A person’s character is shaped by life experiences and John Quniaq Baker has plenty to tap into.
Photo - Jeff Schultz
Sled dogs and mushing have been an interest of Baker’s since he was a teenager – a time when the snow machine replaced sled dogs and people his age went for the speed of the ‘iron dog’. Baker sought to learn from those who had knowledge about the Inupiat’s long history of mushing dogs in the Arctic.
Baker is proud of his Inupiat heritage and has acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge from traditional elders about the land, weather patterns, ice and snow conditions, and sled dogs. Throughout the long winter months he applies this wisdom to guide him through extreme Arctic conditions in which he and his dogs train. Baker applies the traditional knowledge while innovating to help him and his dogs steadily improve. Team Baker’s success is an illustration of the ingenuity and adaptability of the people who have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years.
John loves exploring the arctic wilderness and can be seen throughout the region in his Cessna 206 airplane or on his dog team. His father, Bob Baker, is credited with discovering the world’s largest zinc deposit – now the Red Dog Mine – when flying with his companion, O’Malley, a feisty, red Irish terrier dog. Like his father, John enjoys traveling by air or on land with his four-legged friends in what he describes as “the most beautiful place on earth.”
Indigenous peoples have inhabited Northwest Alaska since the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. Today, these people are known as Iñupiat – the real people. The word Inupiaq refers to one individual person (“As an Inupiaq man, John lives off the land”) or the language spoken by the Inupiat (“She is a fluent Inupiaq speaker”). The word Inupiat refers to the tribe as a whole.
The roots of today’s modern Iñupiat people stretch back more than 4,000 years, to people living along the coast, who subsisted (or hunted and gathered) primarily on sea mammals, and to those living inland who depended on caribou. Life is lived off of the land. The hunting of animals like seal, whale, caribou and moose, as well as gathering like picking berries and arctic greens is essential to life where John lives. Subsistence activities are not just economic necessity for the Inupiat, they also bear strong cultural and social significance. Foods gathered the land sustain families nutritionally and spiritually; connecting people to each other, their ancestors and environment. Over many generations, cultural values developed around the subsistence lifestyle that were, in large part, sculpted by the unforgiving climate of the Arctic. These values continue to serve both the physical and spiritual needs of the Iñupiat.
A special note for journalists and members of the media:
People sometimes refer to the Inupiat as “Eskimos”. It is important, particularly for journalists, to note this is not an appropriate term and is sometimes received in as offensive when used by non-Native people. Sometimes, people mistakenly call all Alaska Native people “Eskimos”. Alaska’s indigenous population is actually made up of several groups of people. If you’d like to learn more about the rich history of Alaska’s Native people visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center Web site at www.alaskanative.net