A Local's Guide to Utqiagvik (Barrow)
Photo credit: @keithfromcolorado

A Local's Guide to Utqiagvik (Barrow)

A Local's Guide to Utqiagvik (Barrow)

Originally from Utqiagvik, Tara Sweeney is the former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior and has been actively engaged as an advocate of Alaska Natives’ self-determination and promoting local programs that focus on cultural values, practices, and traditions. Tara was honored in 2008 as a “Top 40 Under 40” business leader by the Alaska Journal of Commerce and has served on numerous business and non-profit boards, including the board of directors for the Alaska Federation of Natives.

When you’ve driven as far north as possible on the road system in Alaska, you will still find yourself significantly south of Utqiagvik—the city formerly known as Barrow. With a population of just under 5,000, this small city is the northernmost city in the nation and the largest community in the North Slope Borough.

The city's name of Utqiagvik is from Ukpiaġvik in Iñupiaq, the language of the Iñupiat people who populate the region and whose culture dominates the area. Alaska's North Slope, and Utqiagvik in particular, offers visitors a fascinating opportunity to witness and experience Alaska lifestyles and traditions not found in larger cities.

Welcome sign in Utqiagvik
Photo Credit: @brandeeketchum

Nalukataq—Spring Whaling Celebration

In June, when the sun refuses to set above the Arctic Circle, make sure to check out Nalukataq, or spring whaling celebration. This cultural celebration is one of the best ways to experience the true meaning of sharing and really highlights the value system of the Iñupiat. You’ll see the blanket toss, have the opportunity to share the gift of the whale, and be treated to some traditional dancing. Nalukataq is especially perfect for those who only have a short amount of time while on the North Slope.

Blanket toss in Utqiagvik
Blanket toss. Photo Credit: @cordelialaska

Kivgiq—Messenger Feast

Every two years, residents across the region gather for the Kivgiq, or Messenger Feast. This multiple-day celebration, usually in early February, includes traditional dancing and is an important part of our culture. The Kivgiq celebration has deep roots, and it is an excellent opportunity to experience a part of our history.

Barrow High School Whalers Basketball Game

During the winter, check out a Barrow High School Whalers basketball game! Who needs a treadmill when kids on the Slope start shooting hoops as soon as they can walk? If there’s one thing that unites the people of the North Slope, it would have to be our appreciation for the sport of basketball. If you’re in town during the season, it’s something you don’t want to miss.

Point Barrow Tour

A little more adventurous? Take a tour of Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States, and watch a polar bear graze on a pile of whalebones. Out here, keep in mind, there are no fences—so keep an eye out in all directions.

Sam & Lee’s Restaurant

What about the food? For anyone who’s been up north, it’s no secret that some of the best Chinese food in the state is at Sam & Lee’s Restaurant. I’m not kidding you—Mrs. Kim makes a killer kimchi! The Top of the World Hotel has an amazing blackened chicken Caesar salad. For pizza, I love East Coast pizza. Delivery or carry-out only. Vito will not disappoint!

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