Mystic Aquarium Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Student
2018 Trip: Mystic Aquarium North Slope Borough Mashantucket Educational and Cultural Exchange Program
July 2, 2018
The weather is starting to worsen here with strong winds and rain; making it necessary to stay off the water and even indoors. A few locals were very kind to us and gifted us fresh caribou meat. We prepared caribou soup for the upcoming holiday celebration. During this time, several local artists and carvers come and showed us their crafts.
July 3, 2018
Today it is very windy and cold outside. The waters are rough and it continues to rain. After receiving instruction from the local residents, the Mashantucket students finished their atikluks, or native shirts, which they intend to wear on the fourth of July.
July 4, 2018
Happy 4th of July! The North Slope Borough students and employees, Mashantucket students and chaperones, as well as Tracy and I literally cooked for the whole village. We made 10 lbs. of macaroni salad, hundreds of ears of corn, burgers and hot dogs. Leslie, the education outreach coordinator from the North Slope Borough, made caribou stew and goose soup. Locals also brought other foods to share. And, there was dessert!
Activities included a parade, a donut-making contest (many of us were lucky enough to serve as judges) and games for all ages. There were prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers in running and biking races.
Following the barbecue, the whole village enjoyed a “shoot out”; a shooting competition that included shooting soda cans from very far away. Later that night, the celebration concluded with two hours of traditional dancing. True to the spirit of cultural exchange of this program, the Mashantucket tribal members also taught locals dances from their own tribe. Gifts were exchanged and words of thanks and appreciation expressed by all.
July 5, 2018
Sadly, we are leaving Alaska having had no additional sightings of belugas. We’ve arrived in Barrow and are spending the night here again at the ARF. Our time spent in Alaska was truly unforgettable. I think I speak on behalf of all my travel companions when I say how very honored we are to have had this opportunity. Thanks to our hosts, the village council and the entire village, the trip was incredible.
Although we couldn’t get beluga samples this summer, we were able to observe belugas in their natural environment. I enjoyed the exchange of ideas, learning more about Native American culture from the Mashantucket Pequot tribe as well as Inupiat culture in a village on the North Slope. I learned about their dances and significance behind them and saw first-hand some of their traditional regalia.
Coming from the Nome, Alaska area, there were many similarities; with the village; including the high respect for elders as well as a spiritual and cultural connection to their land and subsistence way of life. But differences as well, like the openness of people to others and the interest in exchanging their culture.
I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to come to Alaska and participate in the cultural exchange. I’m very excited to return to Connecticut to start my beluga research that will aid in the conservation of beluga whales in the Arctic.