The Inupiat Heritage Center is located in Barrow, Alaska, the largest city in the North Slope Borough and the northernmost city in the United States. The Iñupiat Heritage Center brings people together to promote and perpetuate Iñupiat history, language and culture. Interaction between the Iñupiat and their environment fosters the awareness, understanding and appreciation of the Iñupiat way of life from generation to generation.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, over 2,000 whaling
voyages set out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, bound for the bowhead whaling
grounds off Alaska's arctic coast. The voyage of over 20,000 miles took the
whalers to the Azore Islands off the coast of Africa, around Cape Horn and the
southernmost tip of South America, to the Hawaiian Islands and finally, to the
Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. Many Alaska Natives, particularly Inupiat Eskimo
people, participated in commercial whaling. In addition to crewing on the ships
they hunted for food for the whalers, provided warm fur clothing, and sheltered
many crews that were shipwrecked on the Alaska coast.
Yupik and Inupiat people of northern Alaska and the Bering
Straits had been whaling for a thousand years when Yankee whalers arrived in
the arctic during the late nineteenth century. More than 2000 commercial
whaling voyages sailed from New Bedford—the capital of the global whaling
industry—into arctic waters during the following decades. Many Alaska Natives
played a direct role in the commercial whaling enterprise and everyone
experienced its effects. They joined Yankee whaling crews, supplied local, wild
food to the whalers, shared traditional clothing designs adapted to arctic
conditions, and sheltered many shipwrecked whaling crews.
The Inupiat Heritage Center was dedicated in February 1999
and houses exhibits, artifact collections, library, gift shop, and a
traditional room where people can demonstrate and teach traditional crafts in
Elders-in-Residence and Artists-in-Residence programs. It was also designated
an affiliated area of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in New
Bedford, Massachusetts to ensure that the contributions of Alaska Natives to
the history of whaling is recognized.
As an affiliated National Park, the North Slope Borough owns
and manages the Inupiat Heritage Center. The center is one of the many
associated partners that engage in spreading the story of commercial whaling in
the United State. Different Park partners conduct but collaborate in an array
of educational and informative programs and activities. Park partners operate
independently but collaborate in a variety of educational and interpretive
The Inupiat Heritage Center recounts the story of the
Inupiat people who then struggled for thousands of years in one of the harshest
climates and conditions on Earth.