Arctic Village

A Day in Arctic Village

Sarah James, Arctic Village, Alaska

There are many people who have worked toward the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the “Refuge”) – Sarah James, a Gwich’in native, and spokesperson for the Gwich’in people, is one of them.  Sarah’s lifelong work and her long journeys around the world giving voice to the Gwich’in people and the Refuge have inspired me in many ways. 

I will always remember Sarah greeting me on the dirt runway in Arctic Village and was pleased that she remembered me from a lecture I attended in New Hampshire at which she was guest speaker with Robert Thompson and Subhankar Banerjee.  I will forever be grateful for my day with Sarah as she opened up her home, her heart, and her Village to me, which allowed me to photograph at ease in her native village.   Her house is like a museum from the awards that she has received; books; photos; and gifts from people who have made the journey to visit her.   She cooked caribou and fried bread for lunch and told me stories of her family, the Gwich’in people, and some of the people who have made it to Arctic Village, including Jimmy Carter, John Denver, and Subhankar Banerjee, a man that I admire and whose book – Seasons of Life and Land - many believe at one time saved the Refuge from being opened to oil drilling. 

In Sarah’s home I felt welcomed and honored.  Before leaving, Sarah gave me many interesting gifts – a signed book, native music, tundra tea, and caribou antlers, but most importantly she gave me her friendship.  We keep in touch and recently I was able to meet up with her at a lecture in Connecticut.  It was great to see and talk with her again. I shared with her a photo that I took of her in the village carrying a fish.  She did some fishing that day in the village for her dinner that evening.  In the background is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Hall where part of the 20th year Arctic celebration was held – to me a very special image.  Sarah to this day chuckles at this photo of her.  Sarah signed this picture for me, which is truly a gift.  But, the greatest gift of all will be when the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Coastal Plain) becomes permanently protected.  This will be a gift to Sarah and the Gwich’in nation – to all of us.

Mahsi choo,

Robert Thorpe
Wildlife Photographer and Advocate
For the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
This article appeared in the Alaska Wilderness League Autumn 2011 newsletter

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