I was born in Kotzebue, Alaska. My mom’s side is Iñupiat. We’ve been here for 10,000 years. Now I live in Kotzebue. I always knew I wanted to go out to get an education, then come home to connect with my roots and my culture. I’ve been back for 11 years now. In between I’ve lived in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Minneapolis, Seattle, Colorado Springs, and Virginia.
The biggest challenge of living in Kotzebue is that it’s very remote—550 miles northwest of Anchorage by air—and communications can be challenging, as there’s no broadband. The cost of living is also very high. A gallon of gas runs $5 to $11.
If I could transport one thing from DC—other than the authority to make decisions for ourselves—it would be the Ethiopian and Lebanese food. I also miss the thunderstorms. But DC can keep its traffic. Kotzebue has two four-way stops. But that doesn’t mean I’m on time.
A movie that gets Kotzebue right is The Grizzlies [about a youth lacrosse team in Kugluktuk, Nunavut]. Even though it’s not an Alaskan story, it gave me chills, especially the way it depicts the challenges faced by young people. And one that gets it wrong, all due respect to Cuba Gooding Jr., is Snow Dogs.
You know you’re from Kotzebue if you say “snow machine.” You know you’re from Kotzebue if you wear fur because we gather it ourselves. You know you’re from Kotzebue if you eat bearded seal. It’s like soul food for me. My favorite is pinaluq—dried seal meat in seal oil. When it’s 40 below, it warms my whole body.
The most famous face I’ve seen in Kotzebue is Barack Obama, who became the first sitting president to visit the Arctic in 2015. I got to hear him speak.
My perfect day includes hopping on a snow machine and going ice fishing. It’s the perfect springtime activity after going 30 days without sunlight in the winter. I’d also visit the hot springs.
When I need to get away, I go to Hawaii, where my husband is from. I’ve got the best of both worlds. But I’m always happy to come home because of the people, the traditions, the beautiful country.