General Objectives of Lesson III
The students will be able to describe how to build a sod house.
The students will be able to identify how to harvest sources of subsistence foods in the animal kingdom used by their people.
The students will be able to identify how to harvest major plants used for subsistence purposes by their people.
The students will be able to outline the traditional lifestyle and the of their people.
The students will be able to outline the timeline of seasons used by their people for harvesting foods.
The students will be able to identify and map traditional family sites.
The students will be able to describe use accurately identify landmarks.
The students will be able to learn appropriate behavior when in the presence of Elders.
The students will learn how to show respect and love toward others.
Activities Related to Lesson III
Gather information from Elders using interviews and other research to make blueprints of sodhouses.
Build a sodhouse using appropriate material.
Use the sodhouse for putting on programs tradtionally done in the school.
Draw a map of hunting, fishing, camping sites used by local families.
Go on hunting trips with knowledgeable hunting companions.
Participate in subsistence gathering activities during the school year.
Learn how to cut up and harvest seals.
Read material on local folklore.
Produce books on how to make Eskimo ice cream from harvested berries.
Produce websites showing community projects.
Work on a community project that illustrates to Elders new skills learned on showing respect toward others.
Lesson III: Our Cup’ik Way of Life
This lesson describes the Cup’ik way of life. It includes discussion of both contemporary and ancestral ways, to help students understand our lives today. I hope this description will give outsiders a view of who the Cup’ik people are as we move into the twenty-first century. But I wrote the lesson primarily for our students, as a way of preserving information about their ancestry. It is critical for the schools to teach our children about their heritage. It is also very important for students to have access to materials such as this curriculum, written by a member of their own community.
Knowing when and how to hunt, fish, and gather allowed the Cup’ik people to survive for centuries. They established villages and camps where they could get the fish and game they needed at different times of the year. Traditionally these settlements were within a reasonable distance of the Bering Sea and near rivers and lakes, which not only provided fish and game but were also vital transportation routes. They used materials available on the tundra to build sod houses that protected them from the harsh climate of southwest Alaska.
The seasons of the year have always determined the patterns of Cup’ik life. In the late fall and winter, our ancestors lived in their winter homes, which were permanent villages, mainly along the Qissunaq, Aprun, and Manokinak rivers. Food was hardest to get during the cold, dark months of December, January, and February—but the people trapped mink and other fur-bearers and fished under the ice for species like blackfish, stickleback and needlefish that are available year-round.
In the spring, the men went out to hunts seals in the Bering Sea. Families sometimes had spring camps on lakes or rivers, so they could harvest muskrats and some species of fish—especially in the late spring, when disintegrating ice made seal hunting more difficult. In the summer, families traveled first to fish camps and later to berry camps. Sometimes they also had fall camps, where they did various subsistence activities before returning to their winter homes.
Individual Cup’ik families traditionally had their own hunting, trapping, and fishing sites. Other people respected these sites and did not trespass. Virtually the only sources of income for many families were sealskins and furs of muskrat, mink, and fox. They bartered those skins and furs with traders for tea, flour, and other items they needed for hunting.
Below, I first describe the sod houses that traditionally provided permanent dwellings in villages and also sometimes were built in seasonal camps. Such sod houses are seldom built today, but a number still exist and are maintained for seasonal use. After that, I turn to a description of the hunting and fishing activities that sustained the Cup’ik people through the seasons.
Traditional Sod Houses
The Cup’ik people traditionally lived in semi-subterranean sod houses with driftwood frames. These houses had two entrances—one for the summer months and one for the winter months —and a window cover of whale or walrus stomach membrane, generally at the center of the roof. The summer entrance led directly into the house and was covered with sod during the winter. The winter entrance was an underground tunnel that acted as a cold trap—people coming into the house first went down three or four steps into the tunnel (or passageway) and then back up into the house. Sod houses were quite adequate to withstand the cold, harsh climate of western Alaska, but they had no heating system—so people kept warm inside by wearing adequate clothing.
Sod houses had to be built in good, dry spots, because they were partly underground. After finding a dry spot, the builders dug down three or four feet, to create the floor of the house, but left a sleeping area elevated about two feet off the floor. Then they framed the dugout walls and the roof with driftwood. Finding the right kind of driftwood took many hours.
Once the frame was up, it was then layered with grass as insulation. Then the grass was covered with vegetated sod, consisting of blackberry and willow plants, which were extracted from the nunapik (highland area); this vegetated covering is called pakigtaat. This vegetated sod, which is about five to six inches thick, was layered over the grass, with the vegetated side down. Then the vegetation was covered with kiitaaq (sod), extracted from the ground. This sod is not mud but thick, strong brown dirt, consisting of the tangled roots of plants and grasses. It kept the rain from going into the house when laid from the bottom to top, in shingled style. Finally, any remaining cracks were covered with soft, slushy mud called kataneq.
The cooking area was often located in a sort of outside room, right off the underground- passageway, with an opening to let smoke out. This fireplace, or kenirvik, was used only for cooking and not to heat the building.
During the warmer months, water sometimes seeped up from the ground and collected inside the house. The people would say, "The water has blown up," and would dig a hole at the corner of the house so the water could collect there. As long as the houses were occupied, the water would dry up. But if no one was living in the house for a while, a lot of moisture and mildew would develop.
A lot of frost would develop on the ceiling of the house in the winter, as a result of people’s breathing. When the frost build-up became very thick, it was scraped off. In the coldest months of the year, ice bulbs formed on the floor and frost on the ceiling.
Sometimes when the weather turned milder, or a south wind developed, bringing warm, wet weather, the people would take the opportunity to get rid of the frost inside their sod houses. They first removed the ice window—or whale or walrus stomach membrane—and replaced it with wood or other material so that the heat would not escape. Then they covered up their belongings, built a stack of driftwood directly under the window, and set the driftwood on fire to remove the frost. All the frost that had built up over the winter melted, causing the whole house to become dripping wet.
When the first fire died down, they set another stack of driftwood on fire. At the end of the second fire, the frost would have totally melted and the house would be dry. This method of removing frost is called ekevkaq. When people moved to camps, where they sometimes also had sod houses, they first removed ice in this manner before moving in.
Hunting and Fishing by the Seasons
Our Cup’ik ancestors relied on their physical strength to help them survive the harsh environment. Men spent much of their time from January to October paddling qayaqs, looking for food for their families. When they were going out onto sea ice, they often carried small sleds, so they could carry and pull their qayaqs across ice if they had to. They often carried their sleds on the top of the back of the qayaq while they paddled, even during the summer. They would also sometimes pull their qayaqs across land. Using a sled prevented wear and tear on the qayaq’s cover. The sleds could also act as containers, for extra supplies or for a hunter’s catch.
Each man knew his mental and physical limits. All the hunters had to have a mental map of the land within a radius of fifty to one hundred miles of their villages. Sometimes they paddled as much as fifty miles in a single day. They took advantage of river currents. For example, if the hunters were going inland to hunt, they waited for the high tide to arrive. When they were going downriver, they used low tide currents.
Traditionally, Cup’ik hunters learned important information through stories told in the qaygiq—the men’s house (described in Lesson II). Hunters also exchanged stories out on the trail. The men used common sense to help guide them in all situations. While hunting, they always tried to avoid danger. Most men had a hunting companion, or aipaq. They planned all qayaq trips in advance and used shortcuts whenever possible. (Those shortcuts (civ’lleq), which the Cup’ik people created by making new, shorter channels linking bends in the rivers, are described in Lesson II.) Hunting parties set up in overnight camps at sites where the wood supply was plentiful. They prepared meals on open fires and enjoyed tea after each meal (as we still do today).
They brought home the game they had harvested when it became too burdensome to carry around. Families were thankful for the food, and it was a joyous time for the children, when they greeted their fathers after a long absence.
Winter was the time when fish and game was hardest to get, so the Cup’ik people concentrated on stocking up during the spring, summer, and fall. But they were able to harvest a few species of fish and game during the winter. Blackfish, for instance, were available throughout the winter and were caught in wooden traps at various sites—in the early winter in streams close to lakes and in late winter at the mouths of sloughs. Blackfish can get oxygen by forcing air through their gills. So if the people knew blackfish were in a particular place, they would cut a hole in the ice and put a basket trap a few inches below the surface; when the fish came up through the hole to gulp air, they would be caught in the trap. This method of catching fish was used in late winter (February and March). The Cup’ik name for the process of blackfish coming up for air is puget. Sticklebacks were another fish the people could sometimes get in winter. They caught stickleback in dip nets.
The families concentrated on trapping mink in early winter when the lakes and rivers became frozen. They skinned and dried mink and other fur-bearing animals. After traders arrived in the region, they began bartering the furs for household goods and clothing and sometimes guns. By the 1920s or so, a few were able to trap so many animals that they could barter for boats and motors. These first boats are called tuqtut, or slow first combustible engines. These hunters were called nukalpiat —the fortunate, skilled hunters. Today, a few people trap. Fur prices are low, and there are others ways of acquiring money—like working for wages or getting welfare benefits.
Spring Seal Hunting
The seal holds a very important place in the Cup’ik culture (as discussed in Lesson II), and spring seal hunting has been vital to the Cup’ik people for hundreds of years.
Traditional Hunts for Bearded Seals
Traditionally, the Cup’ik people gathered in camps along the Bering Sea coast in the spring (from March to about the first week of June). These spring camps were situated at the mouths of the rivers, giving hunters close access to the sea. The men used qayaqs to hunt seals; they transported the qayaqs from the villages to the hunting camps by dog team.
The men went out to hunt seals whenever the weather was favorable and calm. Long ago, before Western traders arrived in the region, our ancestors used only harpoons to hunt seals. They pursued bearded seals (which can weigh 600 pounds) while the seals slept and sunbathed on ice flows away from the shore. In their qayaqs, the hunters cautiously and quietly stalked the seals. When a hunter got close enough to a seal, he would thrust a harpoon into its body. He then quickly moved onto an ice floe to hold the line until the seal became tired, and then killed it by hitting it on the head.
The hunters pulled the dead seals onto the ice floes and removed the skin and blubber from the meat. They put that skin and blubber in the middle of the qayaq, to balance the weight of the catch. Then they cut the seal meat in pieces and evenly distributed the pieces at the front and the back of the qayaq. They kept just about everything, including the intestines and liver.
After reaching shore-fast ice, the hunters walked to their village, which was usually located within about two miles of the sea, carrying only the liver of the bearded seal. The Elders of the village would cut the liver up to eat. Young men of the village were selected to bring the rest of the catch to the household of the hunter. Then the successful hunter and his family followed the traditional Cup’ik ritual of sharing the meat and blubber with other households. Sometimes the hunter distributed all of his first catch of the season—to insure good luck in later hunts and to prove his manhood, as well as to show society he could take care of his wife and children.
Traditional Hunts for Smaller Seals
Our people traditionally used a special technique for hunting the smaller seals that feed in the river channels. As the high tide came into the channels and brought ice floes from the Bering Sea, alert hunters waited in columns. When the current turned and the ice began moving out, the men got ready for action when the low tide was evident. As the shoreline opened slowly, the hunters got ready to throw harpoons at seals that came up for air. They first checked the seals for alertness by pretending to throw their harpoons. Some seals would be too alert and dive suddenly, while others did not move and were therefore harpooned. As the harpooned seals struggled to get away, the men pulled them to the shoreline and killed them.
As the seals popped up in front of them, the hunters thrust their harpoons at stationary seals, trying to embed the harpoon tip securely in the skin and blubber. Each moment was exciting for the hunters as they waited for their turn to strike the seals. The hunters were in a column, and the one closest to the seal would have the kill. Some men were successful, while others were not. And not all hunters got a chance on each high tide; some had to wait for the next tide. Each hunt was different, and those who failed to get seals on one tide were able to try again later.
After Western traders and others began arriving in southwest Alaska, the Cup’ik hunters began using rifles instead of harpoons for seal hunting—as they still do today. They waited in their qayaqs for seals to take breaths of air near them. When the seals were in close range, the hunters shot them with high-powered rifles. They rarely missed shots, because they checked their guns and targeted them for accuracy beforehand.
Today seal hunters no longer paddle their qayaqs into the Bering Sea, and instead use boats with motors. But seal hunting remains crucial to the lives and culture of the Cup’ik people. Rendered seal oil, for example, is still used in many ways—to flavor soups and as a dip for fish, among other things.
Rules for Seal Hunting
Over the years Cup’ik hunters developed a set of rules for hunting seals in the Bering Sea—which can be calm and beautiful but which can also be treacherous for the unwary. These rules are vital for anyone who ventures onto sea ice.
1. Use a legcik when you are walking on sea ice.
The legcik is a hooked walking stick with an ice pick at the bottom, and it is a necessity for all hunters. Check for thin ice in front of you, even if you walk only a short distance. The legcik can get you out of the water if you fall in.
2. Avoid thin ice.
Dark-colored ice is thin; light-colored ice is thicker and safer. If at any time you doubt the strength of the ice, check it with a legcik.
3. When it is windy, avoid going beyond a big crack (aaquqaq) separating the shore-fast ice from the moving ice.
On calm days it is safe to go beyond cracks that separate the shore-fast ice from the moving ice—these are cracks between the deeper and shallower areas along the shore. Big cracks develop in the ice because it rises and falls when the tide moves in and out.
4. Observe all landmarks in the area—especially the icebergs —when you are
On shallow sandbars, the ice is usually heaved up. These icebergs are called evuneq (large ice that is formed in the shallow parts of the sea). You can use these landmarks to help determine where you are. Be observant everywhere you go!
5. If there is a lot of loose ice during high tide, avoid going too far out at low tide or when the blocked ice opens along the solid shoreline.
If you are going after the bearded seals when there is a lot of loose ice, go out to the deep waters. Once you catch a bearded seal, cut up the seal and go back as fast you can.
6. If ice blocks your way when you’re coming back to shore, wait for the low tide—because the ice may open up as the tide flows out.
If conditions allow you to see when the ice opens, go north to the Kokechik River. The Kokechik usually opens because of high pressure at low tide. Another place to go is Nengqirneq, which is located west of the Aprun River. As long as you get to the solid ice edge, you will be fine. Being on the solid ice edge means being out of danger. But avoid getting in the moving ice during tides, because it can be very dangerous. The moving ice can crush the qayaqs or boats used for seal hunting.
7. If you are offshore without a compass and heavy fog occurs, look for an iceberg.
Observe the iceberg by going around it. The sunny side will be light and the other side will be in shadow. The deep water is usually clear —you can look and determine the shadow side. After finding the sun's direction, move to the direction of the shore. If you have a radio, move it around until you get the best reception from the Nome area stations (KNOM or KICY), which are to the north. Once you determine the direction of Nome, west will be on your left as you face toward Nome.
8. When there is a lot of ice, do not go into the main channel of the river (kuineq) or into the mouth of a river—because of the strong currents, which may be dangerous to boats.
When there is an abundance of ice, do not go to the main channel of a river, especially during high tide. The strongest current occurs in the main channels.
9. The keys to survival in any dangerous situation are stability and clear thinking.
This is probably the most important rule. If you panic, it can kill you. Panic causes hunters to make wrong decisions. Such decisions have caused many deaths in the past. Older hunters will usually make wise decisions and young hunters should follow those decisions. If young, less experienced hunters go against the decisions of the Elders, it will often cause accidents or even deaths. Many stories of our forefathers are about such situations.
Uqiquq: Sharing of the Harvest
After the hunt, families concentrated on drying the meat of the seal. The blubber was stored in sealskin bags called caqun. The nayiq, or ringed seal, and maklak , or bearded seal, were shared among all the families. Even families who did not have fathers had their share. This sharing is called uqiquq.
The traditional sharing of the bearded seal was a ritual, involving the family of the hunter who had caught the bearded seal. It was prestigious for a man to catch a bearded seal used for this special event.
Girls of the family had a special role, giving out strips of seal blubber to others in the community. This ritual was passed down from grandmothers to mothers and then to daughters. Some of the mothers who didn’t have guidance from grandmothers would ask for help from other families. When the oil was ready, one of the family members would yell to the surrounding tents "Uqicitaaryarnariuq—It is time for the passing of the oil." (Seal oil can be in either solid form—blubber—or liquid.) All the women gathered and had joyful conversations. They would tease the eldest girl giving out the strips of blubber.
Many of the people looked forward to the delicacies from the bearded seal. Even the seal intestines were used in soups and in seal-gut raincoats. Many of our traditions and beliefs about the sea are explained in the Cup’ik Life in the Sea, that I (John Pingayak) wrote, based on information from my grandfather, Joseph Friday. The Cup’ik values about the seal can be found in the "The Boy Who Went With the Seal Bladders."
Summer Fish Camps
For hundreds of years, Cup’ik families have moved to fish camps when the herring, white fish, and salmon runs arrived in the bays and rivers of southwest Alaska, after wintering to the south. The presence of smaller sea life, such as shrimp, that the larger fish eat is made known by the diving motions of the arctic terns and the black-hooded gulls. Fishing methods and materials have changed in recent times, but fish remain an important part of the Cup’ik diet.
Traditionally, our people made dip nets and seining nets of sinew, to catch larger fish like salmon. Sinews from the backs of large mammals—like the beluga whale—were cut and dried and then spun into thin, long strings. Men and women used homemade mending tools to create nets from these strings. The seining nets were about twenty to thirty feet.
They also made hooks to catch smaller fish like tomcods, bullfish, and flounders. Women and children gathered on the banks of the river with these hooks, which were baited with fish guts or bird parts. Hooking and jigging for these smaller fish is called manaq.
The people concentrated on catching fish, although they also caught an occasional seal near these fish camps. Conversations were joyful, with children shrieking with excitement as they pulled up their fish. When they had caught plenty of fish, the women braided them with blade grass (tapernaq) and hung them to dry, to be eaten later. (This traditional practice is still used today, and the braided fish of all species drying in the sun make a picturesque sight.)
Herring run before salmon, in late April or early May. Most herring are caught near bays and mouths of rivers. Herring lay their eggs in June, before they reach the rivers, in the kelp and seaweed along the rocky banks of bays. Kokechik Bay is one such bay. There are generally three or four herring runs, with the first run high in fat. Our people prefer the second herring run, because the fish have less body fat and are easier to dry in the sun when they are caught.
Fresh herring have soft meat, and they are not cut immediately when they are caught. Instead, they are cached in fifty-pound sacks and buried to age for a few days. They are easier to cut after being buried for a while near the permafrost of the tundra. The aged herring are then slit open, and their entrails are removed before they are spread out on a wooden surface. After they dry in the sun a little, the heads of the fish are braided together into a string and then hung on racks to dry in the wind and the sun. The braided fish are turned occasionally, so all portions of the meat dry. It takes about four to six weeks to completely dry the fish. The dried fish are packed and stored in buckets or sealskin bags and preserved with seal oil for our winter diet. We also eat the fish along with seal oil. Click on image to enlarge
Preparation for Salmon Fishing
The salmon runs follow the herring runs, beginning in June. Many different species of salmon return to spawn in the rivers and bays of our region. Our people spend most of the summer in fish camps—catching, drying, and smoking fish. After July, fishing slows down and the salmon are less favorable to catch. As the salmon spawn later in the summer, their flesh becomes soft and colorless.
To prepare for the salmon runs, Cup’ik families gather wooden poles and driftwood from the beach or riverbanks close to the Bering Sea. These are for building fish drying racks and for poles for smokehouses.
The racks for drying fish are constructed of medium-size logs and long, thin poles. It can take a few days to find the right wood for the construction of the fish racks. The four corners are built with strong logs that are staked to the ground. Then the medium-size logs are suspended parallel to each other on the top of the corner logs. The thinner poles are strung vertically along the two parallel logs. Finally, four additional poles are nailed to the main poles, to reinforce the racks so they can withstand strong winds. A plastic canopy protects the fish from rain.
Today we build smokehouses mostly of plywood. Long ago, the people used small four-by-four foot framed structures for smokehouses. They built the bottom of the smokehouse of sod, and the upper part of canvas. The dried salmon were hung on the top of the smokehouse in bundles.
Catching and Processing Fish
Tevyarmiut, Qamanermiut, Cev’allrarmiut, Ukalikcirmiut, Quyungssirmiut, Amilquyugarmiut, and Nunangnerrarmiut are traditional sites of fishing camps. Fish are also caught in various other locations, but they are usually brought to these traditional fish sites for cutting and drying. The salmon are caught with set nets or subsistence commercial nets about one hundred feet long.
Members of the community respect the set net places, and set their nets only when the fish are abundant. The eddies where nets are placed have slow currents, which allow the fish to rest and feed. The nets are checked on every tide change, when the current slackens and the waters become still. Fish taken from the nets are brought to the camps, where the women and girls gut, slit, and fillet them. Then they cut the meat to the skin, starting from the fin, with cuts one to two inches apart. These cuts allow the salmon to dry faster in the sun and the wind.
Once the fish are dried enough, they are smoked until the skin is lightly golden. The types of wood used for smoking fish are cottonwood, alder, willow, and small wooden stemmed plants from the highland areas. This assortment of wood used for smoking fish is not easily accessible; it must be gathered from many different regions of the tundra.
For the smoking process, a small fire is lit in the middle of the smokehouse, and a heavier log is placed on top of the fire to smolder and create large amounts of smoke. The fire is closely watched so the smoldering log doesn’t burst into flames. Then the smokehouse is closed up, so the thick, heavy smoke penetrates the hanging fish. It is important to keep the smoke cool—so the fish is smoked but not cooked. If the smokehouse gets too hot, the fish will cook—which ruins the fish.
It takes a few years to become expert in smoking fish; it takes time to learn these skills our ancestors have been practicing for thousands of years. When the fish are done smoking, they are placed in containers with seal oil. The seal oil is added to preserve the fish, which we call pokefish or arumaarrluk. The arumaarrluk are stored for eating during the winter.
When the salmon supply is abundant, families also preserve fish by storing and aging them underground; this, too, will be eaten during winter. This type of food preservation is called cin’aq. The salmon are eaten in December through March. The aged fish have a strong smell and helps our bodies stay warm in cold weather. Small amounts are taken out of the underground cache at a time.
Sharing the Catch
When fish strike in some rivers, people can catch as many as 80 to 100 fish in a day. When families catch more than they need, they share the catch with other families that are unable to fish. This sharing of food has always been a part of our value system. We believe that if we do not share with others, the food that is given us by our Creator will no longer be available. The more we give away, the more will come back.
Whenever our children catch their first animal, we offer the catch to an Elder, to create positive energy for a good prosperous life for the children. Our Elders have sustained us with the animals they have provided, and in return, the younger generation provides for Elders. My grandfather assured me that the most powerful thing in this world is the power of the mind: the thankfulness of an Elder is good positive energy that makes our spirit pursue nourishment for our families. That is why we are told that to be successful, we must honor and respect our Elders through service to them.
After fishing season is over, families move to berry camps. The berry season is in the latter part of July and first two weeks of August. Here families do new activities that are refreshing after the long fishing season. Berry camping is called atsiyaq. These berry camps can last five to seven days out in the tundra.
Each family has its own special places to gather salmon berries (also known as bog berries). A big family can cover large areas and pick about 30 gallons of berries in one day, or 60 to 80 gallons of berries during the time they are at camp. The berries are stored in plastic bags and kept frozen.
In the old days, families stored their berries in braided bags kept in underground dugouts near the frozen permafrost. In winter, families gathered their berry containers, which were used for akutaq (ice cream). The Elders say these stored berries were just as fresh as when they were picked the summer before. Berries are highly nutritious and were historically the only fruit diet of the Cup’ik people.
Unguyaq: Gathering of Birds
Until the 1960s, Cup’ik hunters also harvested geese with a technique called unguyaq—the driving of birds. The hunters traveled to an area where emperor geese nested and raised their young. There are just a few areas where these geese concentrate. Essentially, the hunters would surround a big area where they knew the molting adults and their young were concentrated. Keeping their distance from the birds, they would carefully move in and herd the geese (which can’t fly when they’re molting) onto a lake, where they would kill the birds.
The men and boys camped overnight, away from the selected place to unguyaq. Leaders consisted of three or four Elders. Before the gathering took place, the Elders instructed young boys not to stand up on the land and made sure that everyone stayed in their boats, so the geese did not detect their presence. The leaders would discuss the best approach to the selected area.
After the Elders decided where unguyaq would take place, they chose a smart, tireless runner. They gave him directions on where to go, what to do when he got to a certain river, and when to start moving to the designated site. The first man stripped himself of his qaspeq, or outer cover of parka, then set out running in a certain direction, followed by a second man taking the same route. Then the rest of the runners followed, taking the same route. Each man was carefully briefed before leaving.
At a certain point, another set of men and boys were transported by boat and dropped off at even intervals, to wait for the lead runner. When the first runner saw the waiting hunters, a leader would signal with his hands for everyone to form a large circle and start walking toward the center, as instructed earlier by the Elders.
All the men walked toward a prescribed destination, herding— or rounding-up—the birds onto a lake. As the circle of men became smaller, birds by the hundreds were herded onto the lake. Elders closely watched to make sure birds did not run outside the circle. If there were any gaps in the circle, Elders gave instructions for closing the gaps. When the birds were on the lake, the hunters killed them and the boys gathered the dead birds. The birds were sorted into piles, with adult birds on one pile and the young birds on the other. Then they were distributed to the men who had participated and all the families.
The Elders recall that they used to catch birds by the boatloads during these gatherings. They also said that sometimes the number of birds being herded to the center might appear large but become small after they had been gathered and distributed. The Elders would then say, "The ircinrraqs have taken some of them." The ircinrraqs are legendary little people of the underground, who roam the tundra and are not seen often. Many villages in our region have stories of ircinrraqs, portraying them as supernatural people of the tundra. (See Lesson IV for discussions of supernatural beings.)
Today the unguyaq is no longer practiced, because of the decrease in populations of different species of birds. The waterfowl are now managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has a cooperative management plan with the Waterfowl Conservation Committee of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP).
From Camp to Village
The families subsisted and remained at their favorite places until September or October, when they moved back to their permanent villages for the winter. Then, as described in Lesson II, there would be several important festivals before the winter solstice on December 21. And the cycle of the seasons continued.