Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Wesley "Uġiaqtaq" Aiken

Wesley Aiken

Wesley Uġiaqtaq Aiken is an Iñupiaq elder from Utqiaġvik, Alaska (formerly known as Barrow). He was born in Barrow in 1926 to Johnny and Lucy Aiken, and grew up near Cape Halkett until the age of twelve when the family returned to Barrow. Living a traditional subsistence lifestyle, Wesley learned to hunt seals at a young age, which included knowing how to safely travel and survive on the sea ice. At age fourteen, Wesley began whaling under the guidance of Ned Nusunginya and James Qiugaq, where he learned about different ice conditions and hunting practices. Eventually, Wesley became a whaling captain himself, but lost all of his whaling equipment during a major ice event in 1957. Wesley served in the Alaska Territorial Guard starting in 1943, and in the Alaska National Guard from 1953 to 1970. In terms of employment, he worked for Arctic Contractors from 1947 to 1952 as a truck driver and heavy equipment operator, helped fight for Iñupiat land claims in the 1970s during the effort to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), was the first land chief for Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) when it incorporated in 1973, and then went on to work for and oversee the Lands Department at Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) until his retirement around 1991. He also has served on the North Slope Borough's Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission (IHLC). Although 91 years old, Wesley continues to willingly share his knowledge of Iñupiaq culture and history, whaling and sea ice, and what he has observed of the changing environment during his lifetime. 

Date of Birth:
Jan 25, 1926
Wesley "Uġiaqtaq" Aiken appears in the following new Jukebox projects: