26 SEP 1978
Letter to Eben Hopson
on the part of poorly
guides in Barrow
advocacy planning associates
The Honorable Eben Hopson, Mayor,
North Slope Borough
P.O. Box 69
Barrow, Alaska 99723
Dear Mayor Hopson:
Enclosed are two tapes having to do with the Alaska Tours and Marketing Services tour of Barrow. One is my attempted tape of the tour on July 25. Unfortunately, the batteries were low and the recorder was not running at normal speed, which gives the impression of being speeded up on playback. There is only about 45 minutes of the guide’s narration on the first tape, then I gave up.
The second tape is an interview with Mark Hamilton taken today. On this tape, he recounts the statements of the Barrow guides in response to a question about whether the people on the tour would be able to wander about the village and talk to people on their own.
As you suspected, and as Jon probably told you, the guide did caution the tourists against “getting too close” and brought up the case of the double murder and of a Japanese tourist who got hit in the face.
On the one day tour which I took, there were no such comments made as all our time was taken up with group activities. It was a crowded schedule.
I would like to offer the following impressions and suggestions:
1. As Mark Hamilton — who is manager of the Alaska Advocate — remarked, an awful lot of information is crowded into the tour. You might be able to recognize this from the bus tape. But an awful lot of it is provided by tour guides who have limited experience in the Arctic and are providing an amateur’s explanation of “how these other people live.”
As a result, there is a significant amount of misinterpretation going on and several points of misinformation such as: a.) “the bowhead is the only whale with baleen,” b.) “Barrow was not discovered by man until 1827,” and c.) “The seal oil lamp was the highest form of technological development of the Eskimos.”
The presentation by the Barrow dancers is excellent as is also the slide show on Inupiat whaling prepared by ATMS personnel.
2. A lot of the narration by the guides was of amateur anthropologist quality. This, I think, is the chief fault of the tour besides the cautionary remarks noted above.
I already spoke to a ATMS official about the problem and asked him why local people were not hired for the job. He said that local people would not work for that salary — $1,000 a month. By keeping the salary low they have to hire inexperienced students from elsewhere who have to pick up information on their own, mostly by studying books on their free time and listening to the narrations of other guides.
There might be another problem, that of making the job interesting enough for local people to want. Handling tourists can be difficult and trying at times. But Tom Brower and the Barrow dancers seem to enjoy it. I am sure others in the community can be found.
3. The problem of the cautionary remarks about staying a certain distance from the Eskimos can be handled with a phone call and perhaps a “directive” from your office warning against such indiscretions. If the question about the double murder should be asked by a tourist, the correct nature of the event — and also its effects on the community and the racist nature of the press coverage — should all be explained.
4. As an interim solution, a few good human relations sessions sensitizing the guides to Eskimo values and issues could be required. I would be glad to set these up for you, but I am sure there are others up there who could do it. Our films and others on Eskimo life could be shown. The guides should be able to bring their guests to see that the villagers are “just people” and no “different” than other people.
5. A long term, more efficient solution would be for Barrow to have a tourist authority, perhaps connected with Inupiat University, in charge of certifying guides.
The legal justifications for this is that a company is making a lot of money giving a rap on your culture and doing it badly.
Native culture, like Native art and artifacts and literature, should be considered proprietary information belonging to the people who generate it. In a real sense, it can be copyrighted and a strict monetary value placed on it. This is something quite separate from the damage that can be done the community’s reputation by a thoughtless remark of a guide.
It is too bad that a tourist center in town cannot be set up where an authoritative explanation of Eskimo culture can be given. I am thinking of the centers in National Parks run by the Park Service. Perhaps this is something the commission on Culture could address.
If there is anything further I can do on this matter, including opening up further contacts with the ATMS management, please let me know.
Best wishes in the election!
William H. DuBay