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> May 14, 2006 – A Glimpse of Gambell, May 14, 2006 (Part II)
post May 17 2006, 10:04 PM
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May 14, 2006 – Whirlwind Tour of Gambell
Longitude: 173 23.681 W, Latitude: 62 45.574 N

As I wrote in Part I of this journal entry, early this morning I rode off of the Healy and crossed 80 miles of the Bering Sea by helicopter. My destination: Gambell. This small village sits at the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island, an island that is comparable in size to the state of Delaware.

After having flown over a flat, vast expanse of water, a huge island suddenly appeared in my helicopter window. A chill ran up my spine. I had never set eyes upon such a landscape. I know that I have said this with each new place I have visited on this trip, but St. Lawrence Island is truly the most spectacular setting I have ever laid eyes on.

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St. Lawrence Island’s coastline rises starkly from the Bering Sea.

Set against a backdrop of white clouds, the island’s rocky, snow-covered cliffs jutted majestically out of an ice-strewn Bering Sea. Our pilot, Jim Dell, flew the helicopter over a sliver of the island until we reached the only flat land that was visible from our vantage point. Colorful houses dotted the landscape, nestled between the sea and a steeply sloping mountain.

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When we asked Bobby, a resident of Gambell, what he would like kids to know about him and other St. Lawrence Island Yupik people, he said without hesitation, “we don’t live in igloos.” As proof, here are some houses in Gambell.

Gambell’s remote location and harsh weather makes a visit to the community very rare for people such as myself. Rarer yet: a tour of the island given by a native member of the community. But I am one of the fortunate visitors to Gambell, for that is exactly what I experienced today.

When I stepped out of the helicopter, Bob Woolf, a science teacher from Gambell, introduced himself to me. Next I met Bobby Ungwiluk, an eleventh grader from Gambell who won first place in the Bering Strait School District’s science fair. He also won six awards at Alaska’s statewide science fair, including NOAA’s prestigious “2005-2006 Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award.” His project examined the effects that climate change would have on native Alaskans and their way of life.

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I jump at the chance to get my picture taken with Bobby, a recipient of several awards for his science fair project on climate change.

Bobby is St. Lawrence Island Yupik. St. Lawrence Island Yupik people are thought to have inhabited Gambell for at least 2,000 years thus far. In keeping with longstanding cultural traditions, people of the community are subsistence hunters. Following strict government regulations, they hunt for walruses, seals, bowhead whale, and other animals that are found in the polar regions. They rely on these animals to provide them with the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Bobby took Sam and I on a grand tour of Gambell. His 7-year-old nephew, Wallace, joined us. There aren’t any roads in the village so most people get around by snowmobile or four wheelers. Sam and I hopped onto the back of Bobby’s four wheeler and hung on tightly as he sped off. As we bounced up and down over rocks and snow, he pointed out the village’s school, medical clinic, post office, churches, and other buildings.

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Wallace hopped onto a mini four-wheeler and helped show Sam and me the sights.

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Gambell has a beautiful school that houses students of all grades. We toured Gambell on a Sunday, so classes were not in session.

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Bobby took us to see some traditional boats, handcrafted by members of the community using walrus hide. Nowadays, they paint the walrus skin to help protect it from water damage.

Before we knew it, it was time for Sam and me to go. Bobby drove us back to the helicopter and we said our goodbyes. I hope to speak with Bobby and his teacher again, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their kind welcome. I hope that one day I can return the favor and show them around my hometown in New York.
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