Meet Utqiaġvik’s Arctic Youth Ambassador, Eben Hopson

Eben Hopson, standing in the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik, Alaska in January, 2018. The photo behind him is of Nalukataq, the spring whaling festival. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk).

A new cohort of Alaskan teens started as Arctic Youth Ambassadors this past fall. Among other things, the program provides an opportunity for young people across the state to represent the concerns of their communities on an international level.

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One of those ambassadors is Eben Hopson, a 17-year-old in Utqiaġvik who’s worried about how changes in the environment are already transforming his hometown.

It’s five o’clock on a school night and Eben Hopson is standing in the lobby of the Iñupiat Heritage Center pointing to a huge photo in the middle of the room.

“Here’s a 360-degree wide shot of the spring whaling festival called Nalukataq,” Hopson said. “What they do is they distribute every part of the whale. Here’s my sister Jessica right there, my brother Jonathan, and me.”

This is not the only piece in the museum that Hopson has a personal connection to. An intricate baleen ship that Hopson’s father made sits in a glass case just behind us. And a few steps further into the lobby is the expansive wooden desk that belonged to his grandfather — Eben Hopson Sr., the hugely influential first Mayor of the North Slope Borough.

An exhibit in the Iñupiat Heritage Center dedicated to the first mayor of the North Slope Borough, Eben Hopson Sr. (Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

“I feel like me carrying his name is a big deal for me because he did things for our people during his time. And I feel I need to do something for our people during this time,” Hopson said.

When Hopson thinks about the future of the North Slope, the thing that weighs most heavily on his mind is climate change. Like many places in Alaska, Utqiaġvik is experiencing coastal erosion, and Hopson says he worries that by the time he’s 50, they might have to move the town.

Last year Hopson actually made a short movie about climate change that he shared online — featuring interviews that he did with town residents, including the city mayor.

Eben Hopson, livestreaming one of the high school basketball games in Utqiaġvik in January, 2018.(Ravenna Koenig/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Hopson loves photography and video; part of his current after-school job is filming the high school basketball games for the coaches and the community. He says that in the future he’d also like to make movies about whaling from an insider’s perspective. He thinks that what most of the media represent about this place to the outside world doesn’t show the whole picture.

“What they see up here, and what they do with their cameras…. Like during whaling season, they only focus on the blood; they only focus on what they see as bad,” Hopson said. “And me being a native kid in this community, I feel like I’ll bring out what I see, traditionally.”

Hopson says that after high school, he hopes to get his bachelor’s degree in either film or journalism so he can be part of shaping the stories that are told about the place he calls home.

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