03 JUNE 1978
Welcome to the North Slope Borough, the largest and most dynamic local government in the entire United States. Our area of over 88,000 square miles is larger than most states, but our 4,000 Native residents generally know each other and their lands very well.
Our people are known for their hospitality toward visitors throughout history. And we are getting lots of visitors these days — for both business and pleasure. There is all kinds of construction and energy development going on, so you might see a lot of building materials and discarded items laying around in some areas.
But we would hope you advise your clients that it is difficult to hide materials or almost anything in the Arctic. The ground is generally frozen and there is not a lot of vegetation. Materials decay very slowly up here. In addition, because of years and years of federal and state neglect, we are the largest community in Alaska without a public water and sewer system. Those big tank trucks you see running around are hauling water in and hauling sewage out. In fact, if this was not a dinner party, I could give an entire speech on the different kinds of toilets in use in Barrow.
The Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation have been working hard on all kinds of economic developing planning. We all hope to encourage tourists and the tourism industry. We know this industry has been growing about 15 percent a year in Alaska and that it will probably rise even more as the airlines finally make some long overdue cuts in their fares.
But I feel it is very important that you advise people to come up prepared to visit a living community. Our people have not only survived, but generally thrived in this high Arctic climate for thousands of years. We are thinking about printing some business cards which read, “Since 6,000 B.C. Our Business Has Been Self-Sufficiency.”
But we have survived by working very hard in the summer and other peak hunting, fishing and trapping seasons. Now we also have to work very hard to preserve our subsistence culture as we face often arbitrary restrictions on whaling and the hunting of caribou and migratory birds. I dare say we are the only local government in the country to engage in extensive international relations on whaling, energy development, land claims, and other pressing issues.
So please ask the tourists to restrain themselves a little with their cameras, and instead try to use their own eyes and ears to feel a little bit of the proud culture we are working so hard to preserve. A lot of Barrow and the Borough has to be experienced, and our people will generally be happy to help, as long as tourists approach them with respect and perhaps a handshake instead of a camera.
I think Tundra Tours is working well at improving tourist facilities and experiences in Barrow. The Borough is also working with Tundra Tours on an exclusive tour bus operation for the Haul Road along the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.
But I would like to suggest that you all consider some kind of special “Arctic Experience” or better yet, “Inupiat Experience” tours in the future. These tours could be offered for certain months in not only summer, but winter. They could include opportunities to live in actual houses used by our people and to dress, eat and work around the house as our people do now, or as they did in the past. We could develop special discussions and hiking trips as part of the package.
The kind of tour I am thinking about could be higher priced and thus contribute to economic development and tourist satisfaction without overloading a smaller community with more short-term tourists. Such a tour, if carefully planned and controlled, might also work in the other seven communities in the Borough, from Point Hope on the west to Kaktovik on the east.
Anyway, welcome again to Barrow and the North Slope Borough. I and my staff here with me are very proud of this place and we hope you will communicate some of our enthusiasm and hospitality when you go back to your home areas. Thank you.