The background says it all… Atqasuk is on the arctic coastal plain along the Meade River about 60 miles south of Barrow. The city (all 250 or so people) is in the NPRA (National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, what used to be called the Navy Petroleum Reserve). It’s another flat place on the edge of the world.
The Atqasuk area has been used for generations as base camps for subsistence activities for folks from Barrow. The village is located near the old Atqasuk village site (pre-1970) and the Tigaluk camp area. There are many historic and contemporary hunting and fishing camps in this area. With the community’s inland location, subsistence activities focus on land and river resources (mostly fishing and berry picking). In addition, many residents travel to coastal communities to participate in whaling and hunting for marine mammals.
During World War II (1939-45), bituminous coal was mined in Atqasuk for use in Barrow’s government and private facilities. Much of the western side of the arctic coastal plain in Alaska is underlain with coal. Several coal stations were developed for the arctic whaling fleets in the late 1800s. With the recent spikes in petroleum fuel costs, several North Slope villages are actively looking into developing or re-developing their coal resources, either as coal or as coal-bed methane. When I was there, there was a technical group looking at some methane seeps in a nearby lake.
The population of Old Atqasuk declined steadily between 1939 and 1970, and the 1970 Census did not record any residents in the community. Atqasuk was re-established by the North Slope Borough (NSB) in 1977 (for what I am to understand were basically political reasons – the history of several North Slope villages mirrors the Israeli kibbutz settlements). The 1980 Census recorded 107 residents in the community, only three years after people began to return to the area. Atqasuk was incorporated as a second-class city in 1982. Atqasuk Corporation Tis the local village corporation. The Village of Atqasuk is a federally recognized tribe.
The view driving into Atqasuk from the airport. What you see is what you get. There’s not much there. We landed in the early morning. By lunchtime we were getting hungry. We hadn’t packed any food because we knew that there was a store in the village. What we didn’t know was that the store had closed down the day before we got there. There was no food to be had. Lunch was airline pretzels and coffee.
Atqasuk from the air. The narrow blue band in front of the village is the Mead River. The blue body behind the village is the freshwater lake that is the drinking water source for the village. The lake looks large, but it is very shallow. They can only draw water from it during the summer.