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Ruth Sandvik

Ruth Sandvik: Interview Outline: Section 8

Yearly subsistence cycle

Tape Reference Number: H2002-09-11
Ruth Blankenship-Sandvik talks with Bill Schneider and Eileen Devinney in Kiana, Alaska on February 28, 2002.

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Bill Schneider: Let's go through a yearly cycle, if you would, with us, in the old days when you first began to remember being here.

Ruth Sandvik: Okay.

Bill Schneider: So you would have been about 7 or 8?

Ruth Sandvik: About 6. Uh-huh.

Bill Schneider: 6. Okay.

Ruth Sandvik: So every spring, somewhere in April, the last part of April, we would -- everyone in the village would select a certain place to hunt muskrats. My mother always enjoyed hunting muskrats. So you take your tent and your -- your food up into a certain area that -- that you decide to camp in, around lakes preferably. Some people went downriver. Some people went up Squirrel River (map). Some people went down across from Kobuk -- across from Okok Point (map).

And generally you were there for two or three weeks. And you were there until the ice went out. You'd go -- you'd take a boat up. And so you would hunt muskrats in the lakes there. And you -- and as they -- the river, as the little sloughs would melt, you could put a net there so you would have fresh fish. And then when the river cleared up, you would load up all your -- all your gear and then come back down to the village.

And then shortly thereafter, you'd go down to another slough to fish for -- for whitefish. And so that would last for two or three weeks, and then back to the -- back up here to the village to wait for the salmon. And then when the salmon came, then you seined all summer. Salmon and sheefish and whatever. And -- and most of this was to be dried. Dried and put away. We participated in that. So fall time, you pretty much remained in the village. But there were no caribou at that time. I didn't grow up with caribou.

In fact, my father had the mail contract and he took mail up from Kotzebue clear up to the -- clear up to the village of Kobuk. And I don't ever recall seeing a caribou on -- on the trip all the way up there. You know, they -- caribou had different migration routes.

And so if the -- the more ambitious people or the people who had the dogs and enough -- enough food to take them up to the Noatak area would go up there to hunt caribou, and that -- that's where I wish you would get Johnson Black to tell him his -- about his first hunt with his uncle and then two others. That's quite -- quite interesting how the older people advised him on how to -- what to do, go up and find the -- find the caribou.

And they took just basics. I mean, absolutely basics. They had a pot. And he mentioned after they killed these, I think there were 12 or 16 caribou, they put a bunch of choice -- of choice parts in the pot and he said, boy -- and even today, and it must have been 40 years ago or maybe 50 years ago, he said, "boy, did we eat." You know, they were -- they had not had meat and...

Bill Schneider: So they were ready.

Ruth Sandvik: They were ready. So I recall a number of men who went up into the Noatak to hunt for -- for caribou.

Bill Schneider: Uh-hum.

Ruth Sandvik: And they -- and that was hard work. Some of them only had five dogs. And they stashed them en route, somewhere between here and Noatak, I mean, they would bring them -- they would stash -- they would make several trips to stash them near Kiana (map), and then go back and get them and haul them in, haul the caribou in.

Bill Schneider: So that would be fall part?

Ruth Sandvik: No, this would be winter.

Bill Schneider: Be winter. Okay.

Ruth Sandvik: Fall time they came to go -- it's time to settle in and then, you know, ice fishing under the -- that was the other thing. You'd fish under the ice and they got gobs of fish. Fish traps. We had fish traps, mudshark -- mudshark traps and ling cod is what you call them over in Fairbanks, or burbot. Right. That was -- that was a pretty choice fish. And they -- they got tons of whitefish. And -- which pretty much took care of them for the whole winter. I mean, it was that -- I mean, that was their protein.

And so when they wanted meat, it was either going to -- going out for rabbits, and they would -- they had kind of a unique way of -- of hunting rabbits. They would have -- did any of them explain that to you? They would --

Bill Schneider: The driving rabbits?

Ruth Sandvik: The driving, driving rabbits? Yeah.

Eileen Devinney: He just mentioned it. They described it a little bit, Leo did. [Leo Jackson]

Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. Men would walk through the brush and they would have a shooter here, now my cousin, excelled there, because he was a very, very good shot. So they always had him as -- as a gunman. And so if you didn't have rabbits, then you tried to look for caribou up in the Kobuk.

Bill Schneider: Yeah.

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