When the community of Noorvik found out they’d be hosting the swearing in of the state’s newest governor, Mike Dunleavy, they flew into action.
NANA Regional Corporation fundraising efforts allowed 13,000 pounds of food to be shipped out to Noorvik. Preparing all that food was the task of several community volunteers, along with setting up the small school to host hundreds.
A ton of work went into preparing for, perhaps, the largest event to ever hit the 683-person northern Alaska village.
So when the news came in that the governor’s plane diverted to Kotzebue due to hazardous conditions, and his actual swearing in would happen there, and not Noorvik, I expected folks to be upset. But no one seemed unhappy.
The ceremony continued with important seats empty, but key aspects of the ceremony intact: like the town’s children singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in Inupiaq.
After the ceremony, I spoke with community members, none of whom thought the town’s efforts went to waste. If anything, they were appreciative the governor had Noorvik in mind at all, and they were happy to pitch in. David Field is a veteran from Noorvik who volunteered to present and retire the colors at the ceremony:
“I’m thankful that he and his wife focus on rural Alaska, coming to Noorvik… they know the issues we go through here… I’m thankful that they see that, and maybe we’ll get some help for that… I’m just thankful to be here, I mean, I should be at work, but I got selected to do color guard, so I just wanted to do my part and help out.”
Bobby Wells, a member of Noorvik city council, spoke on how spirits were indeed still high despite plans changing.
“That excitement was still here regardless of we didn’t see anyone up on the stage.”
Noorvik community members Judith Harvey and Carl Fox Love agreed that the change in plans wasn’t the worst outcome.
Judith: “Altogether knowing that he wanted to be here, that’s what counts most.”
Carl: “I hear he’s coming, better late than never though.”
The new governor and family did make it to join the celebration after all. Gia Hanna prepped the crowd for the first family’s entrance:
“We want to see some hugging, some singing, some dancing… [applause] So, we’re going to ask that we have the Aarigaa song and ‘Praying For You’ again…”
But first, there was another important reason for celebration:
“I wanted to wish your hometown girl, Joanna Sheldon-Harris, happy birthday. [applause] [singing happy birthday].”
While spirits were never low, they were certainly high by this time. I could feel the anticipation all around me as the community stood up from their seats, eyes glued to the gymnasium’s entrance.
Rose Dunleavy entered first.
In Noorvik, Rose’s hometown, she is known by her Inupiaq name, Sattu. It seems that the community couldn’t be happier to welcome her home.
[singing] “Praying for you, praying for you. Somebody’s praying for you…”
The new governor, first lady, and their children were near tears as elders turned to face the family on stage to sing “Praying for You” in English and Inupiaq.
Rose Dunleavy wanted to make sure her hometown knew their work in putting together the celebration did not go unnoticed:
“Thank you everyone for all this preparation. I know it was a lot of work.”
When I spoke to Bobby Wells earlier that afternoon, he also wanted to address how even amidst all the excitement in Noorvik, the community is thinking of Anchorage.
“Condolences to the southwest Anchorage area… We hope that things are getting resolved, and especially the roads that they need so bad, which is important — we understand that, coming from a rural community, where transportation is important. I guess we’re doing okay with the gravel up here ourselves, but we’d like to see something a little better, too.”
He reminds us that Noorvik, a place that isn’t typically in the spotlight, isn’t forgetting other key parts of the state. The town is hopeful that Monday’s swear-in in rural Northwest Alaska, as well as their close ties to the governor’s family, will mean advancements for communities like theirs in terms of resources and infrastructure. According to Governor Dunleavy, Noorvik will not be forgotten.
Image at top: Town folks greeted the first family, shortly after their flight landed safely in Noorvik. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.