Friday, March 19, 2010

Letter to Dr. Glenn Sheehan at BASC

A letter to Dr. Glenn Sheehan, Executive Director of Alaska's Barrow Arctic Science Consortium. The letter, and package, will finally go out on Monday!

19 March 2010
Dear Glenn,

Please find enclosed a box containing a pair of Converse High Tops. I noticed that you were partial to them when I visited in the winters of 2007 and 2008-09; I hope they are the right size. This box has been sitting on my desk for a year; I have no excuse for not sending it earlier other than sheer volume of grading papers, and my own field and lab work.

I want to thank you for supporting me in Barrow, which has allowed me the time to be enchanted by Barrow, it's people, and the landscape of the North Slope; I'm sure I'll return. I've learned that to better understand that fascinating and beautiful landscape, I have to go back.

As you know, I’ve communicated my experiences of the North Slope in Winter in Cultural Survival Quarterly magazine--where I outlined the Native concerns with 'listing' the polar bear as an endangered species--and The Best Travel Writing 2008, where I gave a more experiential account of my time on the tundra. I’ve also done my best to convey these impressions, and the concerns of the Native Alaskans, in many public talks here at Portland State University, the Multnomah County Library, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Recently the Cultural Survival magazine feature was included as Chapter 34 of McGraw-Hill’s 2010 edition of ‘Annual Editions: Anthropology’:

Chapter 34. Of Ice and Men, Cameron M. Smith, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 2008. The U.S. Government's decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species is perceived by many as an acknowledgment of global warming. To the Inupiat—an indigenous Arctic people—the decision actually avoids the issue and will harm the very wildlife it is purported to protect.

I’m happy to see this because the article’s central messages--regarding the significance of Native traditional knowledge and Native rights--will reach many undergraduates for years to come.

I'm continuing to write about my experiences in and around Barrow: right now I'm working on a description of the night, there, and daylight, there, in the Winter season. While I'm currently writing a book about my Iceland expeditions under contract for publication in 2011, I also have a verbal contract--which may mean nothing, but also may mean plenty--for a volume of travel writings for 2012, in which my further writings about Alaska's North Slope in Winter will appear. If that contract doesn't pan out, I have other options, and I'm confident that the experiences I've had there will make their way to book form. In the interim I am of course continually sending out magazine article proposals, and the replies trickle in; there's a good chance of an upcoming feature in a magazine regarding the 'imanyarok', the night lights of the Little People, that I learned about in 2007; I'll of course pass that on to you when it appears in print.

Thanks again, Glenn; I think you're in a lucky position to be able to grant so many people such a great, life-changing experience.

I’m planning on being back in Alaska—though at Point Hope—in Winter 2010/2011, but in 2011/2012 I hope to return to Barrow in order to dive under the sea ice. This is a logistically complex operation, but being able to round out my impressions--of the surface of the land, the surface of the sea ice, and the water under the sea ice, I think, will be worth it.

Best regards,


Cameron M. Smith, PhD
Department of Anthropology
Portland State University
Portland, OR 97210


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