There’s lots of celebrating going on above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The record for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was broken on March 15, 2011, by Alaska Native musher John Baker from the rural village of Kotzebue. That’s Native with a capital N, since Baker is the first individual of Iñupiat descent to win the Iditarod.
The Iditarod has become the stuff of legends since it was first organized in 1973 to commemorate the 1,100-mile rush in 1925 to transport serum to Nome by dogsled. A diphtheria epidemic threatened the residents of Nome—including the many Native children there who had little immunity to the disease. In those days, dogsled was the only way to reach the coastal town during winter.
In the early years of the Iditarod, Native mushers from remote communities were more common, since dog mushing was a primary mode of transportation among the Iñupiat and Athabaskan peoples. In recent years, though, as freight, food, and transportation costs have risen and the snowmobile has surged forward as the transport of choice, maintaining a large team of dogs in remote Alaska is no longer as manageable as before, and most competitors hail from communities served by roads.
Baker is far from a newcomer to the Iditarod, having placed among the top finishers twelve times since his first race in 1996. All members of Team Baker—including the canines—are from the northwest Alaska coast, which Baker credits for giving his team that “extra competitive edge.”
Here at Rosetta Stone, we’ve taken a special interest in John Baker’s historic win—especially those of us in the Endangered Language Program who had the privilege of visiting Kotzebue. We’ve developed two custom Rosetta Stone Iñupiaq products with NANA Regional Corporation, the Alaska Native corporation that encompasses Kotzebue and the surrounding region. Rosetta Stone Iñupiaq (Coastal) and Iñupiaq (Kobuk/Selawik) are now in the region’s homes and schools, where younger generations, in particular, are learning these subdialects of the language.
We wish we could’ve been in Nome with the Native singers, drummers, and dancers to cheer John across the finish line. Aarigaa akimagaviñ, John Baker!