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  Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary
Added by Gita Ljubicic, last edited by Kelly Karpala on Oct 09, 2008  (view change)

Key Contributors

  • Winton Weyapuk, Jr.
  • Igor Krupnik
  • Herbert Anungazuk
  • Faye Ongtowasruk
  • Matt Druckenmiller
  • Hajo Eicken

Support Institutions/Collaborating Organizations

  • Smithsonian Institution
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Wales Village Council

Collaborating Communities

  • Wales, Alaska

Brief Description

The Wales Inupiaq Sea Ice Dictionary, comprising some 110-some terms, has been produced as a 112-page book in fall 2007-summer 2008.  The Wales sea ice

dictionary will be printed in 600-800 copies, and will be distributed within the community, across Alaska, and among IPY scientists.


In the community of Kingiin, also known as Wales, Alaska, over one hundred terms have been documented in 2007-2008 for the types of sea ice (sigu) and associated phenomena in the local Kingikmiut dialect of the Iñupiaq language (top). The idea of documenting the Kingikmiut words for sea ice emerged as a follow-up to an earlier knowledge documentation project on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska (Oozeva et al. 2004 - left). The work on the draft list of sea ice terms in the Kingikmiut dialect spoken in Wales (Kingigin) was started in spring 2007 by Winton Weyapuk, Jr. (right). An experienced hunter and whaling captain, Weaypuk, 58, is also a speaker of the local Kingikmiut dialect of the Iñupiaq language. He became the prime expert and a leader in the sea ice knowledge documentation activities in Wales.

Living and Hunting in Kingigin

Wales (Kingigin) is a rural Alaskan community of some 160 people located 180 km (110 mi) of Nome (left). The town sits at the westernmost point of the North American continent, the Cape Prince of Wales (65 36'44"N, 168 5'21"W), less than 100 km below the Arctic Circle. On a clear day, one can easily see the two Diomede Islands in the middle of Bering Strait and a sliver of the Siberian mountains, some 80 km away on the Russian side and across the International Dateline. The town, thus, sit at the junction of two oceans, the Pacific and the Arctic, and of two continents, Eurasia and North America; it is affected by the elements from all of these directions.

Sea ice is the part of the environment of the utmost importance to the Kingikmiut, the people of Wales. Historically, various forms of sea ice were present in the area for 8-9 months of the year, since late October and until early July. As the ice covers the sea, it calms the ocean storms, improves the weather, and creates a platform for people to hunt, to fish, and to travel along the shore. Twice a year, during the fall advance and spring break-up and retreat, the ice also brings migrating stocks of marine mammals - whales, walruses, and seals - that are crucial for people's sustenance and community prosperity (right). In the recent decade, the timing of major ice events and of the associated migrations of marine mammals has shifted because of the Arctic warming. Still, the people of Wales continue to hunt on ice and to use many other ice-associated resources. Spring bowhead whaling remains the apex of the community economic and social life, followed by the spring walrus and bearded seal hunting, fishing, and other seasonal activities. In addition, today people derive income from paid jobs, carving, pensions and other regular transfers, as well as from short-time jobs elsewhere off Wales.

Along with the changes to the village infrastructure and living conditions in the past few decades, there have been changes in the way the Kingikmiut live their lives.  Snow-machines replaced dog teams, ATV's replaced walking to subsistence resource areas, and aluminum skiffs replaced traditional skin boats. Short-wave radios provide instant communication among crews and between hunters and their homes (bottom left). All these changes brought with them new English words that describe the new objects and tools and their function. The changes also brought with them a shift in the use of language. The words, the stories, the instruction and the descriptions of the local environment in the Kingikmiut dialect began fading away. They are little used today or in some cases are already replaced by the new English words; presently, there is no active Native language program or cultural curriculum at the Wales school.

Work on the KingikmiutSea Ice 'Dictionary'

Since most of theKingikmiut people are now more fluent in English than in their native Iñupiaq language, and since younger generation speaks and reads English only, traditional Kingikmiut terms for ice could

be best introduced and explained in bilingual context and by the use of illustrations. In Wales, only people 50 years of age and older regularly speak in Inupiaq, and most of the Kingikmiuthunting crews communicate in English, even when at sea or on the ice. The Inupiaq language in Wales is clearly endangered; but it is still possible to document the Kingikmiut knowledge of sea ice by working with elders and some senior hunters, who were raised and came of age speaking Inupiaq only.

The first step in the documentation was the compilation of words in the Kingikmiutdialect that relate to sea ice and associated activities. Such draft list was prepared by Weyapuk in summer 2007; it had about 60 terms. The list was later reviewed and expanded through consultations with other experts in the Kingikmiuttradition and knowledge. Together, the experts expanded the list to its present 80-some format and supply valuable explanations. Weyapuk also wrote Iñupiaq explanations for major ice forms, so that the Kingikmiut understanding of the main types of ice is also expressed in their native dialect.
A crucial task was to prepare illustrations ('visuals'), so that the many Kingikmiutterms for ice can be visualized in a life context. For that, Weyapuk took over 150 color photographs, starting from winter 2007 and into spring 2008. The pictures were taken from the beach and the mountain off the village; while traveling over the land-fast ice and hunting on the drifting floes and from the boat at sea, that is, in the very life settings that are familiar to all Kingikmiut. Over 80 photographs have been selected; on each of them, Weyapuk penciled Iñupiaq terms for the types of ice that can be recognized by a local viewer (above right).

Several versions of the dictionary have been produced, printed, and mailed to Wales for reviewing and correction by Weyapuk and other local experts. Throughout this process, Herbert Anungazuk in Anchorage (originally from Wales), Hajo Eicken, and Matthew Druckenmiller, UAF scientists working in Wales on the SIZONeT sea ice project were vital partners in the Wales sea ice dictionary effort. The 112-page book, with some 80 color and black-and-white illustrations was completed in July 2008. It contains an alphabetical list of Kingikmiut ice terms, with English explanations; the same terms organized by major types of ice (young ice, pack ice, shore-fast ice, ice ridges, cracks and polynyas, ice floes, etc.); and over 60 illustrations of major ice conditions, with local terms imbedded in the photographs. There are also several entries explaining the use of terms and the value of the Kingikmiut ice knowledge. The dictionary also includes a set of 15 historical photographs of local ice conditions and Wales hunters on ice in spring 1922 taken by visiting biologist, Alfred M. Bailey, who spent three months in the community (bottom left). Bailey's images are compared with photos from spring 2007 taken by Winton Weyapuk, with Weyapuk's comments on major change between Bailey's time and today's hunting in Wales.

 What's Next?

The Kingikmiut 'Sea Ice Dictionary' has been endorsed by the Community of Wales for publication and also for the prospective use in the Wales High School as a part of local cultural and language curriculum. We are currently working on the last revisions; funds have been secured to print the dictionary as a full-color book in several hundred copies, to make it available to the Kingikmiutfamilies in Wales and to many other readers in Alaska, and elsewhere. An electronic version of the dictionary is also under discussion.

It is our hope that the Kingikmiut words for sea ice, illustrations of many local ice forms, and the Iñupiaq explanations and English translations we collected can help young hunters supplement what they have learned in English about ice in their native area. It is also our hope that they can learn and begin to use some of the Inupiaq words as a way to teach those younger than themselves, so that the Kingikmiut knowledge is preserved for future generations.

TheKingikmiut sea ice dictionary is the first completed contribution of theSIKU project to International Polar Year 2007-2008 and to its program in social and cultural research in Arctic communities.

Special thanks:

  • to Faye Ongtowasruk, Pete Sereadlook, Lena Sereadlook, Ray Seetuk, Sr., Teddy Kowealuk, and other Wales Elders — for advising the team on the Kingikmiuknowledge of sea ice;
  • to Gita Laidler, Claudio Aporta, Ron Brower, Josh Wisniewski, and other members of the SIKUproject team — for kindly sharing comparative data on the local sea ice terms in their respective study regions;
  • to the Native Village of Wales, IRA Council; Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution; National Park Service, Alaska Office; Joint Committee for International Polar Year 2007-2008; University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the National Science Foundation---for their support and endorsement of our project that made the production of the 'Wales Sea Ice Dictionary' possible.

Contact Information:

Igor Krupnik

Arctic Studies Center
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC, USA



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