ILATKA: The Inuit Word For My Relatives - Arctic Coast

Brian Adams photographs the landscapes and the people of Alaska and documents change, adaptation and resilience

BRUCE INGLANGASAK (2015) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

ILATKA - The Inuit Word for My Relatives

Arctic communities are faced with powerful forces bringing pressures on Indigenous land and people. Climate change affects lifeways in Alaska and has a profound impact on the international Arctic, its sensitive ecosystems, and the communities that rely upon the region’s natural resources. The issues related to the future of Alaska are many and diverse.  The Inuit and other Indigenous people of Alaska are at the forefront of these issues. In his series ILATKA - The Inuit Word for My Relatives, Brian Adams photographs the landscapes and the people of Alaska and documents change, adaptation and resilience. The stories embedded in the images and the voices that accompany them help portray a compelling and relevant story of place.

ILATKA Alaska MapAnchorage Museum

This story focuses on the villages in the Arctic Coast region of Alaska

RHODA AHGOOK (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Rhoda Ahgook

“My name is Rhoda Ahgook. My Inupiaq name is Tatkavina. I was born on the Siksik River on February 20, 1930, in the trees somewhere. It was so far to the east, people would go to Fort Yukon and go to the general store there. From the Siksik River we moved to Killik River, from the Killik River we moved here, we did 'the long walk,' the 100 mile walk. In the summer we all moved here and settled here. We were very poor growing up, my dad had hardly any shells for the gun, now look at us.” — Rhoda Ahgook is Inupiaq and lives in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska.

ANAKTUVUK PASS (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Anaktuvuk Pass

"The village receives two to three planes a day during the week and sometimes up to five during the weekend." --Anthony Ahgook is Inupiaq and the local Wright Air agent in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska.

NANCY AHGOOK (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Nancy Ahgook

“Growing up in Anaktuvuk Pass, I grew up with no electricity, none of the technology we have today. Not until I was 12 years old. I grew up in a sod house. Right now I am the Oral Historian for the Nunamiut. I try and figure out everything about the Nunamiut history for the IHLC [Inupiat History, Language, and Culture]. I speak to a lot of the elders here. I speak to them mostly in our language; I understand them. When I was forced to go to school, when I was seven years old, that’s when I learned to speak English. We had a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] school here; so I got to go to school here. It’s fun being a Nunamiut. We are people of the land.” — Nancy Ahgook is Inupiaq and lives in Anaktuvuk Pass.

DYRELL LINCOLN AND JUSTICE NUKAPIGAK (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Dyrell Lincoln and Justice Nukapigak

“We are shoveling the basketball court. We hope to get half of it done today. Maybe! If the sun stays out. We are in the 10th grade, we play ball for the school and made it to State (Statewide Championship Tournament) this year. We got 3rd place this year. We want to go into college basketball after high school.” — Dyrell Lincoln and Justice Nukapigak are Inupiaq and live in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska.

EDWARD REXFORD SR. (2015) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Edward Rexford Sr.

"I was born in Utqiagvik in 1958, and I was adopted and raised here all my life. I was a harpooner on my uncle’s crew until he retired and then I took over. I don’t know how many whales I caught—maybe five with his crew. State biologists keep track of how many whales we have caught. In our culture, we don’t boast. We were taught that the whales know; they know who has a clean ice cellar and who is preparing. There are stories that the whales already know who is good and bad. I still have an ice cellar, probably the only one in Barter Island that has survived. We are trying to build a community ice cellar too with modern technology. We hunt bowhead whales, and beluga too. Our quota is stuck at three it depends on the size of the village, it’s not quit enough for the village. I think Utqiagvik has 16, it must be some kind of whaling out there, combat whaling. [Laughs]   In the old days, there was no size limit, we would go after big, huge ones and would have to learn the hard way, it takes forever to butcher and everyone would quit helping. So we quit hunting big ones. The biggest we got was 59 feet (it took three days of butchering), long ago when there was ice, now days there is no ice when we go hunting. We noticed it start changing in the late '90s. There used to be a lot of ice, where you could park and look out, have lunch. Not anymore. The good old days are gone. They were drilling one year, it deflected the whales way out. We had to go a long ways to get whales then, 18 hours of towing the whale back. Now we wish for the ice. — Edward Rexford Sr. is Inupiaq from Kaktovik, Alaska.

KAKTOVIK (2015) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum


Kaktovik, Alaska. 2015.

LISA SITTICHINLI (2015) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Lisa Sittichinli

“I am originally from Aklavik in Canada. I moved here 20 years ago. I am a homemaker here for the elders. We go clean the elders’ housing everyday from 1pm-5pm. Do their dishes, sweep and mop, do their bathrooms, their beddings if they need them done, and sometimes I prepare their lunch. We have about 10 homes we take care of everyday. I enjoy my work. I like working with the elders, I have been doing it for about a year.” — Lisa Sittichinli is half Inupiaq and half Gwich’in from Kaktovik, Alaska.

MARTHA WOODS (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Martha Woods

“I work at the IRA (Indian Reorganization Act, often used to refer to tribal governments that were organized under the federal act) Noatak Utilities, Water and Sewer. I am the utility manager. I take care of the payments and ordering our operators supplies. We have about 99 active customers, just about all the homes in the village are hooked up to water and sewer except for the old log cabins. We get our water from two water wells from the river. We notice the river getting shallower, but it hasn’t raised any concerns, the wells go deep into the ground. People say that Noatak has the best water.  Other than this job, I also do SAR (Search And Rescue) and I also work rippies (pull-tab gambling game) one week on, one week off. Cost of living here is high. We need to work, work, work. We pay $9.99 for stove oil or a gallon of gas. It’s all ordered and flown in. Years ago, barges would come up, but the water is too shallow now. I remember when I was really little, watching the barges pulling up. It’s really drying up.” — Martha Woods is Inupiaq and lives in Noatak, Alaska.

DELLA LUTHER (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Della Luther

“It’s $8.99 a gallon right now. It’s not the highest prices I have seen, sometimes it gets up to $10.99. I think this has a four-gallon tank. This is my daughter ride—it’s almost out. She always lets me use it when it’s almost out. [Laughs]  I am born and raised here. I used to be a health aide (community health aides are frontline health care providers throughout rural Alaska). I started in ‘99, and I just retired. It’s challenging at times living here because of the cold, but we live with it. We go along with each season, and try to go along with our traditional life style.”  –Della Luther is Inupiaq and lives in Noatak, Alaska.

LLOYD MORRIS (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Lloyd Morris

“I have never lived anywhere else, and I have never intended to move away. When I was in school and when I graduated, my parents were expecting me to go to college. When I was done with school, that was it. I told my mom I was done with school and not going to college. She told me okay, but I had to do something. She wanted me to do subsistence with her; I am glad I did now. She depends on me for that. I can gather food for the family and friends. She never lets me just sit around, and now my sister is running the [Morris] Store. She went to college.   I have no regrets. I do a lot of fishing, mostly fishing. I am fishing for salmon right now. I smoke the salmon. In the spring, we get white fish, fry them up, or ferment them. It’s a really slow run right now. In the summer, we get the salmon; in the fall we get sheefish, white fish, and pike. Pike too are here in the spring. We usually get smelts in the spring, but these last few years they didn’t come up our river. In the winter we get sheefish or mud shark. I check my nets three times a day, everyday. We can fish all year. Busy, busy. In the winter, I am working at the school too. I have worked there for 22 plus years. I teach Inupiaq. I can speak it, but I am still learning too. School is starting soon. So pretty soon it’s going to be school, fishing, sleep, school, fishing. [laughs]” — Lloyd Morris is Inupiaq and lives in Noorvik, Alaska.

RICHARD MOUSE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Richard Mouse

“In the middle of June, the ice started really melting quick. Usually, it wouldn’t be until about the end of July. It hasn’t been a huge problem and people are still fishing all year, but it was surprising. The salmon started running early, maybe the middle of June. Even the berries came early. It’s been raining all year too, even in the winter.  I grew up here, I live right over there behind the willows. I built my own log house in the early '80s. The community was going to help me build my house, but all they did is talk. [laughs] I was hoping for help when I started building the house. They said they were going to help, but no one did. I had an older brother though; he helped me. I finished my house in October or November, just beat the winter. In 1982 after I graduated, I lived in a tent for about a year. Then I started building my house.” — Richard Mouse is Inupiaq and lives in Noorvik, Alaska.

WALLACE FIELD, JR. (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Wallace Field, Jr.

“I just got back from turning the fire on at my camp to smoke the fish. I smoke it for as long as I can through out the day, and then at night time I make the last fire, then come early in the morning to make sure the flies don’t get to the fish. I will bring it back to town when it’s dry or half dried. The fishing season has been slow. It’s finally picking up. This is usually when it picks up.” — Wallace Field is Inupiaq and lives in Noorvik, Alaska. Pictured behind Wallace is his fish camp on Nazuruk Channel of Kobuk River across from Noorvik.

DELIA STONE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Delia Stone

“I was born around here, in the old town site. I am 84 now. I still make parkas (traditional fur coats). I have made lots of jackets for my husband, he is in heaven. I would make him jackets, everything. I always worked. When I was a single teenager, I always help my mom and dad when they would catch a ugruk (bearded seal). My mom always worked, I tried to be like that.” — Delia Stone is an Inupiaq elder who lives in Point Hope, Alaska.

POINT HOPE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Point Hope

The remnants of an umiaq, a traditional Inupiaq boat, at Old Point Hope village. 2016.

GROVER CLEVELAND (2015) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Grover Cleveland

"It’s pretty warm out there for this time of the year. I tried to go to my friend’s funeral in Kobuk [on snow machine], but there wasn’t enough snow. It has changed 100% here." — Grover Cleveland is Inupiaq from Shungnak, Alaska.

ANDREW SAGE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Andrew Sage

“The first time I went out whaling I was 8. I am 12. I have been on the [whaling] crew since birth. I am a part of the Akootchook Crew. My favorite part about whaling is watching and learning. I just sit and watch.”  IAI. Do you have a mentor or someone you look too when you’re out whaling?   “Yes, my uncle. Kirby Sage.” — Andrew Sage is Inupiaq and lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

PRISCILLA SAGE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Priscilla Sage

“I am the captain of the skin sewers for the Inupiaq boats. I oversee everything. I have been on it since 1971. We use bearded seal skin. We use the same skin for the blanket toss blanket. It takes us 16 hours in one day to make one boat. We don’t quit until we are done. I learned from my mom and my aunt, when I was young-the ripe old age of 21. Now I am 72. They call me head seamstress. — Priscilla Sage is Inupiaq and lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

MOLLY PEDERSON (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Molly Pederson

“My daughter Laura’s husband is the whaling captain of the Patkotak Crew. So, I have been a part of the whaling crew since they got married. I usually make the bread, and fruits and soup for the crew while they are harvesting the whale and for Nalukataq. I taught my oldest granddaughter how to make the bread and now she does it by herself.” — Molly Pederson is Inupiaq and lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

SUSAN HOPE (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum

Susan Hope

“I am on the Patkotak Whaling Crew. I am mainly their support. Basically when they first catch a whale, I help them cut, prep and cook, and sew. And we cook some more just before we come to Nalukataq. It takes at least a month to prepare for Nalukataq. Maybe six weeks. I was born into the crew. In fact, the day I was born, my grandfather who was the original Patkotak whaling crew captain, caught a whale. I love coming together with family and celebrating. And the assurance that there is more than enough food to be generous. It’s the best feeling. Or when people ask for food, we don’t have to say no. We can say yes, I have enough, come get some." — Susan Hope is Inupiaq and lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

UTQIAGVIK (2016) by Brian AdamsAnchorage Museum


Bowhead whale skin and blubber, known as “maktak” in Inupiaq, being shared at Nalukataq, a traditional, community celebration of a successful spring bowhead whaling season. Utqiagvik, Alaska. 2016.

Credits: Story

Brian Adams (b.1985) is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. His work is dedicated to documenting Inuit life in Alaska and the Circumpolar North. His work has been featured in both national and international publications, and his work documenting Alaskan Native villages has been showcased in galleries across the United States and Europe. His first book of photography, I AM ALASKAN, was published in October 2013 by University Of Alaska Press. His most recent book, I AM INUIT was published in December 2017 with the Anchorage Museum and Benteli Press.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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