Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Bruce Nukapigak, Translation 1

Bruce Nukapigak was interviewed on July 12, 1978 by Kenneth Toovak in Barrow, Alaska for a project related to potential oil development of the Alaskan continental shelf. The original interview was in Inupiaq. The interview was first translated in 1979 by Molly Pederson and appears in the Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979, p. A-II-30). The interview was translated a second time in January 2014 by Muriel Hopson and appears below synced with the Inupiaq audio. In this project, it is known as Bruce Nukapigak, Translation 1. The interview was translated a third time in August 2014 by Ronald H. Brower, Sr. and appears in this project as Bruce Nukapigak, Translation 2.

In this interview, Bruce talks about sea ice conditions on the northern Beaufort Sea coast, in particular around Barter Island, Cross Island, Beechey Point and the Jago River. He discusses how the wind influences the ice and how and where pressure ridges are formed.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 97-64-03

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jul 12, 1978
Narrator(s): Bruce Nukapigak
Interviewer(s): Kenneth Toovak
Transcriber: Muriel Hopson
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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Childhood at Ualiqpaa (Walakpa)

Early years of whaling and learning about sea ice near Barrow

Moving to Barter Island and learning about ice conditions near there

Wind and sea ice conditions on northern Beaufort Sea coast (Barter Island, Cross Island, Jago River)

Sea ice conditions around Beechey Point

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Translation by Muriel Hopson. See 1979 Translation by Molly Pederson for further details about specific locations and ice movement.


KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When I was born I was given the name Nukapiqqaq.

I was born at the head waters of a creek here in Barrow. At the end of Ukkuqsi right there. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so I was born. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. Probably in an old sodhouse? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In a snowhouse. KENNETH TOOVAK: Oh, in a snowhouse, yes. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh, probably in the winter time? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I was born in 1900 and that’s quite a lot of years ago. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’m seventy eight years old. My birthdate is April 10, 1900. KENNETH TOOVAK: So you must be seventy eight years old then. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: My parents left their place and made it to Barrow for my birth. KENNETH TOOVAK: Where did they come from? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: At Ualiqpaa is where we lived while my grandmother was still alive. Her name was Taipauraq.

Behind Ualiqpaa is where our house was. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so it was there that I first became aware of my surroundings.

Along with Aġniuna(?)

We lived there at that place until my grandmother Taipauraq passed away. And when I grew up, upon my grandmother’s passing my parents moved us here to Barrow, at that time we had lost our father. When our father died down there on the ice, they moved us to Barrow. And so later on my stepfather would become Iqaluk. My stepfather had a kayak.

He did not leave that, to him, was his mode of transportation as he hunted. As a boy I saw him pulling it all the time wherever he went.

I would run into him pulling a seal which was below the kayak. That was how people were in those days, hunting constantly searching for their next meal. There was not a penny to be found in one’s pockets then. I lived during that era.

I was with whalers throughout my growing up years. With Taaqpak (and his crew). No, with Igasak and his crew. With Igasak and his crew. With wooden whaling boats in the fall they would travel despite the cold -- sleep, there was no sleep back then. When there was grounded ice on the other side of Nuvuk , they would barely make it there. Except when going through it is not difficult. And from a lookout they searched for the ocean current flowing from the east to arrive. As soon as they spotted a whale they would set out to hunt. They did not travel through motor driven boats. And when they succeeded in killing the whale they would drag the whale to Nuvuk. Sometimes they butchered the whale there. If they didn’t butcher it on the ice. I lived in that era. KENNETH TOOVAK: Back when you were whaling with Igasak you said earlier of grounded ice that would be visible in the fall. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Uh huh. KENNETH TOOVAK: Were they the ones that were visible all summer long or those that had been laying above shallow water? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Grounded ice that melted. Sometimes grounded ice doesn’t melt. It can take until the next fall before it melts. KENNETH TOOVAK: So that’s what you were talking about earlier correct? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes, those are what they’d like to hear. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: They stayed where they were. The only thing that would happen is pieces of it falling off.

All you’d see were pieces of falling off. Some didn’t change in size back then. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: So it is during that era that I grew up.

They would leave early in the morning to Nuvuk. They would travel to the grounded ice. And the reason for that was to use them for lookouts when hunting. And also when it wasn’t difficult to climb on them. And so when I grew up when I was old enough to hunt on my own and became married to Tavvialuk, our mother left.

To uh, Barter Island. And so when it finally left, at that time I am now a young man. I have a son named Isuġaaq. KENNETH TOOVAK: Oh, I see this happened after you had gotten married.

You left. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And then later Maniksaq would be born. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. Here in Barrow? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And so there was a request for us to go to Barter Island. KENNETH TOOVAK: To Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Uh huh. Our mother. Obeying my mother I left.

And so I began living there on my own. I had no one to teach me or guide me. Just on my own. But Uqumaiļaq’s father-in-law was my teacher. Maybe you knew Uqumaiļaq’s father or have heard of him. He was a small man. Quġlaq was his Iñupiaq name and he was my teacher. I lived on my own doing the best I could.

I’m scouting for ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: Where? Here or Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When I went there. KENNETH TOOVAK: At Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’m scouting for ice. The little old man taught me extremely well about the ice conditions.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Uqumaiļaq’s father? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: He taught me about the ice conditions. Also .

Using a tester. My stepfather also had a tester to test the depth of water but he never talked to me about its use. So he (Uqumaiļaq’s father) taught me about the ice. There the lead would open up from the east wind.

KENNETH TOOVAK: At Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: At Barter Island. KENNETH TOOVAK: Because it’s like Barrow also. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Into the east wind all the way to Cross Island, Napaqsralik.

And in front of it is Jago River which ends in front of it. KENNETH TOOVAK: East of Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And after being there for some time, after our mother passed away, I began moving around. KENNETH TOOVAK: How far from Barter Island was the open lead in the winter? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It’s close. It’s always near the beach.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Much like it is in Barrow then? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. From Jago River and Cross Island. The even ice makes it possible to create an open lead.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Along its shore. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. Unlike Barrow there is no grounded ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: The area in front of Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It’s deep. There is no grounded ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: One never sees grounded ice there. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: But in front of Jago River a wall of shear ice forms along the edge of an open lead, but not a whole lot. KENNETH TOOVAK: Doesn’t the wall of sheared ice along the edge of an open lead of water formed by the grinding action of floating ocean ice against shore locked ice become stuck in shallow water? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It doesn’t do that. KENNETH TOOVAK: So it is that way then. Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When the current is strong in the ocean it grinds against the floating ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: So I see that grounded ice is rarely seen in front of Barter Island. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: You will not see any grounded ice but a few pieces of old ice.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Because it becomes stuck in shallow water or -- ? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Sometimes the ice doesn’t get stuck in shallow waters. The spot over there where they did their scouting and to the area west was far out in the ocean from Barter Island. You could see it from a distance. It’s what passes by in front of it.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Because Barter Island is at a point geographically speaking? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. At a point and then into a bay all the way to Napaqsralik.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When it’s east wind it affects it. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And when the west wind arrives,

it opens up the lead at Napaqsralik.

Even the big pieces of ice are no challenge for the ocean current. It takes them with it. And ice pressure ridges form at Barter Island and that one I just spoke of earlier, Jago River.

Ice pressure ridges form throwing the big chunks of ice around. You usually don’t ever see grounded ice. But ice pressure ridges do form when the time comes. Because it’s deep it doesn’t take long before pressure ridges form on the ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: It doesn’t reach the bottom until it reaches shallow waters like Barrow?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It’s the ice moving and its current isn’t very strong. KENNETH TOOVAK: And when you lived there was it obvious that there was no grounded ice? The ice which is along the shore. To your knowledge don’t pressure ridges form?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When I lived there pressure ridges did not form. It’s the ice that was going out that caused the pressure ridges to form. It does not need the help of strong ocean currents. And so Tapqauraq is the name given east of Jago River that it reaches when it is west wind. Causing it to open along the edge of the sand.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. Along the edge of the sand. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Along the edge of the sand. Because Jago River resembles a hook that connects to Barter Island. And east of it is the other side of Jago River. They call it Tapqauraq. The open lead occurs when it’s west wind all the way to Anŋutit. KENNETH TOOVAK: By going through parts of the edge? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. That place east is also pointed all the way to Anŋutit. Grounded ice doesn’t happen by reaching the edge of the shore. KENNETH TOOVAK: And you mentioned earlier

a place called Napaqsralik. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’ll get to that in a minute. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’m talking about eastward. KENNETH TOOVAK: Further east of Barter Island -- BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’m talking about it now. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: You will not see much of it. KENNETH TOOVAK: They’re not so concerned with areas east of Barter Island anyway -- they’re only concerned with areas up to Barrow. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: The areas in between. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: That will be the end of the discussion regarding east side. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes that’s okay. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I’m talking about Tapqauraq to Anŋutit. That place when it is blowing from the east can cause it the lead to open up but not much.

When the conditions are right. And now I’m going to go back

to an earlier discussion about Beechey Point. KENNETH TOOVAK: To Beechey Point. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes, that is one place where I spent time walking on the ocean. KENNETH TOOVAK: Did you spend time living at Beechey Point? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: No, at Siļļaqtitaq. KENNETH TOOVAK: At Siļļaqtitaq, uh huh. East of Beechey Point. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh, you traveled on the ocean -- BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Uh huh. Back then when we were up in the mountains, which was when I went to do some trapping, is the time that I saw the land and traveled on it. From Napaqsralik to Beechey Point when the lead opens up taking with it the huge chunks of ice makes it seem like it stops there but the huge chunks of ice do make it to the inlet. And pressure ridges form in front of Beechey Point. KENNETH TOOVAK: Pressure ridges form in front of Beechey Point. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In front of the sand bar. Pressure ridges form there. KENNETH TOOVAK: Uh huh. In the fall or -- ? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In the winter. In the west winds, pressure ridges form. KENNETH TOOVAK: As though the ice is coming to shore. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. East of Beechey Point to Napaqsralik there is a

, a huge where huge chunks of ice often make it. KENNETH TOOVAK: When you mentioned the huge pieces of ice that make it into that spot, what kind of huge ice pieces are you talking about? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Large chunks of freshwater ice. They all make it to that spot. There’s Napaqsralik down there.

Bypassing Napaqsralik. When the ocean current is right it can cause the lead to open up without a problem. KENNETH TOOVAK: How many miles left, from the sand bar off the ocean shore would the ice, the big huge pieces of ice, be located far out in front of the ocean?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In front of Beechey Point . KENNETH TOOVAK: What year would that be when you lived there? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I don’t know. I’m not sure of the year. KENNETH TOOVAK: Just take a guess on the year -- BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: This would have happened when my daughter Mary was born.

It would be the year that Mary was born. And it would say it in her birth certificate. KENNETH TOOVAK: Maybe you were around thirty years old at that time. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Uh huh. KENNETH TOOVAK: When you were twenty years old and married -- do you remember how old you were when you got married? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I was young when I married.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes, would you have been younger than twenty years old or --? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: The sandbar did not have strong currents and there wasn’t any in front of the sand bar. When the lead opens up it takes it with it. The ocean currents control areas at a point geographically speaking.

Was I understandable? KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes, those after the ice has become thick doesn’t the grounded ice ever occur there in front of Barrow?