By Karen Wills
I spent four years teaching Inupiaq Eskimo children in Wales, Alaska. Wales is a subsistence village of 150 people located on the tip of the Seward Peninsula. On a clear day, my husband and I and the villagers could see Russia, some 56 miles away, specifically the low, somber mountains of Siberia where the infamous gulags once threatened political dissidents and others.
In between us lay the Diomede Islands, Little Diomede owned by the United States and home to Inupiaq relatives of those living in Wales. A couple miles from it is Big Diomede which has a Russian military base. Our villagers used to have relatives on Big Diomede, too, but they were relocated to Siberia when the base was established. Now there is no communication between these native families of our two nations.
I’m amazed that any human beings survived the brutality of those prison labor camps. The weather alone could kill you. I viewed the forbidding lands across the Bering Strait and wondered about those living there now, dealing with a climate that’s both politically and meteorologically oppressive.
We could do nothing for them, but every New Years Eve, we all went to a high point at the end of the village and set off spectacular fireworks. We hoped that distant relatives in Siberia could see them. I felt the difference between us those nights. A little of the Fourth of July entered my heart. Our freedoms should be protected and celebrated at home as well as communicated to places where human rights are still a distant dream, seen from afar.