Whale Snow

Iñupiat, Climate Change, and Multispecies Resilience in Arctic Alaska

Chie Sakakibara (Author)
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As a mythical creature, the whale has been responsible for many transformations in the world. It is an enchanting being that humans have long felt a connection to. In the contemporary environmental imagination, whales are charismatic megafauna feeding our environmentalism and aspirations for a better and more sustainable future.

Using multispecies ethnography, Whale Snow explores how everyday the relatedness of the Iñupiat of Arctic Alaska and the bowhead whale forms and transforms “the human” through their encounters with modernity. Whale Snow shows how the people live in the world that intersects with other beings, how these connections came into being, and, most importantly, how such intimate and intense relations help humans survive the social challenges incurred by climate change. In this time of ecological transition, exploring multispecies relatedness is crucial as it keeps social capacities to adapt relational, elastic, and resilient.

In the Arctic, climate, culture, and human resilience are connected through bowhead whaling. In Whale Snow we see how climate change disrupts this ancient practice and, in the process, affects a vital expression of Indigenous sovereignty. Ultimately, though, this book offers a story of hope grounded in multispecies resilience.

Note: The cover art, x-ray whale, was designed by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson, an Iñupiaq educator, artist, and environmentalist who was born and raised on the North Slope of Alaska. Hopson’s artwork tells many stories, and they often point to a positive reciprocal relationship that goes across the boundary of humans and nonhuman animals.

Whale Snow
Introduction: The Whale Makes Us Human
1. Into the Whaling Cycle
2. Our Siḷa Is Changing
3. The New Harpoon
4. Our Home Is Drowning
5. No Whale, No Music
Iñupiatun Glossary

“The Japanese epistemology begins and ends with sonkei (respect); likewise, with the Iñupiat, with the word quksin. Chie Sakakibara begins her research journey with two Iñupiat communities and establishes avanmun (reciprocity) and is adopted by the Iñupiat. Her Iñupiat relations share their uqaaqtuat (personal stories) about their intimate relationship with aġviq (the bowhead whale).”—Sean Asiqłuq Topkok, University of Alaska

“When invited ‘not to disappear’ after her initial time in Utqiaġvik, Chie Sakakibara accepted with energy, insight, and compassion. The result, as she shares with us in Whale Snow, is a remarkable and personal engagement with the Iñupiat of northern Alaska. Her book is a powerful testimony to Indigenous ways of being in the world, to the values that sustain a society in the midst of environmental, economic, and political turmoil.”—Henry P. Huntington, Arctic Science Director at Ocean Conservancy

"The book’s introduction asks, 'what would an ethnography which is not solely about the human but simultaneously focuses on "other-than-human" ways of life look like?' With its foundation of rigorous field-based scholarship, deep theoretical insights, and openness to both human and other-than-human perspectives, I think such an ethnography would look a lot like Chie Sakakibara’s Whale Snow."—Russell Fielding, Geographical Review

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