KIGIQTAK – MURAL FOR SHISHMAREF SCHOOL ATRIUM
When I arrived in Shishmaref, an Iñupiaq village on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, north of Nome and south of Kotzebue on the west coast of Alaska, many families had boated to mainland to hunt caribou and pick berries from the rolling tundra. Kids had just begun the school year in their new school building housing kindergarten through high school. The mural went up on the atrium walls of the grade school wing, and each school day the kids greeted me up on the lift with enthusiasm. I enjoyed racing them down the sandy roads of Shishmaref when on break from painting. Teachers, workers and family members stopped to visit and some shared stories and feedback. At 4am on an all night painting stint, I stepped outside for some fresh air to find the village buzzing with teenage energy. A couple girls stopped to chat with me and told me this was their chill time together – walking down the beach in the dark, the cold wet air infusing their skin, but warmth and laughter emerging from their togetherness. The bonds of family, friends and community was evident, especially given that Shishmaref is located on an island of only 4.3 miles of sand that, due to reduction in sea ice buffer, is eroding at a rate of 10 feet a year. In 2002 and again in 2016 Shishmaref voted to relocate to a site on mainland. The community awaits the funding to do so. In the meantime, a new school serves a growing number of children, and the strong and wise people continue to live in tandem with the often harsh environment around them. This mural celebrates Iñupiaq care for community, culture and subsistence and the animals that support their livelihoods. Thank you Bering Strait School District for having me and local artist Shane Walter Nayokpuk for assisting me in this mural.
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