things to think about

today i am thinking about: TINY ISLANDS
May 3, 2011, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Let’s be real. I am always thinking about tiny islands, but lately I have REALLY been thinking about tiny islands. I have a world map up in my apartment, and sometimes when I am stressed or bored I like to look at it and see new interesting features. Some old friends cropped up:

* Vanuatu, population 221,000;

* Nauru, population 9,200

* Tuvalu, population 11,000

These are some of the tiniest sovereign nations in the world!

There is so much to say about these places: Nauru, the only nation without a capital, which was systemically strip-mined of its phosphorus and now makes its money housing Australian immigration detainees; Tuvalu, who has had a ban on public assembly after civil unrest threatened to overthrow its government and whose primary industry is the .tv domain; Vanuatu, giant in comparison, and its intense tourist trade.

But been there, done that. I’ve priced flights to Nauru, for heaven’s sake! (answer: $500 USD from Brisbane to Yaren. Ouch!)

This time, the small island rabbit hole led me to one of my favorite tiny islands: Little Diomede. Part of Alaska, in the Bering Strait, it is actually its larger friend, Big Diomede, that is visible on my world map. Little Diomede is the westernmost part of America and possibly the western hemisphere (although I imagine there are islands in the South Pacific that come close). Little Diomede is less than half a mile from the International Date Line. There are about 170 people who live there. The mail comes once a week, depending on the weather. Aside from the school and the tribal council, people live a subsistence lifestyle: they hunt for their food and make their own livelihood. People pee in honeybuckets and when the water runs out over the winter, they melt snow and ice to drink. Contact with the rest of the world depends on the weather; sometimes the boats can come over, sometimes they can’t.The sea is solid half the year and half the year it’s choppy and unpredictable. It is 99%+ Ingalikmiut, and I imagine that last 1% are imported teachers.

There is a school there, of course, part of the Bering Strait School District. The BSSD is ungraded, promoting students based on skills rather than age, and integrates the Native languages and traditions. A big grade at the Little Diomede school is 3 students.

I want to go so bad.

I want to go as a teaching artist, although since they focus on Native arts, I think it would be more of a learning artist. I want to go as an extra pair of hands, although I don’t know much about hunting a walrus or paddling a skin canoe. I am compelled by how different it is, how small, how clever you have to be, how everyone must know everyone.

Outsiders like me have been fascinated by Little Diomede and the Ingalikmiut population there. There are collections of documents from the 1900s but even before that (thanks, Wikipedia!) there was contact with Western explorers. Natives traded ivory and skins to the western sailors and explorers that found this tiny place.

People can survive anything. I can only imagine how clever you have to be to survive on a tiny island in the Bering Strait, 25 miles from land, buffeted by wind. I can only imagine how well you have to learn your skills: killing walruses, making things from them, making your boat and then boating it around some of the coldest water in the world. This is the set of skills I am most captivated by – the way in which people can survive anything, anywhere, and find ways to make their homes even in the worst circumstances.

It sounds like such a delicious challenge. Would I bring anything to them? I don’t know. But I sure would like to give it a try.

1 Comment so far
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This is not the same, but like, and sweetness:

Also, have you seen the documentary “To Be and to Have”? It is French. It is beautiful, about a very small school.

Comment by slf

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