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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Community Profile: Teller


Gazette

The village of Teller is located on the Seward Peninsula near the head of Port Clarence Inlet. The village is surrounded by a flat, lake-studded landscape, much of it tundra. In the summer months, a gravel road gives residents access to Nome, 72 miles to the south. This isolated community's harbor is also seasonal. The water freezes in October, and does not thaw until June.

Teller

Teller (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Location: Lat. 65E 16' N, Long. 166E 22' W

Area: 3 square miles

Population: 268

Industry: Subsistence

Access: Sea, air, seasonal road and harbor

Alaska Native Affiliation: Kawerak Eskimo

Alaska Native Regional Corporation: Bering Straits Native Corporation

Weather: Average summer temperatures range from 44 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, in winter from -9 to 8 degrees. Annual precipitation is 11.5 inches, with 50 inches of snowfall. 

Historical Overview

  • The first inhabitants of the Teller area were Eskimos living in a fishing community of Nuk. In the early 1800s, Nuk was the site of an historic battle between Alaska Eskimos and Siberian Chukchis who tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the community.
  • In 1866, explorers from the Western Union Telegraph Expedition wintered in the area. They called their settlement "Libbyville" or "Libby Station."
  • The U.S. government operated a reindeer station from 1892 to 1900 in the region. Staffed by Eskimos, the station was a source of both subsistence meat and income for the Eskimos, whose livelihoods had been threatened by the depletion of seals and sea otters in the region. The station was named for the U.S. Secretary of Interior, Henry Moore Teller.
  • In 1900, the Bluestone Placer Mine opened 15 miles to the south of the station, and set off an economic boom for the area. Teller's population grew to 5,000 and the town became a center of trade. Eskimo people from Diomede, Wales, Mary's Igloo and King Island relocated there. In the 1950s, Teller was the site of an film about Alaskan Eskimos. Historian Merle Colby reported on the production:

    Teller was the 'location' for a Hollywood movie of Eskimo life, in the course of which Hollywood directors taught Eskimos how to build picture book snowhouses and to kiss American-fashion. Neither of these imported customs made a permanent impression on Eskimo tradition, and the Natives who took part in the picture, after traveling to Nome to see it, reported they enjoyed King Kong much more.

Economy

  • Most residents of Teller live a subsistence lifestyle, harvesting fish, hunting seal, moose, and beluga whale. A herd of over 1,000 reindeer provides meat, fur and some cash income; most reindeer meat is sold on the Seward Peninsula. Fox fur pelts are also sold, but this is a minor source of revenue.
  • Over one-third of households produce crafts or artwork for sale. One resident holds a commercial fishing permit.

Community Issues

  • Unreliable transport has been, and continues to be, a challenge for Teller residents. With no dock, goods must be unloaded directly on the beach. The road to Nome is open for less than half the year, and residents needing health care and other services from the outside are at the mercy of fog, rain and blizzards. A small airfield allows for some travel, but the weather also limits air travel.
  • Water supply and waste management are also issues. Water is hauled from a local creek in the summer; in the winter, resident rely on melted snow. About 42 residents have chemical toilets. The town is in the process of constructing a water system and a landfill.


(View the Teller daily log entry)

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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