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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
United Shades of America: The Last Frontier. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired June 5, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: So in this episode, I went to Alaska, sort of outside my political black guy wheelhouse. Not an issue I get fired up about, what's going on in Alaska, that that really was. And here's the thing for me, it's like, I don't know how to go into this, is Eskimo the right word? I've Google this and you get a lot of different responses like some people say -- and you would find some say it's Eskimo, and I really feel weird about not knowing if it's racist or not because I'm the black guy who suppose to know what is racist or not.
So I found out as I had a lot to learn about Alaska. So I packed up the bag, got my all whether jacket, and went to Alaska and bought new clothes.
My name is W. Kamau Bell. As a comedian, I made a living finding humor in the parts of America I don't understand. And now, I'm challenging myself to dig deeper. I'm on a mission to reach out and experience all the culture and believe that add color to this crazy country. This is "United Shades of America."
Alaska, natives have survived this brutal environment for thousands of years. Today, its unique wildlife, remote location, natural beauty and severe winters all contribute to its representation as America's last frontier. And as a Californian, an avid indoorsman, the last frontier is the last place I want to be.
But here I am in Anchorage, Alaska, the state's biggest city to find out more about the culture and to get an experience more authentic than watching an Alaskan reality show. Maybe the locals can tell me if I'm getting their real Alaskan experience.
What is your name, ma'am?
CASEY (ph): Casey (ph).
BELL: Casey (ph), nice to meet you.
This is my first trip to Alaska. Am I getting a typical Alaskan experience right now?
CASEY (ph): No.
BELL: Because to me, this is looking like, sort of like anytime new as I were here.
CASEY (ph): Well, yeah. This is tourist area.
BELL: This is tourist area. OK. So I'm in tourist district.
CASEY (ph): Yes.
BELL: This is my first time in Alaska.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
BELL: I did not expect to see -- what's the word I am looking for, black people. What is it like to be black in Alaska?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Interesting, I guess.
BELL: Let's just say, walking around the streets on a typical day, how many black people do you see?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three.
BELL: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another day, three to four.
BELL: And then that's more if you pass mirrors?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
BELL: So what does it mean to be an Alaska native?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That you can handle the cold.
BELL: Like, clearly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If somebody asks where I am from, I always lead with Alaska because people just lose their minds. And, of course, the inevitable, you know Sarah Palin question comes up.
BELL: Do you know Sarah Palin?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've met her on a few occasions and spoke it with here and I know her sisters so ...
BELL: I asked a dumb question, you do Sarah Palin, but you actually fuse. You do know Sarap Palin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there's only so many people in the state.
BELL: So you're a native of Alaska.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. My moms is in (inaudible) and my dad is Aleut (ph).
BELL: That's cool. Now, Alaskan native means differently than somebody who's born in the state of Alaska.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, where you need.
BELL: They certainly are. In fact, natives are actually broken into 11 regionally and language-defined tribes, so most American seem to think you can call them all Eskimos, which they are not, so you can't.
Are you, guys, thinking about taking the power back? Is there a revolution on the way? If there is, I want it. That's all I'm saying. Because we turn on TV and its like, the Alaska show. It's not this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
BELL: In the lower 48 we talk about Alaska, we think about like frozen tundra and polar bears, and what do I need to go to get tundra and polar bears and ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Far north.
BELL: Really far north?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
BELL: Like where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barrow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Barrow, there lots of polar bears.
BELL: So if I go to barrow I will get that Alaskan experience?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mostly people are shooting ray on things just for the fun of it.
BELL: Oh, we have that mistakes. I don't know if need that
Well, I guess I am leaving Anchorage and heading to Barrow, which means it's time for recurring segment, Kamau wonders why the hell he is doing this.
And if you're wondering why I am so skeptical, here are some Barrow facts.
One, there are no roads in and out of town. Two, it goes completely dark for two whole months of the year. Three, it's 320 miles into the Arctic Circle, which means it's 320 miles past where I am supposed to be.
Landing in Barrow, it certainly looks more like I am on the path to the real Alaska, and also the path to frost bite.
I often joke about being in the middle of nowhere, but this is actually the middle of nowhere.
[22:05:00] It so cold I am actually afraid my afro is going to break. I am headed to the appropriately-named Top of the World Hotel, and thankfully this airport taxi line is not like the one at LAX.
BELL: Can you take me to the Top of the World?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK., Top of the World Hotel. OK, welcome to Barrow.
BELL: Thank you. What's your name, sir?
BELL: CJ, my name is Kamau.
CJ: Oh, nice to meet you.
BELL: Nice to meet you. Thanks for giving a ride.
BELL: Now, I never be able to say that black man can't get a cab in Alaska. And where are you from?
CJ: I'm from Thailand.
BELL: Thailand. What brought you here?
CJ: To work.
BELL: This is different in Thailand.
CJ: Yeah, different.
BELL: Would it be bad if I decided to walk from the airport to downtown?
CJ: Too cold.
BELL: Too cold? What would happen to me if I decided to walk?
CJ: If you walk over there for five or ten minutes, you ...
BELL: Oh, does that mean dead? Is that Thai for dead? What is this? Downtown? This is downtown?
CJ: Yes, this is downtown.
BELL: This is downtown.
OK, this is the Top of the World Hotel? CJ: Yes, sir.
BELL: Thanks for the drive.
BELL: Thanks for the tour.
CJ: Have fun in Barrow.
BELL: OK, thank you.
Standing outside my hotel looking at the frozen tundra, thousands of miles away from home. There's darkness as far as the eye can see. My thoughts on Barrow are crystallizing and all I keep thinking is, holy shit.
[22:10:36] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the forecast for the Northern Arctic Coast including Barrow (inaudible) today through Friday mostly cloudy skies, (inaudible) around 5 above, highs on (inaudible) around 10 below, and lows through the rest of the week around 15 below.
BELL: I'm from the bay area, so when I hear 15 below, I assume were talking about 15 below 60 degrees.
Oh God, just ahead, a little bit, that would be a great place to lay down and die. This will be great for ratings, dying. Oh God.
My first stop is the local weather station. If this is the real Alaska, I want to find out how cold it actually gets here, even though I am sure the answer is you don't even want to know.
DAVE ANDERSON, WEATHER SERVICE, BARROW: Dave Anderson, welcome to the Weather Service in Barrow.
BELL: It's cold outside, sir.
ANDERSON: Yes it is, but are you enjoying the weather though?
BELL: No, actually. You Know, like when someone, when they don't enjoy the weather, they blame the weatherman.
ANDERSON: That's right, that's what we're here for.
BELL: All right. Well, what else do you think (inaudible) to get blamed by random people who walk in to you office?
ANDERSON: Well, our primary function is augmenting aviation weather observations and one of our more important and fun things we do is launch a weather balloon.
BELL: Can I launch a weather balloon?
ANDERSON: We can launch a weather balloon. We are all setup. Let's go do it.
BELL: Let's do it.
ANDERSON: So what we're going to do -- oh, is actually inflate the balloon and get it setup. We're using helium gas to do this. The balloon will get about 2100 miles high and it will be about 40 feet across.
BELL: 40 feet across? And what is the balloon made out of?
ANDERSON: Material called Totex, it's a latex rubber.
BELL: I am not mature enough not to laugh at you calling this a latex rubber.
ANDERSON: So here we go.
BELL: Once it's up there, what is it doing?
ANDERSON: It sending back information on temperature, humidity, pressure. This is the very beginning of all your weather forecast right here with this balloon.
BELL: I live in Northern California. It's not really the kind of weather you are dealing with up here.
ANDERSON: No, quite a bit different. The coldest we've have up here has been 55 below with about a 90 to 100 below windchill.
BELL: Wait, wow, wait a minute. So people with that cold, they still go outside?
ANDERSON: Still go outside, activity, there are some stuff up here.
BELL: All right, Dave, let's launch this bad boy.
ANDERSON: All right, let's get here setup.
BELL: Yeheey, with left hand.
ANDERSON: With left hand and here we go. Well, this is exactly NASA launching Apollo 11, a countdown feels appropriate. T minus 3, 2, 1.
ANDERSON: There's she goes.
BELL: That's it, huh?
ANDERSON: That's it.
BELL: And that's a good time in this town, huh?
ANDERSON: Yes, this is our exciting time of the day.
BELL: Oh, it's still cold. Oh God, don't die. Don't die.
Finding out that locals remain active when it's 90 degrees below zero, brought several questions to my mind, but most of them I can't say because they have too many curse words.
Still, I need to know what drives to live in Barrow instead of not Barrow. You know what, let me talk to some locals and find out what they got to say about all this.
This is ridiculous. It's so cold. How long you lived in Barrow?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my home. I was raised here and I choose to live here.
BELL: I like you say I choose to live here, ignorant people like this guy come into this town and say, how do people do it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mother and father did it, and my grandparents did it and so I am doing it.
BELL: So, does the cold bother you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, this is the balmy weather, I am wearing shorts.
BELL: Yeah, why are you wearing shorts?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is life in the Arctic, and you've got to be tough or you got to be crazy, OK?
BELL: So your name is Mike Schultz (ph).
MIKE SHULTZ (PH), ALASKA RESIDENT: Absolutely.
BELL: And how long have you lived in barrow?
SHULTZ (ph): 42 years, came up when I was 19, I'm 61.
BELL: Why should I move to Barrow? What's here? What's good?
SHULTZ (ph): I'll think, you know, some of the nicest people on the whole word here.
BELL: How long you two lived here in Barrow?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm moved up October of 2009.
BELL: OK, so you're a newbie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. We're originally from American Summer (ph).
[22:15:03] BELL: So this is completely different.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.
BELL: Do you like this, the cold?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. We actually moved up from Ministry.
BELL: Well, if you say, you work for the Ministry because I've been so cold I feel like I have seen Jesus a couple times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you good, bro?
BELL: Yeah. I'm good. Thank you. That was actually genuine. Thank you.
Just want to ask you, how long you have lived in Barrow?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two years.
BELL: Two years, what brought you here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there's been a work opportunities here.
BELL: Than where?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In California.
BELL: I live in California. I get you a job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but it's different. It's like a culture shock, it's different but we like it.
BELL: Maybe we should all thinking moving to Barrow. Their median household income is $25,000 higher than the national average. But that disparity is harshly they compensate for the high price of goods due to Barrow's cozy reliance on air and sea shippers.
The high salaries are also meant to entice workers to the numerous opening in Barrow's leading industry, including oil field production, passenger air transportation, civil services and selling overpriced winter coats to travel show host. The wage opportunities have people from around the globe willing to brave the cold.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very much a melting pot at transportation. I have Tongans, Somalian, Vietnamese, Filipinos, White, Mexican, we're a little bit of everything, surely that in.
BELL: I didn't here black.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do.
BELL: You have a black?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, my Duane (ph). My Duane (ph) he is good.
BELL: You know, 75 percent of the time, Duane is a black guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I came to Barrow there was about a half dozen non-native, now there's 62 percent native and 38 percent everybody else, and it's really multicultural.
BELL: So multicultural that in the last five decades the population has more than tripled and ethnic diversity expanded beyond the (inaudible) natives to over 20 different races that call Barrow home today. It's only 62 percent native. How do you feel about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I know. The mighty dollar has brings everybody in, and they come and go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But for us, we are here to stay. This is our home.
BELL: Thank you for talking to me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, you are welcome.
BELL: And now, go put some pants on.
And after learning that people are moving to borrow for it surprising robust economy, I setup a meeting with a long time resident and my new friend, Mike Schultz (ph), to find out how Barrow has changed over the years.
He told me to meet him at the local pool hall behind the photo shop. Maybe this post sign will point me in the right direction.
Haiti, New York, Peru, how should I know which way is the hell out of here? I finally found it, conveniently located between snow and more snow.
Just like it happens every time.
SCHULTZ (ph): Well, got to start some place. You've left me lots of shots.
BELL: So is this the closest thing Barrow has like a sports bar?
SCHULTZ (ph): Pretty much, yeah, and there's no alcohol and so, it's like a sports bar life.
BELL: So just to sports.
SCHULTZ (ph): Yeah. You can own and possess alcohol within the city limits, you just can't buy it or sell it.
BELL: When you moved here how many non-natives were here in Barrow?
SCHULTZ (ph): There's six of us, everybody else was native. When I first came here, if I was dropped off on my other town, I'd be dead.
BELL: I feel like, it you live me three blocks from here I'll be dead.
SCHULTZ (ph): You'd be dead. You know, what I did was, I just learn it from them. They've been living out on this tundra for probably 10,000 years.
BELL: So a lot of the reasons that people move here is to give job the oil industry, right?
SCHULTZ (ph): Yeah. Oil industry are just the, you know, the infrastructure jobs that make Barrow what it is.
BELL: So what do you think what the future Barrow like, what is the future holds this place?
SCHULTZ (ph): When I got up here, kids would go out and hunt (inaudible). Now, they've lost the ability to go out and fend for themselves. You know, have you shot a caribou? I don't need to. I can go to the store and get a hamburger. Have learned how to survive if you fall through the ice? Well, I heard about it but I've never been out camping for three years because I just don't want. I want to play video games.
And a lot of the younger kids now, they don't speak Inupiat language. They don't learn what they used to learn from the adults, from their elders. And so, they're missing a big part of growing up. It makes it really difficult to watch a culture kind of disappear. It just not right, I hope it works out because it's an unbelievable culture.
BELL: Listening to mike, I can't help but wonder, in a land so deadly and remote can the natives of barrow afford to lose their ways of their culture that's kept civilization here going for thousands of years? It also made me realize, oh, no, my camera crew is going to be pissed that they can't buy alcohol up here.
[22:23:04] BELL: Barrow, Alaska is way out there. It is far. It's like you literally, to get to Barrow, you can't get there unless you go on a plane. It so remote that it feels like anything can happen there. Like walking around Barrow, the streets of Barrow, it feels like you could run into like Jim Morrison, 2Pac, Amelia Earhart and Elvis, share the four bedroom house. He's like, "What's up?" "What?"
We've been here the whole time, nobody comes up here. And it feels like in Barrow, that's kind of a culture, nobody would tell that they're there. I feel like Alaska is America's no snitching state. Nobody's talking.
It's another beautiful but brutally cold morning in Barrow. And instead of walking around town risking hypothermia, I decided to reunite with an old friend.
CJ, am I ever glad to see you.
BELL: I don't know if you know but its cold outside this car.
CJ: It's 7 below today.
BELL: 7 below.
CJ: Yeah. BELL: But with the wind chill factor, I think it's a million below.
CJ, you know what I'm doing today? I'm going to dog sledding.
CJ: Dog sledding?
BELL: Yeah. Have ever been dog sledding?
No, no, no, no. OK. OK. Wait a minute, I know. The way you keep laughing, CJ, I feel it might be a bad idea.
BELL: Get away from me. Appreciate that.
In my conversation with Mike Schultz (ph), he spoke of how the native people of Barrow are losing their traditions. I discovered no better example of this than dog sledding.
And I'm here at the home of Geoff Carroll, the last musher in town, which sounds like a great title of Walt Disney movie.
You are the last dog sledder in Barrow.
GEOFF CARROLL, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: Yeah, sad but true. It all kind of slowly whittled down over the years, the only running team Barrow at this place.
BELL: And how long you lived in barrow?
CARROLL: Since 1986.
BELL: OK. So when you got here in '86 were there other dog sledder?
CARROLL: Yeah, there were other teams.
[22:24:59] Lots of guys around it, then have realized running dogs, but, they kind of all switched over to snow machines.
BELL: I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you're the last dog sledder, and you seemed to be -- how do I say this, not a native.
CARROLL: Well, yeah, it's kind of ironic, really the natives were the ones that invented dogsledding. Dogs were absolutely vital to the culture.
BELL: That's right. The four-legged companions were used for nomadic traveling, carrying supplies for hunts, tracking prey and keeping their owners alert for dangerous animals.
So, Geoff, any tips for me while I get out there for my first dogsled?
CARROLL: Oh, you know, just hold on tight and I'll kind of teach you the commands. Yell, gee, they turn right. Yell haw, they turn left. Whoa, they stop sometimes. When you take off, you yell kita (ph).
BELL: Kita (ph).
CARROLL: That means let's go.
BELL: OK. So, gee is right, haw is left, kita (ph) is go--
BELL: --and whoa is please, please, stop, please.
CARROLL: There you go. And if they don't stop, stop, god damn it.
BELL: All right, let's get out there.
CARROLL: All right. And I'll show you how to put on harness.
BELL: Might be on my prom night, me or the dogs?
CARROLL: I think the dogs.
CARROLL: OK. This guy's name is Midnight. He's got some wild blue eyes.
BELL: Do dogs like this?
CARROLL: Oh, they love -- this is what they live for.
BELL: Oh, yeah. And that noise they're saying right now is this is going to be awesome.
CARROLL: Yeah. Let's go, let's go.
BELL: Are you sure that's like the sound of the dog revolution? A dog just peed on my cameraman.
Hold on. I'm the only one that gets to pee on my cameraman. CARROLL: All right. We got everybody all harnessed up.
BELL: All right.
CARROLL: Now, let's start hooking some lines. Got it?
BELL: Yeah. Whoa. Let's go this way. How about this way? Oh, whoa. There you go. Oh, whoa.
CARROLL: They're getting rough.
BELL: There you go. Next week, we will be coming to you from the beaches of Aruba, talking about which tequila tastes better.
CARROLL: OK, get ready to take off.
BELL: OK. Now, this part I like. CARROLL: OK. You're going to say now, yell kita (ph) real loud, OK? OK.
BELL: Kita (ph). Whoa.
BELL: I think I just lost my virginity on that last bump.
CARROLL: Gee! Gee!
BELL: Oh yeah, this is the life. As much as I love my K-9 chauffeurs, it's clear they are not as practical as snow machines in terms of effort and speed. But hopefully, the ingenuity of pre- industrial man doesn't get left behind in the cloud of frozen depths. Wow.
Speaking of frozen, I still am from yesterday so I am sticking with the company compound (ph) and my man CJ's taxi.
You know, when you're inside a heated car where it's warm, this is actually a much nicer city.
BELL: When you're walking everywhere, you start to get a little angry at the city, but now it's kind of pretty.
Like Geoff Carroll, there are other locals speaking out to keep traditions alive. And maybe the biggest voice belongs to native Fannie Akpik. Her program teaches Inupiat customs as part of school curriculum. And I'm meeting with Fannie at the Inupiat Heritage Center to find out more about her and her work.
FANNIE AKPIK, TEACHES INUPIAT CUSTOMS: I'd like you to look at this, different hunting tools mainly for butchering a whale.
BELL: In my neighborhood, we call that I wish somebody would knife.
AKPIK: That is a raincoat made out of bearded seal intestines.
BELL: Black people, we just eat the intestines. We don't turn them into raincoats.
AKPIK: Yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah.
BELL: And you're literally using every part of the animal?
AKPIK: Oh, yes. Everything that is given to us from the land, the ocean and the air is treasured. Everybody thinks that it's so flat and cold and frozen, but to us it's a living world that we live in.
BELL: That is that a perspective I didn't have before I came here. So tell me, what part of your culture are you working hardest to keep?
AKPIK: Our language. Yeah. My age group and some older than me, we were sent away to go to boarding school. I came home not myself anymore, and I almost lost the proper usage of our language.
BELL: Fannie is speaking of Christian boarding schools that were open in the early 1900s by missionaries trying to bring modern education to the north and get ready for a shocker, missionaries working with natives, not that cool.
[22:30:05] In fact, in 2015 an official report by the Canadian government described its role and its former practice as cultural genocide.
AKPIK: We would literally punish if I accidentally said something in Inupiaq. We've got slapped in the hand.
BELL: Oh, wow.
AKPIK: Our fourth grade teacher, I accidentally looked out Inupiaq. He put me in a tall can -- trash can and made me stand there. I mean, that's when I cried.
BELL: Yeah. He's telling you you're a trash. And so what are you doing today that keep going with life? What do you worked on?
AKPIK: I worked with our North Slope Borough School District. It's really important to teach our children who they are so that they will always feel safe and be strong knowing that they are with the real people of the north.
BELL: So, can you teach me some words?
AKPIK: Now, you're telling me, "Oh, I'm cold."
BELL: (Foreign language), like I'm awful.
[22:35:12] BELL: After talking with Fannie, I've learned that Barrow needs a culture as defined by our harmonious connection between nature and man.
So, to help me see the beauty in this dark setting, I've enlisted local photographer, John Tidwell, who suggested taking me to Point Barrow, the northern most point in town.
He says it's a popular hangout for polar bears, so let's hope there's no white on black crowd (ph) today.
Are you John?
JOHN TIDWELL, LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHER: I'm John.
BELL: I should not (ph) be scared?
TIDWELL: I'm not, but you should be.
BELL: OK. Great, John.
TIDWELL: Come on in.
BELL: That's good, all right. I'll be scared. Good thing, I'm going to a head start on fear. All right, it's John.
TIDWELL: Yeah. Well, welcome aboard.
BELL: This is an environmentalist nightmare. Chasing up the polar bears in a humbly.
TIDWELL: We're going to get some real rough terrain, so hang on.
BELL: Oh, OK.
TIDWELL: We're going to go over this risk (ph).
BELL: When you got, when we survive.
JOHN: Not survive, it's don't get over.
BELL: Oh, OK. We both have different goals. Excuse me, I got my licenser (ph) removed for active stupid.
TIDWELL: We're good.
BELL: You're good. I'm in the other in order to get my long underwear dry clean.
TIDWELL: We're going to keep our eye out for of any clear foot prints going across the road.
BELL: We haven't seen a bear yet, but this could be a small bear could be.
TIDWELL: Yeah, it could be sleeping behind there.
BELL: Oh, good, good, good, good.
TIDWELL: I've explained to my children, "Don't shoot the bear that gets me." He's just doing what's done natural.
BELL: Let's not tell (ph) about the police.
TIDWELL: See how at this bear foot print on top. You see that?
BELL: Yeah, oh wow. So, John, tell me exactly where we are?
TIDWELL: We're almost to the end of the Peninsula that is Point Barrow. Little on fact, the Point 500 years ago use to go two miles further out and we're now going.
BELL: Is that climate change?
TIDWELL: It has to be and what else would cause you guys melt (inaudible). BELL: The homosexuality? I'm just -- what I heard on the 7000 Club.
TIDWELL: Come on, I'll show you something. I think it's interesting.
TIDWELL: This is the furthest place North in America, all land is south of here.
BELL: I can see the beauty.
TIDWELL: And actually, if you look, there's a water right there.
TIDWELL: All these birds along here are just waves that are frozen and then pushed out.
BELL: This is the northern most tip of the United States of America.
TIDWELL: You got it. That's it. 20 years ago up here we couldn't be standing right here. They'll be 20 bears walking along the coast. Nowadays, lucky if you see two or three bears together. You can't deny it.
I'm not an environmentalist planning (ph) stretch to the imagination. What is more in that, there's a big difference and they are threatened.
BELL: Alaska had its fair share mandated animals, but at the top the list, our six species of whales. Starting in the early 1900s, commercial whaling which is the hunting of whales for profit nearly depleted Alaska's whale population before it was internationally banned in 1986.
But long before commercial whaling existed, Barrow's native tribe hunted whales in a tradition called subsistence whaling, which is the harvesting of whales for the survival of the community.
This way of hunting is still popular today. In fact, cruise are allowed to harvest 25 whales per year because not one out is sold.
And tonight, I'm going to the home of Herman Ahsoak, a local whale boat captain who learned why whaling is still important in the increasingly modern Barrow and to sample the local delicacy
Whaled lover, the other, other, other white meat.
HERMAN AHSOAK, LOCAL WHALE BOAT CAPTAIN: So this is the skin and blubber of the bowhead. So we eat it raw and frozen. The bowhead whale is our primary source of nutrition and it keeps us warm in the cold winter months.
AHSOAK: So if you want to try the skin and the blubber that -- this is your chance.
BELL: OK, I will eat (ph).
AHSOAK: You will see what it taste that.
BELL: OK, so tell me what I'm about to eat.
AHSOAK: The black part of it is the skin and then the pink part is the blubber.
BELL: OK. When I was a little kid I said one day I want to be a comedian. I never imagine that I would end up eating whale blubber, you know.
AHSOAK: And it's filled with Omega 3.
BELL: Oh, it sounds good for me.
AHSOAK: So it's good you.
BELL: Great, it taste, it taste great. It tastes healthy. I mean good.
AHSOAK: And so this is the meat part, we cut them into slabs about this big.
BELL: OK, all right. Let me try the salt. As a African-American, we got to put salt on everything.
AHSOAK: So here's the salt, right here
BELL: I do. I guess I probably try with a little bit -- oops, there's a lot of salt.
[22:40:07] Well, that's how my grandmother would have done it. You know, I've never tasted anything like this before. You can really taste the meat.
BELL: Yeah. Now, is this a whale that you caught?
AHSOAK: The whale that we were blessed with the last fall. The way we look at whaling is we don't go out and catch the whale. We are blessed with it by God.
A whale will offer itself to a captain or a crew that knows that it will take care of it by sharing it with everybody in the community, especially the ones that in are name (ph) if they hunt for themselves, and so it's a really spiritual thing.
BELL: In the Lower 48 a lot of people have no idea about any of this, and when they hear the world whaling they have negative connotations around it. What do you think about peoples other connotations of whaling? AHSOAK: I have no ill feelings towards people like that. Come up all the way to Barrow, Alaska and experience it yourself. You can't plant (ph) in the gardens.
AHSOAK: And most of the meat, you got it-- you can buy from the store that it's quite expensive. I'm just a person trying to survive.
BELL: I wouldn't have thought it about it from the side of, like, your people were doing it over 10,000 years and it was only when the commercial fishermen came and it sounds like you got messed up.
BELL: Yeah, yeah. But that shouldn't stop you from being able to leave your traditions.
AHSOAK: Yes. This is what I learned from my father. He learned it from his father and through generation and generation it just -- was handed down. And I'm going to be doing the same thing with my twin boys that are 10.
BELL: I don't think there's a tradition I have with my family that I've been doing -- my dad since I was 10. So, like, I know that must mean a lot to you to be able to take your sons up there.
AHSOAK: Until my last dying breath, I'm going to instill whaling in them.
BELL: Yeah. It's a lot going on, but I think I would have to fry it up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:45:52] BELL: I ate whale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
BELL: They -- and tell like (ph), yes. They're like, whoa, yes. Yeah, they offered me whale. I'm not an adventurous eater. I like all my sushi fried, you know, what I'm saying, like I'm an amp guy.
I'm like, can you tempura this? That's -- I'm a guy. I'm not asshole who (inaudible). Can we tempura everything? This is not (ph) famous from Alabama, we tempura everything.
And what they do with the whale is that they go harvest the whales that bring them in and they don't sell it. They pass it out to the community. Everybody get some of the whale. They keep it together, you know.
We don't even share with pizza, sometimes. I bought it, that slice is mine. I bought it, that slice is mine. Yeah. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BELL: After a long night of testing my Berkeley hippie friends to apologize for eating whale, it's time catch up with CJ.
Hey, CJ, you'll never guest what I ate last night.
CJ: Last night?
BELL: I have whale last night.
BELL: Yeah. I had ate some whale.
CJ: Did you like it? OK, then.
BELL: Last night's meeting with Whale Boat Captain Herman as we finally feeling like I'm seeing the real Alaska.
To stay on the trail, I have been invited by Knock (ph), a young whaler to observe the sewing of seal skin that will cover whale boat or the umiak.
My presence here is no small feat. Our cameras are the first to gain access to the sacred tradition.
So, Knock, tell me a little bit about where we are at? This is the actual boat, right?
KNOCK, YOUNG WHALER: This is the frame of the umiak, right here.
BELL: And tell me a little bit, what is this I'm smelling?
KNOCK: You are smelling the seal.
BELL: The seal, skin
BELL: Yes. Now, to me it smells pretty thick.
KNOCK: It's pretty strong.
BELL: OK, so it's just not because I am from the outside, this is strong to you, too?
KNOCK: It's quite (ph) strong like that.
BELL: OK, OK. And I feel like I'm going to wear my clothes going back to California if I'm going to smell a little bit like this.
KNOCK: A little bit.
KNOCK: Every year -- that year we have to reskin the boat and we use the (inaudible) seal to skin the boat.
BELL: Now, my guess is that the skin is waterproof.
KNOCK: The skin is waterproof. Yes, it is. It's tough. It is pliable and it stretches.
BELL: How long does it take you for this process? Do you know?
KNOCK: A couple of days to thaw, scrape it and then maybe a day or two to sew it.
BELL: OK. Is it always the women who do the sewing?
KNOCK: Yes. The men just can't go it in a whale without the wind and first prepare in the boat. It takes everybody.
BELL: Wouldn't it be easier to just buy a boat?
KNOCK: The way that they are doing it is the way that native (ph) people have done it for thousands of years and they want to adhere to their traditions as much as possible.
BELL: You're a native Alaskan, correct?
KNOCK: Yes, Sir.
KNOCK: You know, I grew up in the interior of Alaska, so I grew up in -- at Athabascan culture. The (inaudible) are in the coast, you know, they are the Eskimos and we are the Indians, the Athabascan.
KNOCK: So, I'm half white, half Athabascan.
BELL: Oh, and so even though you are from -- you said, you're from a different culture, from the interior, they accepted you up here and take you whaling?
KNOCK: Yes. The way we live is not much different than the way they live here. Togetherness, you know, we live as a community, and we want to adhere to the old ways.
BELL: I mean, that's the big thing about this community, I'm learning as people -- I mean, certainly you see people with cars and on snow machines and the cell phones and iPod, clearly there's an effort to keep a foot in the past with traditions.
KNOCK: Oh, yeah. And it's a proven method and it works.
BELL: How can 10,000 years be wrong?
KNOCK: How can 10,000 years be wrong?
BELL: While this boat won't be ready for a few days, Knock took me outside to show me what the finish product looks like.
KNOCK: This is our boat. We finished this last week.
BELL: Oh, so this is your cruise boat?
KNOCK: Yes, Sir.
BELL: Oh, wow.
KNOCK: Fully skinned with the brand new skin.
BELL: Yeah. It's got that new skin look.
KNOCK: Got new skin smell.
BELL: The new skin smell. So it seem like to me nothing symbolizes the town of Barrow more than whaling to the rest of all the traditions and the language and wanting to teach the youth and the next generation about what the ancestors did. Whaling is the thing that sums all that up?
KNOCK: Barrow is builder (ph) on whaling. Barrow is a whaling community.
BELL: And it will always be a whaling community?
BELL: OK. Knock's enthusiasm for whaling shows he is embracing his native culture. But like many others in Barrow, he is also half nonnative. So I want to know more about the defining choice these people face embrace the past or fall in love with the future.
[22:50:12] So, just talk of a little bit why holding on to these traditions are so important for you? There's not even for saying I'm going to learn the tradition of the rest of America.
KNOCK: I'm an American.
KNOCK: But I'm Native American and I'm proud of that.
BELL: Yeah. What does it mean to go whaling? What is that process?
KNOCK: It's a family thing that we do as a community, you know. It brings us altogether. You know, it's not like we're stockpiling it, you know, it's like that we're saving and trying to make money off of it of everything and everything is distributed evenly.
BELL: In the Lower 48, if somebody hunts and kills like a deer, what is take that to your home? Nobody do that (ph), we are selfish. That's what I'm trying to say.
BELL: Why is that they governmentally (ph) respected community?
KNOCK: I'm not going to sit there and eat and watch my neighbor starve. There's a pillar, right man?
BELL: Man (ph), as a pillar, right. Now, you're right. You're right.
KNOCK: Even if I don't know the person, you know.
BELL: So that's the big thing that we -- in a lot of the Lower 48, if I know you, because you're my friend ...
KNOCK: Yeah, then you might get something.
BELL: ... and I'm not busy, I'll help you.
BELL: If I'm not busy.
BELL: You have the good fortune despite everything that you still hold on to your traditions.
KNOCK: And that's why it makes it so important. Barrow is a melting pot. So, there are people who'd rather watch T.V. shows.
BELL: Hey, now what's so wrong with T.V. shows?
KNOCK: And emulate with the CN (ph) T.V. would fit if you were in a city you could live like that, you could do that.
KNOCK: But, to do that here and succeed is going to be difficult, you know.
BELL: Yeah, yeah.
KNOCK: Look, there are a lot of people that think like I do, you know, that want to see this culture succeed, want to see the kids out there whaling and doing what the elders want us to do.
We're all going to be teachers, because we have an opportunity right now. We have an opportunity to teach you to see this in the next generation, and once it's gone it's gone, and if I allow my kids to let it go, it's going to be gone.
BELL: And it's -- and to not have that it would be ...
KNOCK: It would be tragic. Yeah, suck.
BELL: I think that's a good word. That's a good -- I think that would just about say it, it would suck. It seems like to me you guys are doing an incredible job how to -- feels like I'm in the past and the future and I'm in -- but I went in the right place, you know, what I mean.
KNOCK: Amen, there you go.
[22:55:50] BELL: It's my last night in Barrow, and since I spent most of my trip learning about traditions past, Knock offered me the opportunity to try the new school of travel.
Knock, you do all your own stunts?
KNOCK: Yeah, I know. But, it's (ph) not going to met you two days ago, it was like I hope I end up with my life in his hands.
BELL: Oh yeah. I just lost feeling in my nose.
KNOCK: It's going to be 20 below.
BELL: I'm actually frozen in this position now.
KNOCK: Almost there.
BELL: We're headed out for one last authentic Alaskan experience, seeing the northern lights that is if my eyes don't rip out?
I think I froze the part of my brain that remembers my birthday.
So, thanks for taking me out on the snow machine, I appreciate it.
KNOCK: Oh, it was a blast.
BELL: When I first came to Alaska, it was in Anchorage. You know, Anchorage is like a small town. It looks likes any town in U.S.A.
KNOCK: Oh, yeah.
BELL: On T.V. when you turn on Alaska, you don't see a small town. And so I kept asking people, is this the real Alaska? Some people would say, "Come up to barrow." So we came to Barrow and I did a bunch of stuff this week.
You know, I said I dog sledded. I tried whale and I went snow machining and (inaudible) teases in front of a polar bear, but I think there's a big thing about people like me exotifying a place like this.
And, you know, and making it somehow see almost magical, and there is a lot of special things happening here, but it's a totally different thing I was expecting.
KNOCK: Oh, yeah.
BELL: I know that's not living here. What is living in this part of the world mean to you?
KNOCK: I mean, in this part of the world they would (ph) stop. You know, it ain't easy. You know, you run other stuff. You might have quit a couple of days and you accept that.
BELL: You have to think more about how you are living?
KNOCK: Yeah. It's important to know that you have the responsibility to look out for others. You know, you might not know the person but, you know, they do have the responsibility as a community member to look out for one another.
BELL: Yeah, is (ph) everybody survived?
KNOCK: That's why we continue to whale, it's to try preserve that, you know, that sense of community and oneness.
BELL: Well, I hope you're able to continue whaling and continuing that sense of community.
KNOCK: Thank you. I hope so, too.
BELL: Yeah. And I appreciate you talking to me, but where are the northern lights? Do I just not have the right eyes to see them?
KNOCK: They are just hiding from you.
BELL: Well, one thing about this, Knock, is that lovely, this is television, you know, the magic of T.V., we can do -- I can just go like this. Oh, look at those northern lights. Man, that's beautiful. Aren't they beautiful, Knock?
KNOCK: Yeah, they are beautiful.
BELL: Yeah. Wow, we got so lucky on the last night. We were in town and we saw the most beautiful northern lights show ever.
KNOCK: Snap your finger again to see a polar bear.
BELL: I think I'm a, you know what, I'm good. I'm good.
OK, so these northern lights might not be real, but in Barrow I feel like I saw the real Alaska. Sure, it still partially defined by its weather and remoteness, but it isn't the last frontier at all.
It's an increasingly modern and multiethnic population. This culture is seeing the type of change that diversity brings. And while there's still an internal struggle to hold to tradition, Barrow has a sense to community unrivaled by the rest of America.
And you have a nice day.
CJ: Bye-bye, [foreign language].
BELL: You know, CJ, I think I missed you most of all.
CJ: [Foreign language], you know, come back to Barrow, again.
BELL: I will. Thank you.
BELL: Now, it's time to go back to regular old California, where sure, I'll be lucky to get some help on the side of the road, but the Wi-Fi is fantastic.
I'm not going to go miss you, cold.
This is nice than my hotel room.