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AK Natives on the Front Line: Hunting & Whaling Practices

This episode features brothers Jack and Brower Frantz, Iñupiaq hunters and whalers born and raised in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Brower Tiġitquuraq Frantz is a subsistence research coordinator for the Wildlife Department at the North Slope Borough, and a father of five children. And Jack Ikusik Frantz, also a father and step father to seven children is an avid hunter/gatherer with an associates degree in media arts and currently works as an advisor to the mayor of the North Slope Borough. AK Natives on the Front Line is a special series of Coffee & Quaq highlighting the adaptability and resilience of the Iñupiat in the face of climate change, a project funded by the Pulitzer Center Connected Coastlines program, done in partnership with journalist Jenna Kunze. We travelled up to Utqiaġvik earlier this year at the peak of winter when the sun had returned back to the Arctic and interviewed residents about the various aspects of how Iñupiat life has changed, but also how it has remained the same. Throughout this series we explore topics like subsistence whaling practices, research, anthropological work, and more.

"We’ve always hunted and we’ve always hunted with an umiapiaq, skin boat, in the spring time. Really, that was how we had to do it back then. That was how we had to get meat on the table. If you look at it from our perspective, that’s the most important thing: we get food on the table. Personally, I love using the umiapiaq. I love sitting there discussing stuff with my uncles, discussing how to hunt, discussing stories, discussing how they want to hunt the whale and waiting for the whale at the edge of the ice. That’s how I would prefer to hunt in the spring time, but if that’s not available, I’m all for getting in the aluminum boat and going out and catching a whale because that might be the only way to do it. If that’s how we have to do it, then that’s how we have to do it. The Utqiagvik mentality, for the most part, is that we want to feed our community. We want to make sure to get whales and bring them in and share it with our friends, our family, and everybody in the community." -Jack Frantz

Rapid environmental changes have pressured Iñupiaq hunters to adapt and find new ways to fill freezers and put food on the table, not just individually, but for the entire community. The knowledge and expertise needed to hunt and whale safely in the Arctic requires years of patience, observation, and practice. And even more so now that the sea ice conditions are changing. The Iñupiat have relied on hunting and whaling since as far back as we can remember, and the general consensus seems to be that our people will continue to hunt and whale well into the future. The unique relationship that Iñupiaq hunters have with the environment is intimate and strong and one built on thousands of years of trial and error. Quyanaqpak to Jack and Brower Frantz again for shedding light on hunting and whaling practices in Utqiagvik, especially knowing that all too often our knowledges, practices, and traditions have been knowingly or unknowingly used against us in the past. Keep on whaling, folks.

Stay tuned for more episodes. Special thanks to Tripp Crouse for assisting in editing this episode.

Check out the accompanying written article on this project by Jenna Kunze here:

Check out Jack and Brower's family Facebook page for more pictures of their trek from Utqiagvik to Fairbanks!

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Jun 21, 2021

I just listened to this front lines episode. It was great to hear people speaking easily and openly about their observations and experience whaling, and hunting generally... but I was left sad thinking about the changes described might mean. i wish these young mean and their communities well.

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