ANCHORAGE, Alaska >> Alaska’s newly elected governor will be sworn in above the Arctic Circle, marking a first for the state.
Republican Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy will become Alaska’s top elected official Dec. 3, when he takes the oath of office in Noorvik, a tiny Inupiat Eskimo village more than a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers) from the state capital of Juneau.
Noorvik is where Dunleavy’s Alaska Native wife, Rose, grew up, and where some residents still travel by dogsled and hunt and fish for much of their food.
No roads link the village of 670 to the outside world. Instead, Noorvik is accessible mostly by plane and boat, on the Kobuk River, with snowmobiles and ATVs a common mode of transportation for locals.
Dunleavy said in a statement that he and his wife chose Noorvik out of respect for her family and because of fond memories of the years they spent in rural Alaska. The couple, who have three daughters, lived in the regional hub town of Kotzebue for 13 years before the family eventually settled on 45 acres near Wasilla, north of Anchorage.
“For us, it is the right thing to do — to call attention to the beauty, warmth and spirit of a part of our state many Alaskans have not experienced,” wrote Dunleavy, a former educator and state senator.
Alaska is the only U.S. state with areas above the Arctic Circle, and historians and others knew of no other governors sworn in to office in the region known for its icy waters and extreme conditions. U.S. Rep. Don Young has a home in Fort Yukon, above the Arctic Circle.
Most of Alaska’s previous governors took their oaths in Juneau, though former Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, and her successor Sean Parnell, had their ceremonies in the interior town of Fairbanks.
This isn’t the first time Noorvik has been in the limelight. It was the first community counted in the 2010 census.
Noorvik voted overwhelmingly for Dunleavy in his race against Democrat Mark Begich.
Word of Dunleavy’s swearing-in is spreading quickly, and people from surrounding villages are planning to attend, according to Noorvik Mayor Vern Cleveland.
“Oh, man. People are excited about it,” he said. “The whole region.”
Dunleavy grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has lived in his adopted state for nearly 35 years.
Noorvik is still home to extended family, he said in his statement.
Gordon Newlin, Rose Dunleavy’s older brother, is among family living in the region. Newlin said his sister called him to tell him about the upcoming ceremony. The event will be held in the gym of the village school, named after their late father, Robert Newlin Sr., an Inupiat leader and one of the founders of the NANA Corp., the regional Native corporation.
Gordon Newlin is a maintenance worker at the school, where he says people are excited because of his brother-in-law’s years with the Northwest Arctic Borough School District. He also hasn’t seen his sister for at least a year, so her visit will be a bit of a reunion.
“It felt great when they selected Noorvik as the place to be,” he said.
Dunleavy representatives and Cleveland, the mayor, said the ceremony is still in the planning stages.
But one idea Cleveland likes is the possibility of locals using sled dog teams to pick up visitors from the Noorvik airport, as they did in 2010 when census officials and others began counting the nation’s residents there. At the time, residents also hosted a day of festivities with traditional dances, an Inupiat fashion show and a feast of caribou soup, baked bearded seal and other subsistence foods.
Multiple entities will take part in the upcoming celebration, including NANA, city, tribal and borough representatives, according to Cleveland. “The whole shebang. Everybody’s involved,” he said.
Outgoing Gov. Bill Walker, who dropped his re-election bid last month, said he also plans to attend.
“It’s very respectful to the incoming first lady, Rose,” he said of the location choice.