Bronze / 2018 / Press / Feature Story

People of the Whale

  • Prize
    Bronze in Press/Feature Story, Bronze in Press/Nature/Environmental
  • Photographer
    Kiliii Yuyan

Bowhead whaling is a cultural cornerstone of Iñupiaq identity and a primary source of food on the Arctic Slope, where the cost of living is nearly three times that of mainland US. For the past three springs, I have stood on the sea ice as a guest of a whaling crew. As an indigenous person, I wanted to understand subsistence life in the Arctic, where the danger of cultural death is just as imminent as an attack from a polar bear.I’m beginning to understand this Native culture, and by extension, my own. The traditions, the whaling, they bring everyone together. From the moment a whaling crew begins to prepare, half the village finds a way to participate. This is what it means to be the People of the Whale. I leave this project with an invisible Iñupiaq sensibility deeply embedded, and a new community to call my home.

Kiliii Yuyan is an indigenous Nanai/Hézhè & Chinese-American photographer and filmmaker. He has contributed award-winning features for National Geographic Magazine, TIME, NPR, and the BBC. On assignment, he has fled collapsing sea ice, weathered botulism from fermented whale blood, and found kinship at the edges of the world. Kiliii is also a National Geographic Expeditions Expert for the Arctic. He is based out of Seattle.