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The original 1951 Eskimo Cookbook.
The Eskimo Cookbook, a small cookbook written by students of the Shishmaref Day School in 1951, exists as a testament to the changing world. Detailing traditional recipes of the Inupiaq village just 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the cookbook offers instructions on preparing the plants and wildlife indigenous to North Western Alaska, from stinkweed to polar bear and whale.
Ardith Weyiouanna, the wife of contributor Johnnie Weyiouanna, eating hotcakes in her home.
My partner and I traveled to Shishmaref in March this year to interview surviving contributors to the original cookbook as well as to work with the younger generations on writing recipes for a new cookbook. Families have been preparing these recipes for generations, but like the landscape itself, Shishmaref's foods are changing.
Johnnie Weyiouanna outside his shed in Shishmaref, Alaska
The changing seascape has also meant that animal migrations and mating seasons have been less predictable, resulting in leaner yields and a need to rely on other foods. This is especially devastating for a village such as Shishmaref that lives a primarily subsistence lifestyle without running water or cars.
Coastal erosion in Shishmaref, Alaska
“As the coast recedes and we are continuously pushed back, our homes are damaged and the foods that we hunt and fish are becoming unavailable,” Johnnie Weyiouanna, an elder and original contributor to the Eskimo Cookbook, told me.
The Kiyutelluk Family. Morris Kiyutelluk, 71, wrote several recipes in the original Eskimo Cookbook.
Many in the younger generations have become accustomed to the processed foods that can be found at school or the two general stores, so the threat to Shishmaref's cultural cooking is two-fold.
Justin Eningowok stands on his porch with frozen tomcods.
Should the village be forced to merge with another larger village such as Nome, which has running water, automobiles, and alcohol, the community's way of eating will be altered entirely.