People Becoming Community

“Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.

I met Hugo last summer while backpacking in Alaska. He was a small Inuit man who lived north of the Arctic Circle in the Nunamiut village of Anaktuvuk Pass, which is accessible only by foot or plane. We entered the small museum where Hugo worked in search of a bathroom with running water. However, we ended up spending the afternoon with him, listening to his soft voice tell the story of his people. After giving a museum tour, Hugo led us into an office where a map of the village and its surrounding mountains carpeted the floor. While labeling sites on the map with a red dry erase pen, Hugo told us about his life.

Across Hugo’s life, the culture that defined him was constantly morphing. As a boy, his identity centered around becoming a hunter. He watched his father and other men in his community, learning how to live a fruitful subsistence lifestyle. He believed the meaning of his life lied in his physical abilities. Hugo further explained that when Alaska became a state, people flooded north. Roads leading to potential oil fields snaked their way through the tundra. To protect themselves, the Nunamiut abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled in Anaktuvuk Pass. Soon after, missionaries arrived to build churches, and the...

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