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Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 21:11 GMT
Millennium dawn reaches Alaska

millennium dawn The millennium dawn has broken for most already

A town in the northern American state of Alaska has become the last community in the world to see dawn break in the new millennium.

Into 2000
Port Barrow, the most northerly tip of the USA, experiences a winter of perpetual darkness due to its location in the Arctic.

The first dawn of the year breaks annually at 1304 local time (2204 GMT) on 23 January - a day that the Inupiat Eskimos call 'Siqinnaapchiaq', meaning "the day that the sun returns".

This year it was the first dawn of a new century, the last on the planet.

George Meegan George Meegan: 30 million steps to Point Barrow (Pic: courtesy George Meegan)

The community marked the occasion with a ceremony, officiated by a British explorer who has ended a world-record trek in the small town.

George Meegan, 47, has walked 19,000 miles from the bottom of South America to the Arctic Circle in a journey he describes as the "Last Crossing".

Symbolic timing

The timing of the first dawn and his last steps is "powerfully symbolic" he says, representing the start of new relationship between the modern world and indigenous tribes.

Mr Meegan, a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and lecturer at the Japanese Maritime University in Kobe, says he endured the privations of the walk "to give hope to the world".

The theme of the millennium ceremony was "reconciliation between the industrial world and indigenous peoples", particularly the native Inupiat culture of Alaska.

Mr Meegan blames the unusually high suicide rate in this community on the influence of the industrial world.

Wind chill factor

He was to walk the last seven miles of his journey to Point Barrow with a 21-year old quadriplegic Inupiat woman, but a wind chill factor of -70F meant conditions were too dangerous for his companions, forcing him to complete the expedition alone.

Teisha Simmons, who aimed to travel over the ice in a wheelchair, became ill after brief exposure on the airstrip at Barrow Airport.

Her new plans were to stay inside until the last 100m, which were to be completed by sled.

A parachutist from New Zealand was also due to descend during the celebration, carrying flags from 30 nations and messages of solidarity and reconciliation from the industrial world to indigenous peoples.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Sun sets on old millennium
31 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Kiribati kicks off the party
31 Dec 99 |  World
The world turns to 2000
31 Dec 99 |  UK
In pictures: The millennium countdown
30 Jul 98 |  Americas
Keeping the Eskimo skills alive

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