Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Patrick Saylor

Pat Saylor was interviewed on August 16 and 17, 2000 by Don Callaway and Connie Friend in Healy Lake, Alaska for Mendees Cheeg Naltsiin Keey': An Oral History of the People of Healy Lake Village (annotated and edited by Donald G. Callaway and Constance A. Friend, Revised June 2007). In this interview, Pat talks about learning traditional values and practices as a child, subsistence hunting and trapping practices, and his role as chief of Healy Lake. He also talks about fighting for Native and tribal rights, and gives advice to young people about the importance of carrying on traditions.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-105-04

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 16, 2000
Narrator(s): Patrick Saylor
Interviewer(s): Don Callaway, Connie Friend
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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Slideshow
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Sections

Childhood at camp

Families of the Healy Lake country

Growing up with traditional ways

Athabascan language and going to school

Learning discipline and overcoming pain to survive tough times

Learning the old stories

Learning things the hard way instead of taking the easy way

Strengths of the upper Tanana people

Trading with Copper River Indians and knife handle designs

Forty-Mile caribou herd

Being respectful and trained as hunters

Importance of Native ways of thinking

Taking care of and respecting elders

Self-awareness and empowerment

Being a chief and a leader

Legal case of shooting moose for memorial potlatch

Subsistence management in upper Tanana

Advice to youth

Young man's first kill

Trapping

Trappers' knowledge of specific animals

Wolverines

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Transcript

DON CALLAWAY: It’s Wednesday and we’re in Healy village, Healy Lake. And today we’re gonna have Pat Saylor talk. Present also are Connie (Friend) and Agnes (Henry?). It’s all yours, Pat.

PATRICK SAYLOR: Can I talk?

DON CALLAWAY: Talk. Say anything you want.

PATRICK SAYLOR: Okay. And then you’re gonna back track it?

DON CALLAWAY: Right.

PATRICK SAYLOR: Oh, okay. Well, I’ll just talk about the bear thing. We used to have to watch all the, watch all the food when there’s, the hunters were out. And like cookin’ the bear ribs of fire or messin’ around n’cookin’ ducks n’oil and duck eggs or doin’ somethin’ always.

Have you busy there all the time and you couldn’t go no place. Couldn’t keep up when you’re only seven or eight years old.

You're stuck in one place watchin’ the camp, and keepin’ things ready for when they came back. Hot tea ‘n that kind of thing.

Well, I’d like to just start out with some things my grandma told me about where she was from, where she was born ‘n grew up ‘till she was the age of twelve.

At that time she said she was born in the Middle Fork of the Forty-Mile River right -- right below where Joseph, below Joseph Creek down in that area there with the caribou -- Forty-Mile caribou herd has their -- has their, um, has their babies, n’ calving grounds.

And she had two older sisters and there's one younger one, she -- Lucy Luke, her next -- next right under her.

When they were twelve they moved -- they went up the Middle Fork River in a fork to the -- to the right and then crossed over the mountains and dropped down into the head of Sam Lake, Sam Creek country and then went down to Sam Lake where her father, Grandpa Sam and Belle Sam and her mother.

That’s where they had her other two sisters, Eva and Lena in Sam Creek.

That’s where they lived for quite a -- quite a few years.

And then from there they moved up here to Healy Lake where they joined in with John Healy and Paddy Healy and the rest of the band this way.

That’s when she wound up -- her two older sisters, one of the older ones, that’s Margaret, Margaret Kirsteatter, her family stayed here, pretty much in one spot for all these years.

Her and Alice was her -- was the two kids from, from that (Margaret (Kirsteatter) and Alice (Joe) were the daughters of Gus Jacob and Belle Sam). And they -- they stayed.

From those two sisters, the older ones that passed away, Margaret -- Margaret and Alice -- their mother and their older sister there passed away here.

And that’s when Grandma and them moved up this way. And I guess from that point Margaret was moved -- was moved up to Tanacross where she was married to a Jimmy Walter for a time.

Was mistreated and John Healy went up the river, and grabbed her and took her back and brought her back home.

From that point, they had a quite a few good years where the caribou were high cycle n’ a lot came through. She said sometimes four days in a whole row there’d be nothin’ but caribou.

She’d tell me a story about her and her son. She only had nine shells and she walked through the village, her first born.

And he was like nine years old, eight, nine barely keepin’ up. He had a .22.

She shot nine caribou with nine bullets. She was gonna’ get the .22 to finish off a couple of them and he had been goofin’ around, tryin’ to shoot their antlers off this whole time. She wasn’t payin’ attention to what he was doin’.

She said she got really mad at him. Went back and had to go get some more .22 shells.

She said they used to have a real good time, especially around that time when there were so many caribou comin’ in.

Our grandma taught us a lot of things that we didn’t understand when we were small.

She ended up in North Pole where my mom married to my dad, Lee Saylor.

A lot of times we slept with most of our clothes on. We didn’t have PJ's n’ stuff mostly, like most kids n’we’re always ready to move all the time. Shoes close together by the door.

It was an old habit from back when she -- She came from when there was even -- the last one skin tent. My mom was educated to the third or fourth grade, so that would make me and my brother and sister the first educated in our whole family.

She talks about when she first seen some miners in there in the Forty-Mile country, and they had hair all over their face and long beards and they didn’t -- the first time they ever seen a donkey (laughs) and horses. They didn’t know what those were.

And there was a lot of things. It must have been some kind of a horrible shock, I was thinking. Now that I think back on it. It’s like, for an example, if you took a knight in shining armor from back five hundred years ago in England and slapped him in a Mazurati and told him, “Here, drive.”

That’s probably how -- how she felt a lot of the time. You know, it makes sense to me, but I understand her training.

We were ran around in the snow in the early in the morning. I think Agnes remembers us gettin’ tossed out the door when we were little. Not wakin’ up. (laughing).

AGNES: Yeah. (also laughing) (inaudible)

PATRICK SAYLOR: (speaking to Agnes) I remember you used to warm our feet up when we came back. Yeah, we’d get tossed out the door and we’d have to run around the house.

They taught us to wake up early. And for times of war, they said when they were attacked or something, they said you would have to run without your shoes if you didn’t have time to jump in your shoes.

We made our little pack sacks and stashed ‘em out in the woods with crackers and dry meat and one pair of clothes, n’ little knife and stuff. N’ we thought it was a game when we were small. And I understand what it is now.

She was makin’ us ready in case the house burned down or somethin’ happened you had to get out of the house like right away. It was part of her training, but she was taught in case somethin’ bad happened.

And everybody had their own caches so it was not like, if somebody got caught they could tell on you. The only person who knew where the cache was, was you.

And that served as survival. I understand it now. At the time I didn’t.

And we were told -- We didn’t have a TV until we were the age of twelve. And we didn’t have regular friends, except for family, ‘til the age of twelve, ‘cause we were to be in train -- We didn’t need distractions.

And she was teaching us. We didn’t realize it. We thought all other kids were the same, probably.

But now the older I get, the more I see it is not that, not the same, but I’m glad we were trained the way we were trained so that we could make sense of what’s happening.

We spoke our language ‘till the second grade. We were told that we could learn our language on the weekends, or, which is not true. You can’t learn English language just on the weekends.

How are you supposed to learn all the Native stuff, Native language in the weekends, which was false.

I remember first day of school we went in and we couldn’t understand what the principal was telling us. We’d understand some of it and then we wouldn’t. And he was hollerin’ at us.

And we were -- We ran away from him and he tried to chase us on top of the drift snow. We had moccasins and we could out run him and we learned how to run on top of the snow.

Just like lynx or, you spread your feet ‘n move. We could move across stuff he couldn’t ,‘n he couldn’t keep up with us.

So we went back and grandma came down really pissed. She went into the school and she came -- told us to wait outside, ‘n wait one place. She used to put us in one place on our knees. This was part of our trainin’ too.

And if we ran around, she even tied our -- tied our legs so we’d be kneeling all the time so we’d listen to her stories and we’d sit in silence all day sometimes.

And it was to teach us patience -- for hunting especially, or waiting for whatever it is, your opportunity. That was part of it. And it was disciplining us, disciplining our mind.

Also, the steam bath. When we first went into that, we wanted to get out of there in a god awful way. Strugglin’ (laugh).

But they wouldn’t let you out. They told you to be still. Be quiet. And then they'd whip you with willows a lot of times.

It loosens up your muscles, and it -- the more the heat gets -- it takes -- it learns to take pain. A lot of pain.

It disciplines your mind so that if you have rough times, that you can close off the pain. You can shut it off like a switch. You’re not gonna need a shot of pain killer.

You wouldn’t scream, ‘cause you were taught not to make noise in case, maybe if you were hurt or somethin' bad happened, our grandmas taught at war, you screamed out, you might give everybody away.

So those parts o’ hurt, we were taught to suppress. And even crying was part of it. You never -- It wasn’t good to cry in front of people. They told you, “No.” If you lost somebody, you went --

The men, the warriors would find their time to go alone somewhere out in the woods where they would get -- They would release that pain,’ cause that --

You had to watch because others would take advantage of your weakness. That was part of it.

Now back to the -- Grandma went down to the school and we had to wait outside. Back to the, the first day of school part.

But we sat there waitin’. All the lights in the school went out and she was in the back room with the principal.

I don’t know what she did back there, but the entire room inside that room with the principal turned blue light.

And she was talkin’ in our language, but I think it was the old, really really old language, ‘cause there’s difference

There’s regular conversation language that you have if you’re talking regular like, “Ndeel nde”, “Give me some tea.” or “Aa haa_.” Means “I’m gonna go walkin’.”

But this was -- this was somethin' different. Somethin’ almost between animal and human in our language.

And the whole place turned blue in there. And when she was done, you just heard him muttering and whatever and (ha) not makin’ much sense.

The lights came back on. She came back out of the office and he came out shakin’ and pale white. And he never did bother us again.

But we got to school on time, 'cause we knew what to do then. But he never did bother us again. So I don’t know what she did. I never asked. There’s some parts that are better left unsaid, I guess, but I’m sure whatever it was changed his mind.

About parts of our trainin’ -- about not havin’ a television: that television, it strays your mind. Our television was story tellin’.

We could hear the same story over. And we’d hear some of the same stories twice a day, and we’d sit there and listen. They’d tell us stories.

I like that one about Ch’inchedL Tcteyy’. That’s Gran -- Grandma’s mom’s, Belle Sam, great uncle.

That’s about a hundred and fifty years ago. That’s where he comes from. That’s where my Grandma’s sisters are born and that’s Sam Lake.

Remember that Ch’inchedL Tcteyy’, they named a hill after him. He was a war chief of the whole Upper Tanana.

I guess back Tetlin got wiped out. They were attacked by the Canadians from Kluane Lake. Came over the pass and over the hills ‘n attacked and raided, and so they went to see Ch’inchedL Tcteyy’ to gather all the best warriors.

He gathered all the warriors of the Upper Tanana. He climbed this tree, this leaning tree over the -- over all of them. They were all underneath it.

And he caught a squirrel. It was running around. Anyway, at the top of that hill he said whatever warrior can grab this squirrel, is comin’ with me.

And he dropped a squirrel and those who grabbed it when it was bouncin’ around between all these (ha) -- all these warriors down there.

They had to be quick enough, quick enough to grab arrows or dodge arrows. And this is his uh -- to find the best ones.

And that one ‘n really wanted to go no matter what, he wouldn’t take ,”No” for an answer. He was the only one that was killed in the battle, once they went to Canada.

But from Sam Lake to Kluane Lake, they made it in five days (about 270 miles). That means they were crankin’ seventy-five miles, hundred miles a day.

Steady movin’ and back too, ‘cause they didn’t -- It was just a pace. I understand that pace.

When Me and Ben were young, we moved through the country. Way deep, deep movin’ just to explore new places. Way up the Healy, upper George Lake and upper Sam Lake.

We put some way above country. We went seventy-five miles in one day and forty-five the next day.

I don’t see any young kids doin’ that now days. ‘Cause what they have to understand and why I ‘m explaining this is if they want to get through life or want to get -- have things done, they cannot do it by thinking that the easy way is the best way.

You can’t learn nothing so much from the easy way ‘cause you, “easy come, easy go.” If you earned it hard, if you had to walk seventy-five miles or a hundred miles, to get somethin’, nine times out of ten you’re gonna remember that, ‘cause it was hard.

And you had to go through so much to get it so it’s worth something. If you’re goin’ fifty to a hundred miles an hour on a highway, you’re not gonna remember it.

It’s gonna be worthless, because you think you can get it all the time. There’ll be a hard time again. That’s just the way life is.

And if those who appreciate n’ work really hard and earn it instead of trying to get it for nothing, or steal it. See, if you have to do that it gives you self worth.

It makes pride in yourself and pride in who you are. But that is important, because that may get you through when you think that, “Oh, it can’t get no worse.” or, “I can’t make it.” How do you know you can’t make it? Have you tried?

With everything you’ve got? Have you tired every avenue? Sometimes we can’t see the most simple things: the key to a door.

I’ve run around with a pen in my hand, lookin’ for a pen. You can’t tell me that ain’t happened to everyone of you in this world, ‘cause it has. That‘s the same kind of thing.

Ah, that’s the kind of discipline, the kind o’ -- the kind o’ people we come from and the reasons being --

It’s like that story of Ch’inchedLTcteyy.’ He trained his men on that hill. They used to run up at him and he would be shooting at them.

I mean shooting to hit them and they had either to bust the arrow in mid-air or catch it, and that’s comin’ straight up the mountain and bein’ shot at straight down.

And it teaches -- this kind of teaching makes you appreciate your life, because you appreciate living ‘cause you earned the right to be there and that's -- that’s what I want the young people to remember, even after I’m gone after -- because when the hard time returns again, a depression, crash in the stock market or somethin,’ if you have that kind knowledge, at least to know that it’s in you,

that you can always go back to it and discipline yourselves and be able to persevere, go through.

Another thing that people do not understand is cross-cousin marriages in the Upper Tanana.

From what I gather from my grandmother, the uplands were the training like Ch’inchedl Tcteyy’ of warriors.

In the old days, mercenaries to the lower villages who had an easier life because of the salmon runs.

Salmon were huge in abundance and the food was lots so their villages had a -- a huge amount of population compared to ours. Ours was a harder life and harder in the mountains, in the highlands.

And what could we give them that they didn’t already have? Well, what we could give them was our -- our knowledge in hunting and war, “weaponry,” our best weapon was our mind. And the discipline --

We were bred for almost a thousand years from what I gather. They bred them down like you would a good dog team or you would a good strain of running horses.

With the medicine people who could foresee the future. To the best and strongest warriors with the strongest legs, strongest arms, good best eyes, were inter-bred with those who could see the future.

They bred them to the fourth cousin ‘cause you couldn’t get them any closer. ‘Cause I’m sure they’d see what happened when you bred too close. They were unbalanced.

Four was always a balance. Three would not do it. It'd be too close and the kids would be all messed up.

The fourth cousin was as -- as close as they’d tolerate, and this was a strict code.

They bred them like this so the offspring would not only be of strongest blood and genes, of sight and strength, but he could also foresee the future when he slept.

So it made him even quicker, more advanced so to speak, almost genetic engineering. They come out with a perfect warrior.

One that could endure anything that nature or human had to offer. These were what they neutral warriors, where all rest of the tribes came to gather. This is what the Upper Tanana had always brought to the table.

When there was fights against Eskimos or the lower villages, when there was somebody making trouble, disrupting the peace, or messing something up, this is where you came to find your -- find either assassins or war, war chiefs, and the payment would be made big.

With many blankets, many tanned skins, wives, whatever they wanted. Copper: copper was very treasured and some of the blacksmiths -- one of the last ones was -- was my Grandpa -- Grandpa Sam’s brother, Nothol where --

at the point where I’m down at, he had a tent frame and stuff down there where he would hammer up in the valley there between the old village and my house.

He had a old rock, a rock just like a smith would have for hammering iron.

And he would get -- trade for the copper. Trade ‘em paint.

We had famous paint, red paint that came from this area and other things we traded with the Copper (Copper River/Ahtna Indians) to get their metal which we’d pound and folded until we had a triangular like dagger that --

It went from the very tip to the very base it was a triangle and with cur -- They pounded the curls on the end. Curls on both sides of that spear and a tat --

And they used to tattoo on both cheeks of the warriors, a spiral. Everybody wants to know what them spirals are. They used to put spirals on the knife hand -- dagger handles or the spear point.

The spiral represents the caribou fences. The caribou fence had an opening with two corrals on both sides, which once the caribou went through the main opening, he’d spiral to both sides. They’d shut one gate when it’s full, take what they needed then open up the other. And they’d have this continuous cycle.

Also it represented the Upper Tanana. The mother’s side, because that meant the mother’s womb.

The fence, the opening of it on both sides is the same. That’s what they meant by “We take our mother as a clan side.”

The father and the warriors are meant to protect the family on the mother’s side. This is why they cannot get the “okay” to go to war without all the mothers getting together and consenting to it. You cannot just go out and do it.

Just like in the caucasian ways, they wouldn’t think twice about it. They wouldn’t be goin’ home and askin’ their mothers .

But in this case, the tribe, the mothers and the children would suffer because of war. That is the reason why that they -- it must make sense before it is done.

It is not a senseless foolish act. But these are the things that I‘ve been taught ‘n I’ve went to look for myself many, many times.

Just like our herd was a bigger population (Fortymile caribou herd which migrates through eastern interior Alaska each spring and fall). And I heard that it split in half and half of it went across between Circle and Eagle below the Charlie Riv -- or above the Charlie River, toward Eagle and it went up and joined the Porcupine Caribou herd.

‘N our old people, the old ones that were around and talked about it, Silas Solomon from Tanacross, come from Ketchumstuk country.

They wanted to know what happened to the leaders ‘n what, how come the caribou got all mixed up. Well, when they had the Taylor Highway and they started shootin’ off all the leaders. (In the 1970's, the Fortymile caribou herd crossed the Taylor Highway en masse and were killed primarily by military men stationed nearby.)

You can’t shoot off all the leaders, because they got their own leaders. Their scent is different from the rest in the whole herd. It’s on the bottom of their feet, located between both toes. It’s a scent gland.

And maybe one out of a couple a’ hundred will be born with that, and all the rest of them follow him or her.

Now if you shoot those off, the rest of the caribou get confused. And they start milling around and they get confused, they don’t know where to go or what to do.

So once they shot off the herd, they shot off the herd leaders coming across the Taylor, you had all this milling about, confusion, because once the leader died, that’s where they was. Stuck. Panicking.

So, one of the leaders that were still around, must of, (They’ve got sense too. They ain’t all stupid.) They changed their route and went across and went up and joined the re -- other caribou in the Porcupine region.

Well, our people wanted to know ‘n Healy Lake bein’ small is also scouts for the rest of the Upper Tanana to find out things for them ‘bout other tribes.

Silas Solomon was one of those that could understand the Gwi’chin language, and the Upper Tanana language, and the Copper language and the Canadian lang --

We sent people like that, like me, to find out things. To convey the other tribes’ concern, or to make alliances in times of trouble.

So I went North. And there was people in Circle who remembered my grandfather, Chief Healy, and Silas Solomon and them comin’ all the way to Circle to get tea and sugar from the steamboats and meet with Chief Roberts, the chief of the Gwi’chins around Fort Yukon.

And Venetie and Arctic’s (Arctic Village) chiefs comin’ down and meetin’ because the caribou crossed -- crossed the river below Circle and -- and then between Circle and Eagle and made a rotating spiral through their country.

And our people helped hunt our herd just as well as we hunted the other part of it.

But the cycle was being disrupted. And the army and the management at that time (laughs) didn’t have too much of a clue or really didn’t -- have the -- didn’t have the people to police the area.

Part of it’s “naiveness.” I can forgive some of that, but some of it should be common sense that I would think -- That should be taught in school right off the bat, more than anything: how to treat others like they want to be treated.

That -- that should be something I think that should be -- I don’t know how you can teach that, but by maybe this kind of training and concept. Maybe it’s more Eastern. I think it’s more Eastern, kind of mental training.

I don’t know. Be sure. But I think that's a part that needs to be taught when you’re young. It’ll keep -- It’ll help to keep things from disrupting.

Just like how we're taught about fire arms. Our guns are weapons. Keep them out of the way. Keep them -- We don’t let women step over our guns and things.

They were -- we respect their things. We don’t bother women’s stuff. We respect their things. They respect our hunting things.

We respect the other person for -- You don’t point a gun toward another person. You keep the gun pointed up, even when we’re walking, ‘cause you could trip and the gun could go off. You could shoot somebody accidentally.

You don’t step in the way of guns. A gun is a tool like a hammer and nails. It’s not a toy. It’s not like what you see on TV now where they got people pointing guns right off the bat. There isn’t even a explanation. They shoot people for no reason and kids think that’s right.

This is not right. This is not -- This is the kind of discipline needs to be taught off the bat.

If you don’t teach it, you’ll have chaos. They don’t know what their doin. It’s not so much their fault.

It’s like a game they see on a computer or TV. Oh, it’s not real until it happens. Then what are you gonna do? You gonna put the bullet back in the gun?

Once you squeeze the trigger, you’ve already made the decision. They -- they -- that realism , I don’t think that they have a --

They don’t know what it is until it happens. And then the -- then the pure horror that they’ve taken another person’s life set in, but then it’s too late.

Just like in the cartoons when we finally did get TV me and my brother, Bugs Bunny, that was the kind of humor, and the baddest guy in the whole thing might be Wiley Coyote or Bugs Bunny sometimes, and then Elmer Fudd.

And he was a -- he was a hunter, even him. He was out tryin’ to get somethin’ to eat or whatever, but he sure didn’t get much to eat in them cartoons.

This was the kind of -- Even then the kind of respect and discipline I think that they need to slowly integrate back in, because the tail end of all this is those kids you see runnin’ around in the street doin’ all those things,

and what they’re showing on TV and our village kids seeing that straight up, straight off the bat.

They’re getting trained in their mind, not for the woods, not for respecting others. They’re getting trained for the city.

They go to the city and everybody else is on the same wave length. They’re thinking that kind of way even, maybe even in their subconscious.

This is what I see as a lot of the reason of breakdown of discipline. They don’t respect, ‘cause they don’t know any better.

Somebody’s making money off of what’s more exciting on television, you know.

This is -- this should -- somebody should take this and use that -- this knowledge that I’ve seen and maybe help change some of that.

Because they’re not being oriented for the woods, they’re being oriented for the city, and that’s why there’s so many younger kids going into the city instead of staying in the bush.

Because it takes time to train a hunter -- to train a warrior, to train women to know what berries to eat, to know when to take an animal, how you’ll respect him when you kill him.

Your first kill you drink some of the blood or eat a piece of the heart. This is part of our training, part of our respect to the land.

You throw a piece of the fat in the fire for our people that have went before us.

Part of our hunting practice: to respect the animal and our weapons and our life. We respect our life.

And if these kids don’t respect another’s life, if they just seen it was taken and thrown away, they don’t value it. And that’s what I see. It makes me very sad.

It’s what makes me keep going, to keep trying to pound this through in my own way. Also so the young people can have a chance, to have hope, because if you don’t have a choice --

That’s why I’m such disagreement with the state of Alaska on many issues. When you don’t have a choice anymore, you’re a slave. This is not right.

This is not what I see America as supposed to be in the first place.

The Natives are not gonna saw the branch we are standing on off, if we have the time to train our kids: how to take game, how much to take, when to take it.

We cannot teach them all this discipline and this knowledge on the weekend. If it can be integrated in the schools and perhaps help the non-Natives also understand what we’re doing, they wouldn’t look at it as a threat because it’s different.

It’s basic. It’s common sense. It's respect. It’s survival, and that’s what it is, plain and simple.

All the other stuff is just window dressing or frosting. You need a rock to stand on, to build on, do anything on. And that’s what the Natives are, but it’s deteriorating at a rapid pace.

And this could be detrimental even to the non-Native population today. Everything is a circle and it’s gonna swing around to the environment because they’re not respecting their environment.

And it would be not because -- It’s because they don’t know. It’s the reason a lot of them are -- and money.

Money truly is the “root of all evil.” It makes a person do something that they normally would not do. There’s other ways to make money, cleaner ways.

The right way, to work the hard way for it, so when they do spend it, it won’t be on some bologna.

This is part of what I’m working towards as a whole. Part of that discipline that I was taught by my grandmother and grandparents and Grandma Ellen and Chief Walter Northway, Stephen Northway, Andrew Isaac, his brother, Oscar Isaac.

Also Silas Solomon, Julius Paul, all kinds of different elders that would -- would teach me things and, they -- they choose certain people to carry certain knowledges because you have to be trusted with the knowledge.

That has -- You can’t just use it like a stick. If you -- that’s -- They have to have that discipline and respect for it.

If you give it to the wrong person, they could be hurting a bunch of innocent people with it. Not understanding the sheer power of it.

I was called to the bedside of many old people about to pass away. They’ll call for you hundreds of miles, and they got something to tell you before they die.

I’ve been called to over ten people and the next day they would pass on. This is the kind of knowledge that I carry.

And when I give it to certain people, certain pieces of it, I see that certain situation in a person -- a certain -- the one that would take care of it, that would not use it recklessly.

Well, back to what I was saying. These old people a lot of times that's what they're waiting for.

And a young person has to earn this many times, like bringing them gifts of dry meat. Things that they cannot do 'cause their hands are -- have arthritis and are too old or they can't do the things that they want to do, so you're their arms and legs.

That's what -- that's what we were taught. We cut wood for them. I do not understand. Nowadays, I see the kids, they want to get money for everything they do.

Well, I'm -- if that's the case, I'm owed a couple million dollars, because I've done a whole bunch of -- whole bunch of things.

But it wasn't for the --it wasn't for the money that we got paid.

Man, I'd like to -- I refer to my friend from Venetie in the Gwichin country. He used to do a lot of the same. He was the chief of Venetie for ten years.

Me and him would confer on things like this.

We'd work cutting wood, and making dry meat, dry fish, or berries, or something for the old people.

What we'd get instead of money was they'd sit you down and make tea and some biscuits or whatever they were cookin,' and they'd sit you down they'd tell you a story.

Or they'd show you a trick about how to dis -- take apart bones or how to prepare food in a certain way. Or a trail that you didn't know was there. Or they'd tell you about a secret little berry patch. Or that only they knew about. Or places where game trails were and where you could find abundance of moose or caribou.

Many different things.

And lots of times you'd be walking in the country and you'll find these places. Where there might be lots of fish in a shallow stream, and you could just hook them out with a stick.

Or you could get places where you could just -- narrow places where you could kill caribou just with a knife because they'd be so -- they squeeze between rocks. You could ambush them easy.

All these kinds of things was our reward for doing this work for the old people.

And that's what these kids have got to realize. Is by keeping their old people healthy, warm, and cared for means that they care about who we are. They take pride in who we are.

Because it wasn't easy to get where they are. There's so much of a hard life, like I said, from five hundred years to right today. And jet planes flying around and guys walking on the moon.

That is unbelievable shock. It has to be unproportionate. It's like you jumped into a time machine and you stepped off right in the middle of New York City.

That's the kind of feeling that the old people I'm sure -- That's the kind of knowledge they had to cram into their mind overnight.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to adapt to that. In the non-Natives, they have to -- they should understand this kind of shock and have a little bit of patience as well.

This -- this part I can understand about the lashing out. Some of the young people. And a lot of the drinking, too, can relate back to some of that. They do not understand a lot of what is going on.

This bridge -- some of it has to be -- has to be bridged or slowly understood. This is part of what I am talkin' about. Perhaps this can help with that.

Because I have stepped away, even outside of myself, to take a look from a distance. What would I do if I was in this position now.

To realize. I spend much time alone so I can find these answers.

Or old people that -- people like that, that would buy into -- to go in to find answers.

Another thing I'd like to touch on is the mind that is dreams that people pass on that have the touch. What they call a "touch" are --

ch’uusí. Our people are in the dark for nine months of the year. Sometimes you're sitting in one place for two weeks, three weeks, in the cold.

You have not very much to do. So you explore your mind. The mind is a vast place.

Where the non-Natives have went into reading and writing, our people explored in dreams. There's nothing that cannot be done. Opening of doors.

That -- you have built four walls to make yourself feel safe, because you can trust that. That box has been constructed.

Our people have learnt, a lot of them, these kind of people can step through the box, because the box doesn't exist. Only in their mind.

This is part of our teaching. This is the unique kind of people that you have and need to appreciate them and learn by them.

And not to take, but also give to help integrate in a good way. Not to erase us.

To understand that we are different in many ways, and we wish to help. We also wish to be understood, and we wish our way to be preserved in a way to take care of nature.

It is our home. It is who we are. These stories, these things. That's who we are.

Just like me, I'm thirty-three now. When I was young, I built my way up through the ranks of the clan. The hard way.

Until I became a war chief with so many under me.

This is not going to be shouted out in the streets of Fairbanks or down to the Trooper station, 'cause many things a warrior and things have to do are for the tribe, for your nation, for your people.

These things you only read about in the paper. These things aren't understood. Somebody would not tell you easily of these things.

You graduate to there, and once you've become at that position, then you go to the chief's position.

Now, I'm a chief and I have referred the war chief to a younger one. Quicker.

I cannot let, what do you call it, my ego or -- I'm getting slower. I'm getting -- I cannot go as far as I once did when I was in my twenties, mid-twenties. I'm not as quick.

I have more responsibilities. Children. Family.

And the war chief must not have these weaknesses. It would be looked at in weakness in war. So you would have to worry about it.

The warriors have to protect the tribe. Have to protect our way. And those who threaten the way they will be -- they will be fought for by these people. And our tribe will know who these people are.

A lot of times they'll show up and disappear. They move all the time. They spend very much time alone.

Disciplining. Each warrior -- or war chief may have anywhere from four to twenty under him. It has been this way for a thousand years.

This is what is going on. Even though they think they do not undertsand it.

We are fighting for our rights, our way.

So to speak the very first potlatch that we had here about four years ago where I took two moose out of season for a memorial potlatch for Grandma Ellen Demit.

And her mom and dad and her children she buried. Her and her husband had to bury over at the old village. A very painful, hard time for her.

And her daughter, two daughters, made that potlatch for their sisters. It was very hard on them.

We shot those two moose and the local Fish and Game officer heard about it, and he went and he gave me two citations for killing them out of season.

And at that time there was no law for memorial potlatches. There is for a potlatch when someone passes away, but not for memorial potlatch services.

And this is what I done it for. Part of our belief.

And so we had to go through the courts. We made it all the way up to the state court, then we were going to refer it over into the federal court where it -- well, the governor, Tony Knowles, seen that the State would have lost in this battle.

Because in federal court under ANILCA, we are supposed to be granted this right.

So, he pardoned me of two counts of killing these moose. And to this date, I think I'm the only one that has ever been pardoned of this crime, which consists of ten days in jail.

Which would have cost the tax payer ninety-six bucks a day to support every person there. And when we kill something out of season, it'll equal out just about the same.

The moose we kill is going to equal out about the same amount of paperwork and time of you putting that person in jail and having to feed and clothe them.

Also what they have not understood is you've made him a felon. Which is just about the crime of grand theft or murder.

That's just for killing something to eat. This is wrong. Now he cannot get a job like you and me, even in his own Native corporation. Cannot get a job to support his family. He's a criminal now.

This is happening in the upper Tanana more than any other place, because we don't have salmon.

Salmon -- the people on the lower Yukon, lower Copper have got this right.

We don't have salmon. And it's because God made us in the high country and the salmon only come right below Healy Lake and turn around. And they're not worth eating by the time they get there anyway.

We are big game hunters. We have -- that's what we're trained for. That's what we are.

We hunt to survive. And if they make us a felon, then everybody -- every man above the age of twelve in the Upper Tanana from when he kills his first moose, which is a sacred act, is a criminal.

This must be changed. We are being genocided for this. It's -- it's common sense.

What's going on here, you'd have to turn us into Robin Hood. The same thing the king for killing his deer in the forest was punishable by death.

You basically have taken a workin' man off the street now. You can't get a regular job.

The State is going to have to pay for his children. AFDC, blah, blah, blah, and on and on. And the ten days in jail.

This -- this is shooting themselves in the foot. It should -- they should have the smarts enough to change, to figure it out.

My reason saying this is the law had been changed directly because of the pardon on the two moose I shot. Legislation was passed through the State law to make it legal for memorial potlatch moose to be taken.

The same thing needs to happen with the situation in the upper Tanana for subsistence. When they put anywhere from 1000 to 10,0000, which has been -- I've seen it on TV. I've called in about it. The big game sportsmen sponsor this. For poaching.

In the upper Tanana it's used in the wrong way. There's not a lot of cash flowing around up there, and some small inner-fueds have sparked into a bigger situation because the temptation of turning someone in. Some -- some people just cannot resist this temptation.

It should not be. It's a bounty. They put a bounty on our hunters. This is wrong. The bounty, I thought this -- they abolished it from wolves and put it on people.

This makes no sense. This is what I work towards changing. And I'll do everything I can to change it before I'm gone.

And if I'm gone before that's changed, I would like this to go on record as don't give up.

The young people do not give up, because you don't know. That is -- that is the whole reason I'm climbing a mountain or going to find out. You will know. Even when someone tells you in a story, the story will change with you going out into the woods and making another story.

Because it's never -- every hunt is different. So don't give up. Believe in who you are.

And don't let it go down. There's so much -- so much knowledge and goodness to be upheld. Our songs and dances.

Don't be afraid to get out there and speak. It's like taking a step. It's like what I said, there's no four walls. So there's limitless situations that you can do. Do not give that up.

Don't be tempted by a dark side. Which is the easy way to sell.

Don't be tempted -- somebody sits there and paints you this great easy picture. Well, when you're heart's clogged up with fat because you have too easy of a situation or you're only going to live that long is what it is.

You had it hard and you exercise everyday like Grandma Ellen and Aunt Agnes, or you go for a walk or -- My friend, Connie Friend, does that everyday.

My friend here sitting beside me probably does that everyday, because they've figured it out. They ain't stupid.

And all you ain't stupid neither. Please make the choice to continue.

And don't blow away these old ways, because they're not old. It's a circle. And you're in it. Thank you.

DON CALLAWAY: This is Don Callaway. It's August 17th, Thursday. Continuing the oral history with Pat Saylor.

PAT SAYLOR: Uh, I just wanted to briefly touch back on where I left off. Just for a few minutes.

There was something that was weighing on me is the first kill for a young hunter. Usually, that would be between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

They go out and they get their first moose. Usually, there's a small potlatch.

Twenty to fifty blankets or so -- made where they give it to their opposite clan or --They can either do it that way or their whole moose, the one they get, they give it away to the whole village or to elders.

And to others who are needy.

And this teaches them self-worth, and to -- and becoming a man. Because that's when they're going through puberty, as well.

But it gives -- it gives them their place where they start. That's -- that's another law that I'd like to get changed maybe before my time's done.

But uh, it's hard for them to go out and compete when there's only a ten day season. You have a unexperienced young hunter who has to compete with the rest of the hunters in a ten day season with no -- with no experience.

His chances of getting a moose and -- well, becoming a man are greatly hindered, I'd say. He's -- that's the reason it would be nice if he could take it when he was ready.

And the moose would definitely go and be well taken care of and go to the people who need it and so that he can become a man and a warrior and a hunter. And begin his status in the tribe.

If he never gets to hunt, and never gets to do these things, or he's a criminal for doing these things, he's taught it's right in one way and wrong in the other.

It greatly -- it greatly excludes him even from his own village and his own people, because he needs to have status.

He needs to -- he needs to grow, to climb.

See it teaches him to be a provider for his family, so that if when he gets one that he knows what he's doing.

So that's where I'd like to close on that stuff.

Anyway, I'd like to talk about the trapping industry. From what I heard from some old people. Silas Solomon. My father who's done a lot of research. They tried to make a fur and big game reserve of the whole upper Tanana from the Big Gerstle into Canada.

There was around three different meetings, or they signed some papers, I heard. John Hadjukovich was instrumental in doing this, but all that they were given was the Tetlin Reserve.

And they tried to get the government -- the government tried to get all the Natives in the upper Tanana moved onto this reservation.

Well, this wasn't goin' to work because this -- like here in Healy Lake, you'd be giving up some of the most prime marten country in the entire state most likely.

Even the families we have here, four or five families, each family has got anywhere from 75 to 100 miles of trapline up into the high country, where they alternate traplines like you do fur -- like you do farming.

You would trap one area one year, and then the next year you would trap the other area. And you would rotate them like you rotate fields.

Also in the older days here in Healy Lake, we had -- Chief Healy and his sons had mink farms and fox farms where they built cages. And they made them on the side of mountain -- the streams that never froze. Hot springs.

So that the fresh water was running through the cages, and they didn't have to worry about watering the animal.

And they'd -- they had big fish traps. Fish traps for whitefish, which they dam off most of the stream and they would take -- take as much whitefish as they need to feed their dogteams for their traplines.

And their freight business. Which they had freight -- freight came from Delta and Fairbanks and went all the way up the river.

They would feed their fox and mink, which they would breed them to get the ones -- the biggest and maybe the darkest or the lightest, whatever was going on with the trade and the garment industry and so on.

The federal government outlawed the fish trap. Also the big game snare. Also the -- the caribou fences. And the fact of the matter is they only took the fat ones, a lot of times there when they were catching them in those corrals.

And they would let -- they'd let the leaders go so the caribou wouldn't get confused and come back the same -- the same place the next year and so on.

They'd take the fat ones. What they needed. Same with the fish. If you caught grayling or pike or suckers, you could always let them go because when they went in the fish trap, they were alive.

So you'd take out fish like that. And take only the whitefish and what you needed.

Whitefish provided cooking oil, which they boiled the stomachs down and the inside fat. And they would store this oil under -- in permafrost holes.

They would dig into the ice and have containers which they'd put this oil in. And cook with all winter. And there was a --

With the caribou, they'd also -- all the bones -- the bones that they couldn't pack or use were tied in trees or anywhere from ten to fifteen foot above the ground. Big bundles of them.

And the marrow inside would be preserved for years and years. And during hard times they would climb up into these trees and take these down and bust them open for the marrow and the nutrients and --

But trapping is how I made a livin' up to about five years ago where the prices went down. So where it's almost not feasible to trap now.

The people who were trying to put bans on the furs should understand that we're not going to cut off the leg we're standing on. We alternate our traplines.

We have to take care of our fur so it takes care of us. If we trap out the ground, we'd simply be cutting our own throats.

And freezing is not -- an animal freezes he doesn't suffer as much as they think, 'cause it goes into shock. It doesn't feel anything.

If anybody's ever almost froze to death -- I have a couple of times. And if there's a way to go, that wouldn't be so bad. There's a lot worse ways.

And -- but it helps sustain the Bush. And taught a lot of younger people hard work. And when you take away that industry, it's simply putting more pressure on the jobs in the cities.

So by taking away one thing, they're -- they're putting more pressure on the jobs in the cities. They're making it -- they have to make it hard on us, then they have no choice but to move to town, and put pressure on their jobs, their resources in town.

They need to think of this in a different way.

But the fur industry is very crucial to the ou -- to the Bush villages, you know.

It's like muskrat trapping in the upper Tanana. That food -- half-dried muskrat, it is very treasured. It's good food.

It's almost worth more than the skin right now. It's -- it's something that they really like and they take good care of it.

And that's -- there's a lot of different trapping techniques you can learn from different people. Gene Henry's a reknown lynx trapper. Robert Frank from Venetie. These men have caught hundreds of lynx in a season.

Paul Kirsteatter, here, that lives at Healy Lake that is a reknown wolf trapper. And Danny Vanguard.

You have marten trappers. Different marten trappers. Gideon James in Arctic Village. They'll go out and they'll catch 300 marten in a season. you know.

And these are people we've learnt from. The different trappers got different talent for different animals. They know that animal inside and out, front to back.

Like lynx, they're real -- they're very neat animal. They're a -- clean. They're -- They don't like to break trail. They're lazy. They walk on rabbit trails.

They have competition. They're whole -- They're whole --

It's like this story about lynx. The whole family went -- they're growing up, they might be five or six. They even have a competition. Some of our old people have seen. And how the snow bends over bushes and there's a little circle in the middle of it.

They see who can go through that circle without knocking the snow down. And whoever knocks it down in the snow, that's the loser, I guess.

But different animals -- different people got -- they know things about those animals. Like Paul Kirsteatter, he knows wolves. He's -- he was a wolf trapper. For their bounty. And their --

He holds the record in State for the most wolves. His talent trapping wolves is unsurpassed.

These kinds of things is where you take a little bit of each what you've learnt and what you learned it out in the Bush --

It's just like wolverine trapping. I became good at that, because that's the only thing that's worth any money anymore. You know. I got real good at it, you know. Yeah.

And that's my speciality, wolverine and marten.

The old story goes how wolverine's everybody's brother-in-law. 'Cause he has feet like a bear. And he's related between the bear family and the weasel family.

So that makes him everybody's brother-in-law. That's the story behind the wolverine.

Chief Healy, that's his -- his Indian name is Nahtsį́įth, which is wolverine.

And that's -- that's us. We're small and very vicious when we're backed in a corner. That's who we are.

Thank you very much and hope this does well.

Uhm, I'm here to tell about a story we seen -- my grandma and them when they were down at the old village they looked straight out past the mouth of the Healy River there, and toward the edge of the treeline and they've seen a caribou running across the lake with something hanging on his neck.

It would flop down once in a while and flop around and take off. So they hooked up their dog team, 'cause they didn't know what that was.

And they went all the way to Headen Lake, where grandma described.

And it was a wolverine hanging off the -- hanging off the caribou's neck. And he had it down.

And that's how vigorous a wolverine is.

Well, ok. I wanted to touch on that story.