2008 — Wayward: Traveling in the Arctic
March 20 – June 13
People have been living in the Arctic for thousands of years, surviving and prospering in some of the harshest conditions on earth. Over time many traditions have developed, including unique methods of transporting people and goods. The ability to travel was very important for people in the Arctic. Transportation was required for hunting, trading and socializing. The modes of transportation in the Arctic vary widely, from snowshoes and dog sleds, to modern-day snowmobiles and bush planes. Though diverse, each is exceptionally well adapted to the region’s environment. This exhibit explores different aspects of how the indigenous people in the region travel, past and present.
How should we define “The Arctic?” Generally, there are three main ways to define this area:
1. The region within the Arctic Circle.
2. The area where the average temperature for the warmest month of the year (July) is 50°F.
3. The area above the Tree Line, where trees are incapable of growing.
Bush planes were first used in the Arctic in 1935 when the “Noordyn Norseman” was introduced specifically for use by bush pilots in Alaska. Since 1935, a large aviation business has grown because of the need for both planes and pilots in the Arctic. In the Arctic generally, and Alaska and Canada specifically, there is a lack of roads and huge distances to be covered, so travel by small plane is an ideal mode of transportation. Most arctic communities are remote, and the people and businesses are dependent on bush planes for nearly everything. Bush planes may be used as air ambulances, to carry mail, to ferry supplies and tourists, and to transport local sports teams to events. Today Cessnas and Super Cubs are popular with bush pilots due to their cost effectiveness and the relative cheapness of replacement parts. Supply runs, mail runs and travel between camps and remote villages are quicker and easier because of the bush plane.
The first snowmobile was invented by Joseph Armand-Bombardier in 1958. Since its initial creation, the snowmobile has become a popular way of traveling, particularly in the Arctic. Today, the region’s indigenous people have added snowmobiles to snow shoeing and dog sledding as a means for traveling overland. With a snowmobile they could travel even longer distances, which has impacted how they hunt and conduct trade. The snowmobile has many benefits, chief among them being that it is often more practical then a dog sled and more cost effective than an airplane. The downside is that the fuel is very expensive, they are very noisy –which can scare game animals, and they are unreliable over thin ice. Although in most Arctic communities snowmobiles have all but eliminated the need for travel by sled, some older residents are returning to the dog sled as a less expensive, less noisy and safer means of transportation.
The Aleut kayak, also known as a baidarka, is the traditional kayak used in the Aleutian Islands. One of many different kayak designs created by circumpolar peoples, the baidarka is especially prized for its craftsmanship and utility at sea. This kayak was donated to the Jensen Arctic Museum by Harvey Golden. It was made by Golden in the late 1990’s and is intended to replicate traditional Aleut design.
Traditionally, Arctic kayaks were made using driftwood (there are no trees in the Arctic) lashed together with tendons taken from sea mammals. The dimensions of the kayak would be custom built to fit its user. In order to give the wood its proper shape, the builder’s teeth were often used to hold the wooden strips, while his hands bent them into a curve. Once a frame was completed, it would be covered in sea lion, walrus or seal skin that had been treated with seal oil to make it waterproof.
The primary uses for arctic kayaks are hunting and transportation. Because much of the diet and raw materials used by arctic people came directly from the sea, access to open water was vital for survival. Deep sea fishing as well as harpooning sea mammals can be done while in a kayak.
One and two man kayaks are capable of transporting passengers and equipment over large distances with relative speed. In the case of the Aleutian baidarka, long trips along the entire Aleutian Island chain were possible for hunters. Today, the baidarka has mostly been replaced in the Aleutian Islands with more modern watercraft.
The most widely accepted theory is that the “shoeski” was developed in central Asia around 4000 BCE. The “shoeski” was made from a solid piece of wood with a crude binding, and helped make it possible for people to migrate into more northern regions. The “shoeski” was one of humankind’s earliest inventions. As the technology spread, people began to modify and adapt the “shoeski” to meet their needs. In northern Europe it eventually developed into the ski; while in North America it evolved into the snowshoe.
Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person’s foot doesn’t sink in the snow. Men would make snowshoes from brown or white ash, or yellow or white birch. Frames were cut, shaped with a knife and bent around their maker’s knee or steamed and fit around a frame. One or two cross bars were then inserted and the ends of the shoe were pinned together. Women made the rawhide lacing, called babiche, from untanned caribou, moose or deer hide.
Types of Snowshoe
In the Sub-Arctic distinctive snowshoes were developed to deal with different terrains and types of snow. Some different types of snowshoes include the Bear Paw and the Beavertail.
– By far the most popular design
– Tear-drop shape, upturned toe and a narrow tail
– For use on trails or open woods
– Advantages: Versatility, will work fairly well in most situations
– Disadvantages: Clumsy in thick woods or in very deep, powdery snow
– Second most popular design
– Oval in shape; lacks a tail
– For use in thick woods and hilly areas
– Advantages: Maneuverable
– Disadvantages: Slower than other styles and not good for deep snow
Increasingly, snowshoes in the Arctic areas are changing over to newer, more modern designs made of plastics and metals. These tend to be smaller in size and have a solid decking rather than the open webbing of wooden snowshoes. In 1974 snowshoeing was added to the Arctic Winter Games, which now includes snowshoe sprinting and medium-distance runs. Indigenous populations of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic and competitors at the Arctic Winter Games are among the only people who still use traditional snowshoes, which are appreciated for their artisanship.
The umiak is a type of boat used by Inuit people from eastern Siberia to Greenland. Umiaks are large, flat-bottom, skin boats used for hunting and transport, although their construction and design vary slightly from region to region. The umiak’s frame is made from driftwood lashed together with line made from whale baleen. The frame is then covered with walrus skins. The typical umiak is around 30 feet in length and can carry 30 to 40 people, or up to five tons of cargo. Use of the umiak as a means of transportation has generally decreased since the 1960s due to the availability of wood or aluminum boats, but they still play a role in Arctic life, especially in Siberia and Alaska.
The walrus skin umiak is perfectly adapted to the Arctic seas, and is far less susceptible to damage by ice floes than either wood or aluminum boats. It is sturdy but also light weight which makes it easy to carry over land. The large design of the umiak, combined with its relative light weight also makes it a convenient form of shelter on an overnight journey, eliminating the need to carry tents or other temporary shelter. When used for hunting walrus or whale, the umiak is paddled by men, though it is sometimes powered by sail, and today many are often equipped with motors. When used for transporting supplies and people, it is common for the umiak to be paddled by women.
Inuit people across the arctic make and use mukluks. Mukluks are hard or soft soled, insulated boots that are a bit like a moccasin high-top. The word mukluk comes from the Yupik word for “seal.” Mukluks weigh little and allow hunters to move very quietly, while keeping their feet dry and warm.
Early Western settlers to the Arctic chose to wear mukluks due to the scarcity of European footwear which was expensive and less protective in extreme cold. As people in the Arctic migrated, mukluk styles and construction techniques changed. Women, who were the primary sewers, often adapted or incorporated new styles and techniques from other groups and made them their own.. The quality and design of mukluks often expressed their maker’s sewing and creative abilities.
Mukluks are known for their maneuverability and warmth. These shoes are a boot traditionally made of reindeer hide or sealskin. The boots cover the feet, ankles and part of the calf keeping them protected from harsh conditions. Fur decorates the ankle and top trim of the mukluk, while tassels of bear claws, hide and/or beads often decorate the fur segment of the boot.
Today, women continue to produce skins boots with elaborate decorations. Inuit in the arctic and sub-arctic create mukluks using both traditional materials and unconventional resources, such as suede and sheepskin. New techniques and styles are frequently integrated. Dangling pompoms and intricate beadwork on the toes and calves are very popular. Recently, mukluks have become trendy fashion accessories and are worn by celebrities all over the world including Kate Moss, Beyoncé Knowles, Kate Hudson, Rebecca Romijn, Elle Macpherson, Liv Tyler and Jennifer Aniston.
The original sled dogs were Alaskan malamutes bred from wolves by the Mahlemuit, and are one of the earliest known domesticated breeds. They were soon crossbred with other breeds and as demand for dogs skyrocketed, large dogs of any breed were sent to the gold rush.
Siberian huskies were introduced in the early 20th century and quickly became the most popular racing breed. The original dogs were chosen for strength and stamina, but modern racing dogs are all mixed-breed huskies bred for speed, tough feet, endurance, good attitude and the desire to run.
Huskies are a northern breed that prefers weather below freezing and above -50 °F. They sleep with their tail curled over their nose, which provides extra insulation once they are buried in snow.
The Iditarod: More than a Race
Dog sledding has a long history in Alaska. Before modern forms of transportation were introduced, dog sledding was the most common and reliable way to travel, especially over long distances. The Iditarod began in 1973 as an event to test the best sled mushers and teams, and has since evolved into a highly competitive race.
The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race in Alaska, where mushers and their dog team cover nearly 1,050 miles in ten to seventeen days. Frequently teams race through blizzards, sub-zero weather and gale-force winds that can cause the wind chill to reach -100 °F.
Portions of the Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, were traveled by Inuit and Athabaskan peoples for hundreds of years. Between the late 1880s and mid-1920s, the Trail was heavily used by miners looking for coal and gold. Between October and June, northern ports like Nome would become icebound, so dog sleds were relied on to deliver mail, firewood, mining equipment, gold ore, food, furs, priests and other needed supplies between trading posts and settlements across the interior and along the western coast.
In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway. A diphtheria epidemic threatened Nome and the nearest quantity of antitoxin was in Anchorage. Since the two available planes were dismantled and had never been flown in winter, a safer route was approved. The serum was sent 298 miles by train, where it was passed to the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the package 674 miles to Nome. This is the event that made the Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his dog Balto famous.
Joe Garnie was born in 1953. He grew up in Teller, Alaska, and continues to make his home there. He is a carpenter by trade, is currently Teller’s Mayor, is an Inuit, and a legendary musher. He began mushing when he was six years old and has been interested in the Iditarod since his uncle ran in the very first race. Garnie says, “I wanted to run the Iditarod one more time while I’m physically able to and to see old friends along the trail.”
Photo © Jeff Schultz
Melissa Owens didn’t turn 18 until February 18th, and is one of the youngest people to ever run the Iditarod. She was born, raised and lives in Nome, Alaska. Melissa says that “mushing is in my blood.” When she was an infant her dad, Michael, took her on stage with him to draw his Iditarod starting number and 18 years later, she drew her own starting number. She has completed four Jr. Iditarod races, winning the 2005 competition.
Rachael Scdoris, 22, was born in Oregon and graduated from Redmond High School. She says her occupation is dog musher. Rachael was born with Congenital Achromatopsia, a rare vision disorder. She is colorblind, her visual acuity is 20/200, and she is extremely light sensitive. Rachael has been mushing since she was three years old and finished her first Iditarod in 2006. She says, “I love everything about dog mushing – working with dogs in the outdoors, the competition, and the ability to use all of my past experiences to improve my team. The Iditarod embodies all these things.”
Liz Parrish owns and operates Briar’s Patch Sled Dogs, in Klamath Falls, Oregon, which currently has 28 canine members and Liz who is the musher and chief pooper-scooper. Briar’s Patch is a small kennel of Alaskan Huskies, whose duel missions are to train for and race in distance sled dog events and to provide opportunities for the public and individuals to learn more about sled dogs and sled dog sports. Liz’s goal has been to train her own distance racing team and to learn how to competently travel through the wilderness by dog team. When asked Why the Iditarod, Liz replied “Well, how do you know if you have those skills if you don’t try?” Liz started her mushing career through several trips with Wintergreen Lodge and subsequently through training her own dogs via Mushing Boot Camp and the many friends she has met there. She began acquiring Alaskans through her mentor Jamie Nelson and Briar’s Patch was born, along with the dream of doing the Iditarod for her 50th birthday.
Cliff Roberson was born in Washington, D.C., raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and now lives in Corvallis, Oregon. He moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1979 for “job opportunities, the mountains, rivers and the Pacific Ocean.” He says that after a 1990 winter dog sledding vacation in Alaska, he wanted to do more, although at that time running the Iditarod was far from his mind. “After all, I was a city kid!” But in the end he ran his first Iditarod in 1992. After that he started his own team and ran again in ’94 and ’95. He was entered in the ’98 Iditarod, but withdrew at the last minute when he suddenly realized that he was more interested in his daughter’s swim races that his own races. So, he sold all his dogs. Cliff says he continued to follow the Iditarod via the Internet, and eventually he made a second discovery about himself…mushing was still in his blood. He wasn’t “thinking about the racing the Iditarod again, but the idea started creeping into my head a few weeks after returning home to Oregon. The challenge and lure of the trail was proving to be too much to resist.”
LOCATION: 2nd Floor Exhibits
Curators: Joy Charron, Jessica Bertling, Hannah Cooney, Mat Davila, Jennifer Ezzell, Nolan Kinney, Betsy McDonald, Katelyn Moneke, Daniel Sprinkle, amd Jesus Zarate, WOU Museology Students