As a part of the SIKU-Chukotkaactivities a small Russian team has prepared a bilingual Russian-Yupik 'dictionary' of some 60 traditional terms for sea ice used in the community of Sireniki (Sighinek). The town of Sireniki (population 500) is located on the southern shore of the Chukchi Peninsula in the northwestern section of the Bering Sea. Sireniki is an active subsistence hunting community, with a strong tradition of whale and walrus hunting going back to the ancient times (image left). It is located near a permanent winter polynya (called Sireniki polynya) that serves as a winter ice-free habitat for a local population of walruses, seals, and perhaps, bowhead whales. Thanks to the local currents and winds, Sireniki does not have any solid shore-fast ice in wintertime and local hunters can routinely hunt marine mammals from boats even in the middle of winter.
These days, however, the community is undergoing a rapid cultural, subsistence, and language transition, with but a few elders still actively using their native Yupik Eskimo language. Also, Sireniki does not have a viable cultural/language program at the local high-school; the continuity of the age-long cultural and subsistence tradition is endangered.
The work on the 'Sireniki Yupik Sea-Ice Dictionary' was started in Sireniki in summer 2007 by an experienced local elder Aron Nutawyi, 69. He was assisted by his daughter Natalya Rodionova, now a Yupik language teacher at the Chukotka Multi-Disciplinary College in Anadyr, Russia and the current Chair of the ICC-Chukotka. Nutwayi has collected over 60 local terms and he also produced detailed explanations in Yupik and in Russian regarding the ice quality, safety, and related hunting tips. Rodionova supplied parallel transliteration of the Sireniki ice terms in the St. Lawrence Island Yupik dialect, which is very close to the one spoken in Sireniki, although it uses the Roman script and has many more active speakers. Thanks to this effort, both Sireniki and the earlier St. Lawrence Island Yupik sea ice dictionary produced in the 1980s (Oozeva et al. 2004) can be used in cultural and educational programs in Russia and Alaska alike.
The Russian SIKU-Chukotka team plans to use Nutawyi-Rodionova dictionary for the preparation of the local cultural curriculum and for a joint publication, in which other Siberian sea ice nomenclatures collected under the SIKU project will be made available to local students, educators, and interested readers.
Arctic Studies Center
National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC, USA