“To survive here, it’s about family.”
-Frances Sistook Ozenna, tribal coordinator, Little Diomede
Close to the Arctic Circle, lie two remote islands. They are only about four kilometres apart, but they are separated by an invisible border known as the “Ice Curtain”. Little Diomede is part of the United States. Big Diomede is part of Russia. During the Cold War, the Inupiat tribe living on both islands was torn apart.
In 1948, the Soviets moved the residents of Big Diomede to mainland Russia. Their relatives on Little Diomede remained. Now, more than two decades since their last reunion, Frances Sistook Ozenna, a tribal coordinator on Little Diomede, is attempting to reunite her people with their Russian relatives.
I think about how my grandparents must have felt when they separated them. That must have been a big grief for them to lose that connection.
Frances Sistook Ozenna, tribal coordinator on Little Diomede
“I’ve heard stories a long time ago about how there was interaction between the villages before the Ice Curtain,” she says. “I think about how my grandparents must have felt when they separated them. That must have been a big grief for them to lose that connection.”
But bringing their Russian relatives to Little Diomede is as challenging as thawing volatile US-Russia relations. They must secure visas for the US, and also navigate treacherous storms in order to reach the remote island. But, conscious that it may be the last opportunity for the tribe’s few remaining elders, Frances and the community are determined to make the reunion happen.
During the Cold War, the Inupiat tribe were separated by the ‘Ice Curtain’, a narrow expanse of water separating the US and the former Soviet Union [Jonathan Schienberg, Tik Root/Al Jazeera]
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