Serving in VISTA was my first job in the law. I had worked at Sotheby’s as a Rare Book Expert and done some graduate work in Anthropology prior to going to Alaska. I was interested in social change and the native people of Alaska had just received land and money as a result of the Land Claims Settlement Act. So I knew there would be quick and significant changes in the culture. At the time, the culture was still largely Eskimo with traditional hunting and fishing for caribou, walrus, seal, and whales.
Point Barrow was 350 miles north of the Arctic Circle and had 3,000 residents, most of whom were Eskimos. There was no real cash economy and per capita income was around $80/month. The way of life hadn’t changed much over the years. Villages were scattered mainly along the Arctic Coast. No roads connected the villages. No phones or running water existed. No TV or movies. Wolfman Jack kept me alive.
I lived in the Barrow Arms apartment. It was two rooms with a cocktail refrigerator and a “honey bucket” for a toilet. It was a large paint can with a glad bag liner and Pinesol – in the middle of the room. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor for a month before graduating to a bed. No privacy – people came and went.
As I was the only “law” north of the Arctic Circle, I went when I could to each of the Eskimo villages. I traveled by bush plane, hitching rides, and stayed with Eskimo families in remote villages with from 30 to 300 inhabitants. I met the most interesting people in what was really a third world country. There were no showers – you slept in your clothes in a sleeping bag on a wooden platform. Though they had little worldly goods, they were proud to be Americans. Fourth of July was a big celebration with guns blazing in the air.
During my time, there were lots of adventures hunting caribou, walrus, and whales in skin boats with harpoons thrown by hand – terrifying! All of the whale was eaten or used for construction of mud and grass igloos. It was truly a life-changing experience.
I ended up going to work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for ten years, first as a lawyer then as an Administrative Judge. Then I went into private practice representing government employees who were victims of discrimination, which I still do today. Its been quite a ride – all beginning with my grand adventure with VISTA.