Water: The Gift of a Good Question

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Ann Fienup-Riordan


This paper explores the lasting influence of Ernest Burch’s scholarship on my research in southwest Alaska. Although Tiger worked in a different part of the north and mined very different primary sources than I, his curiosity and meticulous documentation provided models that continue to inspire. He challenged me with questions, not answers. Using the topic of water as an example, I strive to show the value of his descriptive record—not only in documenting Iñupiaq lifeways but in inspiring anthropologists working throughout the Arctic to consider common categories of information often omitted from even the most rigorous accounts. I discuss early 20th-century water use among Yup’ik people as an example of one area in which Burch enabled at least one anthropologist to overcome this ethnographic oversight.

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