Santa’s visit brings joy to the freezing village of Inupiaq in Alaska
Although the weather outside was dreadful, school children in the Inupiac community of Nuiqsut in northern Alaska were so thrilled with a visit from Santa Claus that they braved cold 25-degree winds just to see landing on a snowy airstrip.
Once again it was time for Operation Santa Claus in Alaska. And here in Nuiqsut, a roadless village of about 460 people on Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope, temperatures may have dropped, but the kids were warming up fast.
Never mind that Santa left Rudolph at home to catch an Alaska Air National Guard cargo plane bound for Nuiqsut, just 50 freezing kilometers (30 miles) south of the Arctic Ocean. Here, a reindeer swing and a bound from the North Pole, the students were buzzing with good spirits.
“Some of them were on the deck and they were jumping up and down, excited to see the plane coming,” said trapper school principal Lee Karasiewicz, as he surveyed the students at the school. school of 160 students from kindergarten to grade 12. privileged to have a pre-Christmas visit from the merry and fat.
“They knew right away, thanks to the size of the plane, who was on that plane,” Karasiewicz said of the students.
When Santa and Mrs Claus got off the huge cargo plane, some of the children rushed to greet him with hugs, their beaming parents taking pictures on their phones.
Year after year, over the decades, the Alaska National Guard has delivered gifts, supplies, and often Christmas itself to a few small rural Alaskan communities, especially trying to make things merry in the villages. affected by recent difficulties.
Operation Santa Claus began in 1956 when residents of one community, St. Mary’s, were left with no money to buy presents. Townspeople stung by floods and then a drought that wiped out their subsistence hunting and fishing opportunities were forced to spend Christmas money on food instead. That’s when the guard intervened, bringing them gifts and supplies.
For Nuiqsut, adversity came last spring when an oil production facility about 11 kilometers from town caused a natural gas leak. Although oil workers were evacuated, there was no mandatory evacuation in Nuiqsut even though the community was put on alert, said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the town’s mayor.
Afterwards, she said, some people began to experience symptoms related to gas exposure, such as headaches or difficulty breathing. About 20 families, some with pregnant women or the elderly and others with special medical conditions, have decided to self-evacuate.
Long accustomed to helping in disasters, the guard sent his tribal liaison officer to town after the leak was contained. The official spoke with members of the community and raised their concerns with the ranger leaders.
The Santa Claus event held on the last Tuesday in November was “a wonderful opportunity” to show the children babysitting in a different light – not always coming right when there are problems, Ahtuangaruak said.
“It’s about bringing the National Guard to a non-stressful event so the kids can see them doing a good job and not a scary event,” she said.
Although there were a few puzzled faces from children sitting on Santa’s lap for the first time, there was nothing scary about the visit – and certainly no list of who was naughty or nice.
Once all gathered in the school gymnasium, each child had the opportunity for a short visit with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, and each received a backpack full of snacks and books, school supplies, hygiene and a gift.
Qannik Amy Alice Woods, a second-grader, didn’t want to open her backpack yet. It was his first experience with Santa Claus, but he conquered it like all the other children in the world.
“He’s cool,” she said, giving a two-thumbs-up before heading to the bleachers to enjoy a fresh banana, an item hard to find above the Arctic Circle. The children also received a treat more suited to their location: ice cream sundaes.
Fourth grader Mallory Lampe also had her first face-to-face encounter with Santa Claus, but didn’t wait to open her backpack. “I have this kind of toy,” she exclaims happily, holding an interactive creature whose eyes light up when you press its nose.
The Alaska National Guard delivered over 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) of gifts to the children of Nuiqsut. For the past 53 years, the program has been run in conjunction with the Salvation Army.
The other two villages served this year were Scammon Bay, which experienced fuel and food delivery issues last year, and Minto, chosen because it had never been visited in the program’s history, has said Dana Rosso, spokeswoman for the Alaska National Guard.
About 650 pounds (295 kilograms) of gifts were delivered to Minto for about 65 children, and nearly 1,800 pounds (816 kilograms) of gifts for the approximately 325 children in Scammon Bay.
During a mission briefing before the plane left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage for Nuiqsut, Santa gave an important piece of advice to the volunteer elves.
In Alaskan Native culture, it is considered rude to refuse a request or a gift offered by someone, even while participating in a dance.
That’s why towards the end of the program in Nuiqsut, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus were on the school gymnasium floor with members of the uniformed guard and dozens of others performing a traditional Native American dance. ‘Alaska. It all started when a local drumming and dancing group performed to honor their guests, and it quickly turned into an impromptu hootenanny.
As the last song ended, a beaming Mrs. Claus grabbed one of the dancers and gave her a hug to show her gratitude.
“We can’t go to all of our villages, but when a village celebrates this opportunity, it’s a celebration that carries through the drums of the tundra across our state,” Mayor Ahtuangaruak said. “We can all share the joy.”