In rural Alaska, modern realities collide with traditional way of life

NOATAK, Alaska — Half a dozen women gather to play Rummikub most summer evenings in a small house on a hill that delivers a southward view of this small Arctic village.

There’s lots of laughter and teasing, a nice reprieve from some of the challenges of life in rural Alaska. In late July, one conversation settled on whether the group

could take a weekend boat trip downriver to a place called Sisualik, which means “place that has beluga whales” in the Inupiaq language and is a popular spot to camp, fish and

pick berries that sometimes swell to the size of small grapes. The problem, however, was finding enough fuel to power the boat. In May and June, while other Americans

were shouldering the burden of $5-per-gallon gas, residents in Noatak were paying $17.99 a gallon for unleaded and $12.99 for diesel — each about $5 more per gallon than the usual

price. The village, which sits 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is home to about 570 people. The vast majority of them are Indigenous, and they rely heavily on fishing and

hunting for their main food sources. At the only local store, beef steaks shipped in from the Lower 48 states can cost more than $100. A green pepper is priced at $6.59. Those

goods and others, such as apples, diapers and butter, as well as diesel and unleaded gas, are all delivered by air.