On an afternoon in early December, Benfer Ahnatook Simmonds sat outside his home on Parsons Avenue, snacked on an orange and told a story.
He had a dream, he said, about the biggest bowhead whale in the world.
“God gave me that dream,” Simmonds said. “He said I’m going to make a harpoon; I won’t use no whale bomb, I won’t use nothing but the power of Jesus Christ. The whale comes to me. I’ll build the boat, 22-foot boat, I’ll make my own.”
Simmonds is 52, the third youngest of 14 children, a boat-builder, a hunter and an ivory carver “ever since I was seven years old.”
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
Born in Barrow, he moved to Anchorage nearly two decades ago. He recalls life at the top of the world; hunting and whaling and the time his father brought home two wolf pups.
“My brother-in-law’s brother wanted to buy both of them, make a wolf team,” Simmonds said. “But my dad think in his heart, if the chain breaks, the kids in danger in the village, so he just sold the female. He kept the male … for 11 months.”
He talks about his heritage, Irish and Iñupiat; he says the Irish blood gave him his beard and his Alaska Native elders taught him to survive.
“We are built to live on our own with food from the land, sea and air,” Simmonds said.