Baker’s Win Hits Home

By Karina Moeller

In the last couple of years there have been important victories for Inuit revitalization. Next June, my home country of Greenland will be celebrating two years of independence from Denmark. Last August Canada’s federal government officially apologized for the social injustice inflicted on First Nations and Inuit people. And just the other day, an Alaska Inuit man won the Iditarod.

For Alaska, John Baker’s record Iditarod win invites a new era of Inuit excellence.

It was an honor for Pamyua to drum and sing as John crossed the finish line in Nome. Dog mushing is an Inuit tradition and John is the first Inupiaq person to win what is known as “The Last Great Race.”

Allison Warden and I attended John’s reception in Anchorage before the race. The seed was planted there as Andy, Johns brother, called us on stage to sing. Directly after, as an impulse I said, “John… if you win I will fly to Nome and sing for you!”

Thanks to John’s sister Lori and the folks at ASRC, Pamyua (minus Stephen, who had a commitment to teach in Anchorage) and Allison boarded a 6am flight on March 15 with 10 drums (thanks to ANHC), fur parkas and a lot of excitement.

Adding to our anxiety, the flights first destination was Kotzebue, John’s hometown. Although I love visiting Kotz, we definitely didn’t want to miss the finish. Luckily the pilot gave frequent updates and the entire plane erupted in cheers as we realized that John was destined to win.

When we landed in Nome we were informed that John was reaching the outskirts of town. We kind of thought that we wouldn’t make it, then we spotted our dear friend Josie Stiles waiting for us. Her truck was running as we jumped in singing, laughing and giggling like 7-year-olds.

We RAN to the finish line and made it there about 10 minutes before John.

The energy was magical. We were drumming along with Inupiaq elder Sheldon Katchetag. It was like we could see the local Inupiaq people growing a couple inches taller as we celebrated. My heart definitely did. Also drumming was Nome’s King Island Drummers and Dancers. People were in tears, clapping and cheering as John crossed the finish line.

We sang in Yup’ik, Greenlandic and of course in Inupiat. It was an honor to be a part of such a historical event. Quyana John for winning on behalf of all of us.


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