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The Streets of Kotzebue

Kotzebue has a population of just over 3,000, a small town by most standards, making it easy to overlook or dismiss, but it's the second largest Eskimo/Inupiat village in Alaska. We had an acute sense of bewilderment after stepping off the plane, "we" including not only my father and myself, but the other tourists arriving with us. There was little doubt we were in an out-of-the-way, remote land, and for me, it almost could have been a small Appalachian town in Kentucky.

Many Inupiats have adopted Christianity, Protestantism, even! The Kotzebue First Baptist Church, above, occupies beachfront property on the shore of the Chukchi Sea - nice!

The Kotzebue cemetery is on the edge of town. Remember, tombstones would have to be shipped in, and granite is very heavy. Another item of note is that because of the permafrost, the graves tend to be shallow.

I said earlier that Kotzebue reminded me of a town in Appalachian Kentucky, and nothing brought home that mental image better than the picture above (if you've never been to rural Kentucky, houses with old cars in the front yard are a common sight). To get past the Appalachia flashbacks when traveling to Kotzebue, one must have an appreciation for Inupiat culture. Resources and raw materials are scarce in the Arctic, and the Inupiat learned long ago to recycle and utilized every part of a scavenged or slain animal - meat was used for food, bones were used for tools, hide and fur were used for clothing, fat was used for oil, lubricant, lotion and waterproof sealant. The resourcefulness of the Inupiat is still seen today, but modern technology has replaced animal carcasses. Old cars are kept for spare parts - after all, since it easily costs US$1,500 to ship a car to Kotzebue and there are no landfills or junkyards, wouldn't it be a shame to abandon an old vehicle without scavenging it for parts, especially since there's snow on the ground to hide such eyesores 8 or 9 months of the year?

A warning to would-be entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business in Kotzebue, Alaska: consider a customer focus group first. This is the Dairy Queen restaurant - please note it's been out of business for some time. The Inupiat diet is different from the typical American diet; for example, there are no cattle in the Arctic, so beef is foreign to most Inupiats. Do you think the average, beef-loving American would pay US$8 for a hamburger? No? Well, what do you expect the average, beef-indifferent Inupiat would do?

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