A project funded by the NSF Arctic Social Sciences program entitled White Plague: A Historical Ethnography of Tuberculosis Among Yup’ik Peoples of Southwestern Alaska examines the social effects of tuberculosis (TB). This disease was endemic in the Alaska Native population during the 19th century. Due to increasingly sustained contact with outsiders, by the mid 20th century it had reached epidemic proportions, devastating many rural communities. In the 1930s, one out of three Alaska Natives died of TB. In southwestern Alaska, Yup’ik people had one of the highest reported incidence and prevalence rates in the world. By the 1950s, it was estimated that one out of every thirty indigenous Alaskans was in a tuberculosis sanatorium, most located outside of Alaska in the Seattle/Tacoma area, remaining there for two or more years….

By the mid 1950s, a massive public health campaign against TB in Alaska was well underway, and within two decades dramatic improvement occurred in both morbidity and mortality rates with the introduction of intensive control efforts, including chemotherapy, quarantine measures, and surveillance. By the 1970s, tuberculosis was no longer the primary cause of death among Alaska Natives The ways indigenous people responded in their everyday lives to the desolate circumstances and public health interventions have largely gone unexplored. Linda Green, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, leads the Alaska-based research team collecting oral histories from community members in three villages — Hooper Bay, Chevak, and Nunapichuk — in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and interviewing public health and medical practitioners who provided services to those with TB….

After data analysis is complete, Green will write a historical ethnography focusing on how processes of modernity — specifically, changing public health and medical policies and practices — influenced a reworking of Alaska Native identity, social relations, and social organization.

For more information, contact Linda Green (lbgreen AT email DOT arizona.edu; 520-621-6291).

Witness the Arctic: Chronicles of the NSF Arctic Sciences Program
Spring 2006, Volume 12 Number 1, page 4, is published biannually by ARCUS


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