In the largest Eskimo village in the world, there are nearly fifteen hundred Eskimos, but not one igloo! There are more snowmobiles than dog sleds, and the boys and girls eat hamburgers and french fries for lunch.
This Eskimo village is at Barrow, just a few miles west of Point Barrow on the northernmost tip of Alaska. Here is a modern community hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle on the frozen slope of the Arctic Ocean.
Clustered along the village streets are small frame houses that are heated by natural gas and lighted by electricity. The streets too are lighted by overhead electric lights that burn most of the time during the seventy-two days of winter when the sun never comes above the horizon.
Due to permafrost that penetrates deep into the marshy ground the whole year, it is not possible to have modern plumbing. Fresh water is hauled to houses from a nearby lake and stored in metal drums during the warmer months. But in the wintertime, when the lake is frozen to a great depth, ice is cut into blocks about three feet long and one foot wide. Then this ice is sledded to the village, where it is stacked like cordwood outside each home. When the house water supply runs low, a block of ice is dropped into a metal drum where it can melt. Some people just dip out the water, while others have a small turn-on tap at the bottom of the drum.
Eskimo homes have ready-made deep freezers for food storage. Outside each house, a hole about three feet square and six to ten feet deep is hacked and chipped down into the permanently frozen ground. Here the family stores supplies of seal and caribou meat, wild ducks and birds, fish, and other food. A wooden door fastened to the top of the hole protects the supplies. Even in summer, when the ground thaws to a depth of about fourteen inches, the temperature of the deep-freeze hole remains below zero.
If you could visit the school in Barrow, you’d find that in each room the children sit at desks and the teachers go from pupil to pupil giving help. Students’ artwork and papers decorate the walls of the rooms and hallways.
There are no roads leading to Barrow nor any nearby communities. All supplies for building, eating, schooling, and living are brought there by boat during late August and early September when the Arctic Ocean melts enough to let ships approach the land. Some supplies are brought in by plane all year round. For ten months of the year, snow covers the treeless slope and the nearly tideless Arctic Ocean is deeply frozen. The gently sloping land stretches for hundreds of lonely snowy miles.
Even with its many modern conveniences, Barrow is an isolated place for Eskimos who live there.