As Subsistence Foods Become Scarce, Kivalina Celebrates A New Store

It’s been a festive day in the northwest Arctic community of Kivalina today as residents celebrate the grand opening of a new store. It’s an end to eight months of struggle with limited supplies after Kivalina’s store burned to the ground December 5th.

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Kivalina's new store, owned by ANICA, celebrated its opener with hot dogs and hamburgers for all. Photo: Janet Mitchell.
Kivalina’s new store, owned by ANICA, celebrated its opener with hot dogs and hamburgers for all. Photo: Janet Mitchell.

Janet Mitchell is Kivalina’s city administrator. She says the village doesn’t have firefighting equipment so men cut a hole in the ice of the local lagoon and pumped water on the fire, mainly to keep it from spreading to nearby teacher housing. Mitchell says a temporary store was established but it was a very small space.

“They ran out of things very quick and that posed a difficulty for young babies or young families, families that need formula.”

Mitchell says eggs cost more than $8 a dozen and pilot bread was $7 because supplies were so limited. Mitchell says the temporary store was in a storage structure built in the early 1900s and mainly sold staples of eggs, flour and rice. Mitchell says Seattle-based Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association, or ANICA, owns the store. The new store is two or three times bigger than the old structure, she says, and today company officials flew in for the grand opening, serving hamburgers and hot dogs to the community.

Kivalina’s population of 468 has a high percentage of young people. Janet Mitchell says close to half are 18 or under and many of the young people don’t care for traditional foods. Subsistence resources are also harder to get in a changing climate. Mitchell says the ice went out in early June and with it went the subsistence mainstay, ugruk, or bearded seal.

Hot dogs, hamburgers and other foods are popular with Kivalina's younger residents. Photo: Janet Mitchell.
Hot dogs, hamburgers and other foods are popular with Kivalina’s younger residents. Photo: Janet Mitchell.

“It’s our winter food. That we didn’t have an opportunity to hunt the bearded seal. So it’s going to be a very, very lean year in terms of Native foods.”

Mitchell says her large extended family normally harvests between 15 and 20 large adult seals. This year they got one small seal. She says less than 20 have been harvested by the entire community and they haven’t seen many caribou either. She says even older Kivalina residents who normally rely heavily on subsistence hunting will have to include more western food in their diet.

“The store is going to be very important to have if we don’t have the capability of hunting the foods we normally do, we’re gonna need the foods from the store.”

Although she prefers Native food, Mitchell says she buys supplies at places like Costco when she can get to Anchorage.

“But we have families that number up to 20 in one household so that can be quite a challenge to keep them fed, especially when they don’t hunt.”

Mitchell says her community continues to fight development to protect subsistence food but the store will be increasingly important in the future.

Kivalina welcomes the opening of a new store. Photo: Janet Mitchell.
Kivalina welcomes the opening of a new store. Photo: Janet Mitchell.
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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori