Turkey nowhere in sight at Inupiat Thanksgiving feast

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- For about 100 people in Fairbanks, Thanksgiving meant celebrating Inupiat style.

There was plenty of caribou, moose and whale meat -- but no turkey -- in the festivities held Thursday at the First Presbyterian Church.

Mable Hopson, the church's ruling elder in charge of Inupiat activities, said there was no planned menu. Everyone just brought whatever they could to the feast.

The buffet table held little of the usual Thanksgiving fare. Among the offerings were moosehead, caribou and duck soup. One salad included a mixture of dried caribou, dried salmon strips, dried bearded seal, roots, muktuk and seal oil. For dessert, there was Eskimo ice cream.

For the main course, there was smelt, whitefish and more than 100 pounds of muktuk shipped from Barrow. That's an enormous amount of whale blubber and most of it was given out for diners to take home.

Hopson said the Native food selection was not a repudiation of the expected Thanksgiving feast. Rather, it serves as a link with ancestors in Inupiat lands, she said.

Hopson said she believes a Thanksgiving feast has been held in her hometown of Barrow since the first Presbyterians arrived more than a century ago.

''Ever since the missionaries went up there, they've been having Thanksgiving,'' she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She the tradition was picked up in Fairbanks about 40 years ago.

The allure of the meal for many is the chance to catch up with friends and acquaintances. The church's Inupiat community holds a number of events, but none as big as this one, with the possible exception of their Christmas meal.

''When we get together it's just fun and wonderful to see friends -- a lot of friends we don't get to see all year round,'' said Janie Snyder, a Barrow native and current North Pole resident.

For many, the other draw is the menu. Many of these foods aren't readily available in Fairbanks. But there's no moratorium on bringing in more common Thanksgiving fare either. Turkey often has appeared in past years.

More orthodox Thanksgiving fare seemed to be in the cards for some of the attendees anyway. Hopson said that she would likely end up having turkey at home for dinner. Snyder, who is married to a non-Native, said she would, too.

''My other family's coming,'' she said.

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