traders and missionaries in the 19th century:
For some years I also contemplated writing a memoir of Point Hope life in the 1970s, but abandoned this project, although a longish passage about the subsistence whale hunt was published in The Poetry Review, Spring 2009. Some of the long narrative poems in Ancestors and Species also constitute a partial memoir.
My last field trip to the village was in 1998 when I went to talk to the community about a proposed social studies text book for high school students. In spite of strong support for this, the book I put together remains unpublished (see earlier pages on this site).
In the summer of 2009, at the invitation of Point Hope City Council and the Living Earth Foundation, I made a final trip to the village to attend a conference and introduce the history book which had just come out. About a hundred copies were air freighted into the village: and while it was warmly received, I deeply regretted not being able to give out more than fifteen free copies.
In addition to my reunion with friends to whom I had been close since the 1970s, I spent two very solemn hours in the cemetery paying my respects to friends, old and young, who had died since my last visit. The cemetery, along with many other places on the abandoned ‘old town site’ at the tip of the peninsula, is the subject of the final chapter of Ultimate Americans which details the destruction of the traditional burial grounds and the consecration of the present grave yard.
The entire Point of this very ancient land form is a national monument but in sore need of conservation as both the old iglus and transitional dwellings of the earlier 20th century have become dangerously dilapidated.
On one visit to the Point during the conference with my friend Pete Kunangnauraq Lisburne, I found a clay pipe made in Glasgow in 1898, celebrating the centenary of the Wolfe Tone rebellion, which I am reasonably sure must have belonged to the Irishman James O’Hare, a minor 19th century trader, whose history is told in Ultimate Americans. For a photograph of the pipe and its likely history, visit the British Museum’s History of the World in a 100 Objects, and click Native America and/or ceramics. Pete had, in the same location, previously found a brass button embossed with the address of an outfitter at 23 Conduit Street, London. Early contact objects are far scarcer than more ancient native artefacts excavated from the same site. This one is the very earliest possible, since most likely it came from the uniform of one of the officers of HMS Blossom, which visited Point Hope in August 1826: the first moment of contact which is described in the first chapter of Ultimate Americans. Unfortunately it was impossible to add photos of either artefact to the paperback edition which came out recently.
At a dance on the final day of the 2009 Point Hope conference, I was persuaded to take the floor with the result as shown below. The photograph is by Bill Hess.