based on the early childhood of
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Most Alaskans today live in cities. But this is not the way it has always been. One hundred years ago, Alaska had no big cities. It had a few small towns, but most of the people did not live in those towns. One hundred years ago, most Alaskans lived off the land. They lived in small villages or fishcamps. They moved around with the seasons. During the summer, they fished. In the fall, they hunted land animals. In the winter they hunted and fished through the ice. In the spring, they often went hungry.
Today, most Alaskans have moved here from another place. Some came from another state. Others came from another country. But this is not they way it has always been. One hundred years ago, most people who lived in Alaska had always lived here. Their parents and grandparents had always lived here. All the ancestors they could remember had always lived here.
These people, called "Alaska Natives" (because they are native to, or come from, Alaska), were not all the same. There were Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts. They spoke different languages. They lived in different kinds of houses. They wore different clothes. Their children played different games. But they all lived off the land.
One group of Natives lived in a spot you will be studying. This spot is on the coast. It is next to a river. It is near mountains. The spot is called Unalakleet (you' na la kleet). It was the home of one group of Eskimo people.
These people spoke a language called "Inupiaq" (in you' pee ahk). Inupiaq is one of four Eskimo languages spoken in Alaska. These Inupiaq speakers had friends and relatives in other Inupiaq villages. They also had friends and relatives in Yupik (you' pik) villages. In fact, Unalakleet was on the border between Inupiaq speakers and Yupik speakers.
You will learn about the people of Unalakleet. You will learn about those who lived there long ago. You will also learn about those who live there today. And you will see what it is like to live in another part of Alaska.
Long ago, people found a spot on the coast that was a perfect place to stay. Since it was on the sea, they could travel to other places when they wanted. Since it was also on a river, they could also travel up the river toward the forest and mountains. This spot was also a good one because many animals lived nearby. This meant food and clothing could be gotten.
These people lived five hundred years ago. They probably traveled from up north in big skin-covered boats called umiaks (oo' mee acks). When they first came to the new spot, they may have noticed some strange bumps in the ground. If they looked carefully, they saw that these bumps, with grass growing on them, were squares or rectangles. These were all that were left of houses which ancient people had built. This spot had been someone else's home two thousand years ago.
The new settlers did not build their houses on the bumps. Instead, they decided to stay on a finger of land just south of the river. These people spoke Inupiaq. They named their community "Ungalaklik" (oong'ah la kleek). It means "south side."
The people of Ungalaklik hunted, fished, and picked berries. They learned to use many of the plants and animals around them. They traveled on the sea or the river when they couldn't find what they wanted nearby.
These people were often visited by others. Some of the visitors were friendly, others were not. Yupik speaking people came up from the south to trade, and some settled there. Indian people came from the east and sometimes traded, sometimes fought wars with the people of Ungalaklik.
One time, long ago, there was a very bad battle between these people and the Indians. No one remembers what the war was about, but many people were killed. The Indians fled back up the river to their homes.
The sister of Ungalaklik's headman was on the battleground afterward. She was sadly thinking of the war when she heard a cough. She looked around and could see no one, but heard the cough again. She followed the sound until she found a little seven-year-old Indian boy. He was huddled under a tree.
The woman, Masu, took the little boy home. Because she was not married and had no children, she was glad to have a child. She adopted him and taught him to speak Inupiaq. Her brother taught him to hunt in the Eskimo way.
As the boy grew, he became strong and wise. When his uncle died, Nulthkutuk, as he was called, became headman of Ungalaklik. In this way, an Indian boy became a great Eskimo leader.
The people of Ungalaklik lived for many years in this way. Then, other settlers started to come to their home. These were not Yupik or Indian. They were Russians who had come from across the sea. The Russians built a trading post near the community. They brought metal pots and tea and beads. They also brought sickness.
About 150 years ago, one terrible sickness, smallpox, swept through Ungalaklik. Almost everyone died. Only one small family remained alive. The husband and wife decided to leave their old village with its graves and sad memories. They moved across the river, to the north shore of its mouth. Other people moved to the area and built their homes there. The town is still there today.
The Russians left this area when Alaska was sold to the United States. Then new people came. First, came a missionary, a man who taught other people about his religion. He built a church and an orphanage. The people of Ungalaklik had their own religion, but they did not mind having a new settler in town. Many of them began to follow the new religion. Today, the church is an important part of life in Unalakleet.
The missionaries spoke English and taught it to some of the children. Ungalaklik had gone from a town where Inupiaq alone was spoken to one where Inupiaq, Yupik, Russian, and English had been spoken.
The next group of people to come were Lapps from Finland. These people made a living by herding reindeer. Herds of reindeer had been brought to Alaska for food and furs. The Eskimo men and women had always hunted, but they did not know about herding. Lapp herders came to teach them. Many of the Eskimos became expert herders, and many of the Lapps stayed. The Sami language, the language of the Lapps, was added to those spoken at Ungalaklik.
With the missionaries had come schools. With the schools had come a new way of learning, by reading. The English-speaking teachers tried to write down some of the Inupiaq words. One of those words was the name of the town. Because Inupiaq is hard for English speakers to understand, they did not get the name quite right. They wrote "Unalakleet." This is still the way the town's name is spelled.
In my mind, I can still see myself as I was when I was a little girl. I had on a warm sweater and a cotton kuspuk. On my head was a cotton scarf. I sat in the back of our long, open river boat. My parents and seven brothers were on the boat, too. We were all squeezed in along with lots of gear. We had with us everything we would need for the whole summer. We were heading for fishcamp.
Our boat chugged slowly up the Unalakleet River. It went from left to right, following the deep part of the river. We had lots of time to study the willows and other trees along the way. We looked at good berry-picking places as we passed them. We also noticed the places along the river where parts of the steep bank had washed away. It left a cliff-like bank at the river's edge.
After a day or two of heading upriver, we finally reached fishcamp. We looked for long poles for tent frames and pegs to hold the strings on the side of the tent. The empty fish racks were just as we had left them last year. We all piled out onto the gravel beach and started to unload the boat. Everyone started working. We had to put up the canvas tent. We had to carry our gear to its proper places. We had to gather wood for fires. There were a million little jobs to do before fishcamp could be called home.
When I think of it I guess I was a little spoiled. I don't remember the work at fishcamp as much as the play. I loved playing house, marbles, and hopscotch. Being the only girl in our family sometimes made my life easy!
Just about every family in Unalakleet had a fishcamp. They all went upriver during the summer. One of our most important foods was fish. If a family didn't go to fishcamp in summer, they would not have enough food during the cold winter. Other foods such as berries and greens were also gathered in season.
The fishcamp I used to go to as a little girl was started by my dad. He built the tent frames and the fish racks. Usually, some other families came to our fishcamp to spend the summer with us. I liked that, because it meant I had other girls to play with.
In the summer we used nets to get the fish. One end of a long net was staked close to shore on our side of the river. The rest of the net was in front of a boat. My dad drove slowly across the river, letting out the net into the water. When it was stretched as far as it would go, he anchored it at the far end. Fish, swimming upriver, got caught in the net. At the end of the day or early the next morning, Dad went out to gather the fish in. Fish were tangled in the net and some were squirming around. Dad had to keep the net tangle-free for the next day's fishing.
More work had to be done. The fish needed to be cleaned, cut and either dried or smoked. Women and older girls usually did that job. We kids had to tend the fire. Smoke kept the bugs away from the fish. Also, we looked out for a bird known as a camp robber. He loved to eat hanging fish.
People still go to fishcamps today. It's not too different, except people don't camp for the whole summer. They go for short trips and then come back to town.
Unalakleet is a good place to be a little girl. We kids spent all our play time outdoors, unless there was a real blizzard. We only came indoors to eat and sleep. In the winter, the thing I liked best was sledding on cartons, paper, tin sheets, or sleds.
When we didn't have chores to do, or school to go to, the kids were given the freedom to play the way we wanted. Our parents didn't have to worry about us. There were always grown-ups around. Everyone knew everyone else, and all the grown-ups watched all the kids. I remember one of the councilmen, or leaders. He used to make sure all the kids were inside by nighttime. He would chase us with a stick to get us in! He never hit anyone with it, but it scared us enough to make us obey.
Like children today, we spent lots of time in school. When I was little, all the kids in grades K 3 were together in one classroom. The kids in grades 4, 5, and 6 were in another. We learned from the same books as the kids in the Lower 48. A lot of the things in the books seemed strange. It would have been nice to read stories about places like Unalakleet. Instead, we read about farms and cities. But, I liked school because I had some very good teachers.
The church was another important part of our town. As a church, we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Children's Day. The church also ran a high school. Unless you went away from home to boarding school, you went to the church high school. It was a good school. Lots of graduates have gone on to college and returned to the village to work.
Besides playing, school work, and church activities, we had another very important task. We had to get food.
Our fish from summer fishcamp made up many of our meals. In the winter, we fished for tomcod through the ice. We used our jigging sticks. We also hunted. Sometimes people think that only boys know how to hunt. That wasn't true in Unalakleet. There have been some very good women hunters in our village.
Bear and moose were often hunted. Men trapped some animals, such as fox and lynx, for their fur. They sold the fur and used the money to buy gear or food. In the fall, ducks were hunted. But of all the animals we hunted, the seal was the most important.
The best times to hunt seals are spring and fall. The seals are migrating at those times, and many are in Norton Sound, the part of the sea that is next to Unalakleet. Seals will bask on ice floes, where they can be shot from a boat. Because they have so much fat on their bodies, they float for a time after they are shot. This gives the hunter time to get them before they sink.
Seals are important because we make so many things from them. For instance, seal oil is very good and is good for you. Boiled seal meat is also good. Seal fur is stretched over a frame and is used to make very warm clothing. And finally, the hide can be made into a watertight poke. This is a big bag, made out of the whole skin. It is a good storage bag for food and oil, or it can be made into a float.
Ask just about anyone in Unalakleet the best way to get to Unalakleet, and you will be told, "Airplane!"
This was not always true, of course.
TRAVEL LONG AGO
In the old days, people traveled on the water, both the sea and river. And they traveled on the land, down trails they had made.
The first settlers probably came in the large skin-covered boats called umiaks. When they traveled on the river, they probably went in smaller boats called kayaks.
In those days, people also walked a lot, and in the winter they went far on snowshoes. Dogsleds were also useful for traveling quickly in the winter.
Since many Yupiks and Indians traded with people in Unalakleet, they kept trails clear year-round. One led from Indian country, over a mountain pass, and down the Unalakleet River. This trail later became part of the Iditarod Trail. Today it is still used in the Iditarod sled dog race between Anchorage and Nome. It and other trails are also used as snowmobile trails.
When missionaries came to Unalakleet, they came by ship. One of the things they brought was the idea of schools. Although the Unalakleet children had to learn a lot to prepare them to be adults, they had not learned in schools before then. They had learned from their parents and grandparents. But with the missionaries came schools.
The schools needed supplies. The teachers, who were not used to eating fish and seal, wanted other foods. At the same time, the Inupiaq people came to enjoy white man's food. The United States government brought those foods and other goods to Unalakleet by ship.
The ship was called the North Star. It came once a year from Seattle. The ship stopped at many villages on its way up the coast of Alaska. It usually got to Unalakleet in June, July, August, or September. The children loved it when its captain, Captain Moe, was in the village. He brought candy. Every child got some. It was like finding a secret hiding place with lots of Easter eggs.
The ship left Unalakleet after everything was unloaded. Then it went up further north until it reached Barrow. It turned around there, and headed south. The captain knew it had to get out of Alaskan waters before the sea froze solid for the winter.
The North Star III still travels to Unalakleet once a year. But now it is not the only way to get here. Most supplies are shipped on other barges owned by Alaskans.
Another important water vehicle nowadays is the river boat. It has a long, flat bottom and a good motor. Riverboats can carry everything people need to take to fishcamp. The boats don't get stuck in shallow places in the river.
People also have many sizes of boats for fishing in Norton Sound. These are bigger, sturdier boats. They have to stand up to rough seas and strong winds.
People also travel on land nowadays. When they are going a short way, they go by snowmobile. People also travel from village to village by snowmobile. Trappers use snowmobiles to run their traplines. These vehicles let a trapper do the whole trapline in one or two days. By dogsled, it would take him a week. The main problems with snowmoblies are easy to guess: They can't eat fish, so owners need money to "feed" them gasoline. And, they break down.
There are roads in Unalakleet, and people have trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles to go on them. But there are no roads to Unalakleet. From Anchorage to Unalakleet it is 400 miles. A straight road between the two would go over several mountain ranges and across rivers. It would cost more than one million dollars a mile to build.
So, today, most people choose to travel the third way: by airplane. There is jet service to Anchorage three days a week. Also, many small planes fly to villages and cities close by. Just about every day that the weather is good, someone is flying in or out of town.
Long ago, the people of Unalakleet used the animals and plants around them. These lists will tell you which resources were used. It will also tell you what the people used them for.
Most animals were eaten for food. Animals were also useful because their bones were made into tools which were used to get food. For instance, caribou antlers were made into arrowheads. Walrus tusks were made into harpoon heads. Moose bones were made into many different tools.
These resources were eaten:
These resources were made into tools which were used to get or prepare food:
Seal: oil for cooking, bones for tools, skin for seal poke
Grass (baskets for storage)
Birch, spruce, aspen (all woods were used in making spears, arrowheads, and other tools)
Willow (the roots were woven to make fishnets)
Moose (bones for tools)
Caribou (bones for tools)
Walrus tusks (made into many kinds of tools)
Beluga whale (The ribs were used to hold up roofs. The gut was stretch and used as a window.)
Birch (driftwood logs were used)
Spruce (driftwood logs were used)
Aspen (driftwood logs were used)
Grass (The roots and dirt that is around them are called "sod." Houses were covered with sod to keep the warmth in.)
Seal (the oil was burned in lamps for light and warmth)
Birch (for sleds and snowshoes)
Caribou (the strings on snowshoes came from caribou)
Seal skin or walrus skin (skin boat covers)
Dogs (carried packs or pulled sleds)
Walrus (the tusks were made into sled runners)
Spruce (the gum was used as a kind of glue on kayaks)
Grass (It was woven into socks. These kept feet dry inside boots.)
Reindeer moss (lichen). It was used as diapers.
Goose (Their skins were made into clothes. Also their wing bones were made into needles to sew clothes.)
Caribou (The skins were used. Also the leg bones were made into skin scrapers to get rid of blood and fat on the skin.)
Moose (for clothes and scrapers)
Ducks (clothes and needles)
Loon (clothes and needles)
Puffin (clothes from the skins, decoration from the bills)
Salmon (fish skin boots)
Arctic ground squirrel
Arctic hare (blankets)
Today, every family in Unalakleet gets some of its food in stores. This food is brought to Unalakleet from somewhere else. It is called imported food. But just about everybody gets food in other ways, too. People hunt, fish, or grow food. This is locally-produced food. It is what people mean when they talk about subsistence food.
If we put all the things together that we need to get food in Unalakleet, a family's "food bucket" might contain the following things:
1. GUN. People hunt for many things: moose, caribou, seals, ptarmigan. A child usually gets his first gun when he is from 10 to 12 years old.
2. SEINE NET. (pronounced "sane") Seine nets are used in both the river and the ocean. The fishermen let the net out in a circle in the water. Then they pull the two ends together, like pulling the drawstrings on a purse. The fish are trapped inside the seine net. The net is brought to a shallow shore, and the fish are picked out and put into bundles. The catch is divided amongst those who did the seining. Much of the fish is sold to fish buyers, rather than eaten by the family.
3. GILL NET. Families also use gill nets. They are used in the ocean and in the river. They are different from seine nets because they are anchored in place, instead of being pulled along behind the boat. Fish swim against the nets and get their gills caught in them. The holes, or mesh, are different sizes for different sizes of fish.
4. FISH TRAP. In the winter a family will fish under the ice in the river. The father digs a hole through the ice. He puts the trap down into the water. Fish swim into it and are caught. The ice freezes over the trap sometimes, and the man has to dig it out again. It's hard work, but it's nice to have fresh fish.
5. JIGGING STICK. Tomcod, trout, and smelt are fish that will strike at almost anything that moves. A person makes a hole in the ice. She drops a line and hook into the hole and jiggles it up and down. The fish bites, and she pulls it out. She wraps the line around the jig stick as she pulls the fish up.
6. TRAPS AND SNARES. We get some of our meat by trapping and snaring. Even kids can set a rabbit snare. Just find a rabbit trail. Find a place where the trail comes out of the bushes. Hang a snare on the bush, and wait for the rabbits to come through. Other animals that are trapped are foxes, marten, mink, and lynx.
7. TROWEL OR SHOVEL. We have gardens in the summer. People grow potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, cabbage and lettuce.
8. BUCKET. We gather berries in the summer, starting in mid-July while we are at fishcamp. We get salmonberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, currants, and rosehips
9. MONEY. We have two general stores and a candy shop in Unalakleet. People buy things like flour, sugar, coffee, tea, and milk from the store. Canned fruits and vegetables and bread also come from the stores. Some of our meat comes from the stores, too.
10. BOAT. A family needs a boat to travel to fishcamp and to the berry-growing places. A boat also allows people to fish in Norton Sound. It is used for seal hunting, too.
11. SNOWMACHINE. Winter hunting and trapping are done away from town. The best way to get to the places where those animals live is by snowmachine. A person could walk, but then there would be no way to carry the meat back. Or a person could go by dogsled. There are many dog teams in Unalakleet used for racing and trapping.
Today, people in Unalakleet live in either log houses or what are called "frame houses." These are wooden houses with frames made of thick wooden beams. The picture on the opposite page shows a house plan for a frame house.
In the winter, most people use propane or heating oil to heat their houses. They buy it and have it brought to Unalakleet by plane or boat. The round heating stove in the picture heats the whole house. But something besides fuel is needed to keep the house warm. That is insulation. Fiberglass insulation is used in most homes in Unalakleet. It is pink or yellow and thick and looks like cotton candy. It is placed between the inside and the outside walls of the house.
Windows are also insulated. They are made of two panes of glass, with a little bit of space between them. This space acts to keep warm air in and cold air out, like the fiberglass.
House Plan - Modern Unalakleet
B. OLD DAYS
Unalakleet is a very old village. Eskimos lived here long before there were frame houses or fiberglass. Yet, their homes were warm even in winter.
There are no trees in Unalakleet. There are trees up the Unalakleet River, though. Also, large driftwood logs often wash up on the shore. So, the people could get wood to use as the support beams for their houses. The beams were stuck in holes in the ground. They were covered with wooden boards cut from driftwood. Those boards were then covered with sod. Sod, which is a thick mat of dirt and plants and plant roots, was a good insulator. It kept in the warm air. It kept out the cold air.
The houses were warm for another reason. They were split-level houses. That is, they were built halfway underground and halfway above ground. There were no drafts coming up from the floor. There were not drafts coming in the doorway either. The door was at the end of a long tunnel that was below the level of the house floor. Since cold air sinks, the cold air stayed in the tunnel and did not come up into the house.
Another thing that kept the houses warm was the lack of windows. Warm air escapes from windows, even when they're closed. In the old houses, there was only one window. It was made of walrus or seal gut. It was not clear, so people did not use it to see out of. Instead, they used it to let light in. They could also open it a little and use it as a smokehole to let smoke escape.
HOUSE PLAN - OLD-STYLE UNALAKLEET
The houses were heated using seal oil. Stone lamps, shaped like shallow bowls, held the oil. Because the houses were so well insulated with sod, one lamp was enough to keep the inside warm.
Today there are three kinds of buildings in Unalakleet. They are private, public, and, commercial.
PRIVATE BUILDINGS. Most private homes in Unalakleet have one family living in them, including parents and their children. Sometimes a grandparent lives with the family. Churches are also private, since they are owned by someone (or a group of people) but not by everyone.
PUBLIC BUILDINGS. Public buildings are built for everyone in the community to use. "Public" means "for the use of all." These include the city jail, the fire station, schools, the post office, health clinics, the water pump, and some buildings which belong to the United States Government but are not used any more.
COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS. Commercial buildings are owned by people who are in business to make money. Examples of commercial buildings are stores and trading posts, fish plants where fish are cleaned and frozen so they can be sold, a lodge for out-of-town visitors, and airline buildings.
Now you know what natural resources Unalakleet has. You know that in the old days, people got all they needed from those resources. They hunted, fished, and gathered. But today life is different. You have seen what kinds of buildings and businesses there are. So, you probably have guessed how most people in Unalakleet make a living today.
In Anchorage, making a living means having a job and earning money. With this money, a person buys food, clothes, and shelter.
SUBSISTENCE OCCUPATIONS. In Unalakleet, some of a person's living can still be done with very little money, in the old way. This is the subsistence living you have learned about. A person needs money to buy a boat, gasoline, and nets for fishing. But once he or she buys them, the only costs for fish are hard work, skill, and time. So, some people make part of their living doing subsistence activities.
EXPORT OCCUPATIONS. Other people catch or gather some of the resources and sell them. If they sell them to people outside of Unalakleet, they are in export occupations. Many people who fish catch many more fish then they can eat themselves. They sell the ones they won't use. Trappers are also in an export occupation. They keep some of their furs to make clothes. Most of them are sold, though.
IMPORT OCCUPATIONS. A third group of people takes care of the goods that come into Unalakleet from other places. These people are in import occupations. Two examples of import occupations are airline workers and store workers.
The subsistence, export, and import workers all have one thing in common: They all take care of goods.
SERVICE OCCUPATIONS. Some people don't deal with goods (food, clothing, or houses) in their work. They take care of other needs. These people are in service occupations. That means they serve or help people. They might help keep order in town, as the state trooper does. Or they might teach children. Or they might make sure the mail gets delivered.
Like other cities and towns, Unalakleet needs many people to do different jobs. People who are very good at doing one thing can spend most of their time doing it. Others who have different skills do different jobs. All can sell their goods or their skills. They can buy the other things they need.
The different people in Unalakleet need each other. They like having so many different people who speak so many different languages, and they like having people with different skills and talents helping each other.