Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Effie Kokrine
Effie Kokrine
Effie Kokrine talks about life on the Tanana River.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-04-02

Project: Fairbanks Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Mar 2, 1996
Narrator(s): Effie Kokrine
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.

Sections

Effie describes her half-breed heritage

Childhood on the Tanana and Yukon Rivers

Traveling along the river, and the dangers of it

Always in fascination of the river

Praying to and respecting nature

Making use of every material

The rivers sustain mental and physical health

Effie explains the meaning of several river's names in Athabascan

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.

Transcript



And I was born from two half-breeds. My father was a half-breed, and his father came over from California and came into Alaska,

and my other grandfather was a white man, and he came from Philadelphia or someplace, and then he came and married the Indians. And so my both parents were half-breeds.

And half-breeds at that time were, were not common where I come from. And so they were just like, they didn't belong to the Indians, and they didn't belong to the White, so they were sort of classified as something that just like you don't respect or something.

So it was sort of difficult for them. So my father was picked for my mother and the two half-breeds married. And then I became the half-breed, too.

So my life as a child was on the Tanana River, where we fished in the summer time and my father, you know, had done all the things and he freighted up the Fish Creek.

It’s a creek running off the Tanana River that leads up to Fish Lake. And there was a mining camp up there, American Dredge Mining Company. So he freighted up the river there, on that little, little creek that’s so crooked, sometimes he had to jackknife the boat to get around curves.

And then at the age of sixteen, I married a man that was from the Yukon River. So I was brought up on the Tanana River, and went into the Yukon River which was very fascinating, because the Tanana River was sand bank, the sandbars weren't safe to play on the beach, so we never got to play with the water.

Just the puddles that accumulated on the sandbars. And the banks were so steep and so not safe for children, so we never got to play near the water.

But this Yukon River, the beaches were nice and graveled, and there... sometimes it tapers out slow, you can walk out there. Sometimes it's deep, sometimes there’s big rocks, but the river was very just...Well, I was sixteen when I got married, and it was all new to me.

And it was sort of fascinating. And we went up in the fall time, it was October when we got married, so we went up in the fall time, and we got settled and we sent our boat back to Tanana where the ice was starting to form.

So we were up there with the dog team, just our dogs, and we didn't come back to Tanana until Christmas and which is, we followed the river back down. It was water when we went up there, and winter when we come back.

So the Yukon River, I had so much to learn, but in those days I didn't question why we done things. We just done things because our life, that was our livelihood.

We went according to the weather, we done things according to the weather, and ah, my fifteen minutes will be up before I know it, and I wanted to talk about further up the river in the spring time in April.

There was a lot of snow one year. And we went up the river in a dog sled, and we had a hard time because sometimes the days were warm like this, we had to wait and travel during the night.

Anyway, we got to Stevens Village, and from there we went up to um, the Martin's Slough, and that’s as far as we could go, because there was too much water on the road.

There again we stopped by the creek, and um, then we stayed there until spring time and then when it was time to come back in the end of May, my husband and them built a raft.

Big enough that they'd come down Martin's Slough, and into the Yukon River. So our transportation was by a raft, on the river where we came up with dogs.

And then we went down and oh, the water was just churning and going through the brushes and everything, and I was just thinking how fascinating, you know. But I left it to the men, I wasn't scared, I just trust my husband to paddle the raft in the main channel

and we got by that island where the water was just churning and we went to Stevens Village.

Stevens’ Village was under water. So we tied our raft behind the house. I don't know how we secured it, but it was by a cache and a house, and we left our dogs on the raft, and we moved into this cabin, the cache.

So we slept in the cache and to go to the bathroom, there’s one little spot way up there where people have their dogs and everything on the little ground, because it was flooded.

And we went there to go the bathroom, and then we get wood and we have this little stove, and we cook on there until the wind died down. Because when you’re on the river, you have to do things according to the weather.

When the wind is blowing, you do not travel. When its calm, then you go ahead and travel, and take advantage of the good weather. So we stayed there about a week, and then we started down, we left Steven's Village.

And were just on the raft, and our kids behaved themselves, the dogs behaved themselves. There was the dogs tied on the one end, and we were on one end, and we had the Yukon Stove in the middle where we cut wood, and cook, and we started down the river.

And I didn't know it then, but we were coming to a bluff, we came around the bend, and there was a bluff there. And the water was just churning, and the water was just swift going down that bluff.

And right now I find out that it was that bluff right below that bridge. There’s a bridge right here, and there’s a bluff right there, and that’s the bluff that I remember the most in our raft. But I just trusted completely, put my trust in the raft and my husband, and they had a sweeper that went around.

And then I was telling my mother about it, because it was so fascinating, the powers of that water. And then she says, "Oh my God," she said, "how dangerous. How could you subject my grandchild to something like that?"

Well, I didn't know it was dangerous, I just took life just as it was. And then my life on the Yukon River was very, very educational, and I learned to respect the mountains. When you're lonesome, you look at the mountains.

And I was lonesome a lot, because we were just isolated there. I look at the mountains, and the river, and I got a lot of strength from that mountain.

And later on when my troubled time began, I look at that mountain and pray to it for strength, for guidance. I prayed for that mountain just before my husband died.

We were on the river again after he worked in Fairbanks with construction and then ah, after they built Ladd Field, he was a carpenter and he worked around town. And then in '74 he retired and we went back to the river,

because the river just keep calling us, beconing us, you know, this is where you belong. And we went back over there, and we stayed there, the fourth summer was the last summer, and I went down to the creek...

And there was another creek that we used for our fishnet, we put our fishnet in the mouth, first thing in the spring time, and then the river, and I remember just like it was a shrine, just like it was a temple.

I prayed to the river, I prayed to that mountain for strength. And I think I got it.

And um, so the mountain and the river doesn't only give us transportation, our fish in the summer, roads in the winter, and ah, it gives us driftwood in the spring time, and in the fall time you go up the river and catch driftwood

and make a raft and haul it down, and you come to the camp and you put your dry fish and your dogs or whatever and make a raft, and go down Tanana. And with that raft of wood, the driftwood that you pick along the beach, is our wood for the winter.

So we are accomplishing something. Wood for the winter, and it carried us down just like a barge.

And ah, it's ah, it's just ah, something that you look up to, you have to respect the weather. You have to respect the water, the force of the water. The water has caused a lot of grief, but it also brought a lot of pleasure to people.

Right now, when you're on the Yukon River, you'll see people sit on the bank, or just stand on the bank, and look up the river, or look down the river. Wintertime you'll see a sandstorm way up there, you know its blowing on the Tanana River.

In the summer time, you look up, and the tranquility of the water just like it hypnotize you, and you get so much strength and satisfaction out of just coming to the bank and just watching the river, watching the water flow by.

And I didn't know how important that water was for my being, until I moved to Fairbanks. Then I felt suffocated. I go down to look at the Chena River, oh, that’s disgusting.

It doesn't give me the satisfaction of being on the river. But after I was here about 10, 20 years, the Chena River looked pretty good. When you see the ice flowing, it just, it just do something to you. Or when you see a driftwood floating down, it just ah, gives you.

I don't know what, how to describe it, but anyways, the river to me is something that the Yukon River people, all the people up and down the river, have great pride in our river and what we can do with it, and what it can do for us.

Is my 15 minutes up yet? No, oh. And so the river meant a lot to me. In wintertime, it freezes over.

And people can, we don’t do that too much in Tanana, like go ice-fishing, people build a hold in the ice, and they can go ice-fishing and have fresh fish in the wintertime,

and then it's the freezes over, we used to drive dogs all the way up the Yukon River, all the way up the Tanana River. Just follow the river.

So we have just like natural river, I mean trail, except we have to break it. And Tinana was...

Tanana River was called "Tinana" that means the water of the trail. Because the trail used to, you know, follow the bank and all the way up people used to walk from Tanana to Nenana to Minto or to Steven's Village, they used to walk all over.

They used to walk to Wiseman before they had dogs, before they had airplanes, and they used to walk by foot.

So the Tinana is, "Ti" means the trail, and "na" means the river. So that’s how Tanana got its name. They modernized it to sound good.

And ah, but the Natives still call it "Tinana". The Yukon River, the Yukon, Yukon is "Yukena." I don’t know what the word "Yukena" means, but I believe it's, it means a large one, or the big one, or something. Pauline, do you know what "Yukena" means?

Yea, but I just feel like it means the big body of water, the big one, and the "na" means the water. "Yukena" because all the names in the interior I think ends with "na." Chena, Tanana, or Tinana, Minto was Minta, and so the, the "na" at the end of these words meant water.

Like a creek or something. And ah, "eschalket" means a creek, that’s where I was raised, was a creek, it's called a "eschalket" but ah, nowadays we just lost the meaning of the words why these,

like Chena is still the Chena, but Tanana is modernized, and ah, I don't know, I think I’d better leave something for somebody else to... And if you want I can come back later.