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What’s there to know about Noorvik?


When the people in Noorvik heard that the swearing in of the new governor and lieutenant governor was going to take place in their village on Dec. 3, there was a good chuckle all around.

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But wait, it was not a joke! The excitement quickly swept through the community. Mike Dunleavy and Kevin Meyer are coming to Noorvik for an important ceremony — the change of government. Gov. Bill Walker, Donna Walker, and Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson will be coming, too.

[Read: Gov.-elect to be sworn in in Noorvik]

Rep. John Lincoln represents District 40, which stretches to Barrow. Sen. Donny Olson also represents Noorvikmiut.


Rep. John Lincoln of Kotzebue.

No doubt they are proud to have the governor sworn in in their district. It’s never been done before. No governor of Alaska has taken his oath of office above the Arctic Circle and in a predominantly Native community.

But what do we know about Noorvik? It’s a subsistence-focused community at the mouth of the Kobuk River, with a Native heritage way of life and a very strong sense of place.

Deeply traditional, the community developed from a group of Inupiaq that had been living near Candle, a Gold Rush settlement to the south, before that camp started getting rough with miners disrupting the local traditions and village peace.

Noorvik residents net fish in the summer, but also in the winter, setting traps and nets underneath the river ice for white fish, pike, shee fish, and salmon. They trap and hunt.

The Zibell family is one of the solid conservative families in the region. The elder Wilford Zibell was a Wycliffe Bible translator who wrote an Inupiaq Bible and dictionary. He died in a plane crash in 1971, but the family remains strong in the area with several Zibells active as educators, as well as engaged in fishing, trapping, hunting, and doing community service.

Noorvik is Rose Dunleavy’s hometown and there is very strong conservative voting sentiment there. Take a look:

On Nov. 6, Congressman Don Young won over Democrat Alyse Galvin, 76 to 56. Mike Dunleavy won over Mark Begich, 87 to 33, (Libertarian 6, and Bill Walker 8).

Dunleavy-Meyer also won over Begich-Call in nearby Kiana 51-45, and in Kivalina, 29-27.

Noorvik has produced excellent leaders in the region, including Robert Aqqaluk Newlin Sr., who dedicated his life to preserving Inupiaq culture. He was the first chairman of NANA and remained chairman for decades. Aqqaluk is revered in the region; a foundation named in his honor gives scholarships to students. Paulette Schuerch took over as the executive director of that foundation recently.

Noorvik has a well-regarded tribal government that manages the local gravel resource on contract with NANA — the tribal government taking care of permitting and sales. The town is also proud of its basketball teams, both youth and adult leagues.

But who do you know who has actually been to Noorvik? More people than you might realize.

In addition to Lincoln, Sen. Olson, and Schuerch, here’s one who is an Anchorage legislator:

Rep. Jennifer Johnston has skied from Kotzebue to Noorvik and, in fact, has skied the entire Kobuk 440 route several times, often in sections. She and friends brought skis for youngsters and gave ski clinics in most of the villages in the Arctic northwest in 2005.

Jennifer Johnston, now a state representative from Anchorage, giving ski lessons to children in District 40.
Jennifer Johnson and friends ski from village to village giving lessons to the children of the Northwest Arctic Borough on cross-country skiing in 2005.


Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


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