Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Crawford and Simeon Patkotak, Sr., Part 2
Crawford and Simeon Patkotak, Sr.

This is a continuation of the interview with Crawford Patkotak and his father, Simeon Patkotak, Sr. on November 11, 2013 by Karen Brewster and Dyre Oliver Dammann at Crawford's home in Barrow, Alaska. Crawford's wife, Laura, and their son, Josiah, were also present at the interview. Inupiaq is Simeon's first language, so at age 81 he is more comfortable speaking Inupiaq than English. During the interview, Simeon would speak in Inupiaq and Crawford would translate what he said into English. The "In Inupiaq" portions of the transcript were translated by Muriel Hopson. In this second part of a two part interview, Crawford and Simeon talk about ice conditions, looking for good spots to set up whaling camp, and the importance of being quiet on the ice and the effect of noise.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-01_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Nov 11, 2013
Narrator(s): Crawford Patkotak, Simeon Patkotak, Sr.
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Dyre Oliver Dammann
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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Ice melting from below

Rough ice

Ice edge conditions (Agiukpak)

Importance of being quiet on the ice, and role of women in whaling

Effect of noise on whaling

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DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Yeah, I guess one question that would be nice to get a sense of is what -- what kind of -- you alluded to some of this earlier, but if there's any products or any like the maps is one thing, but something that could be helpful to -- for your crew during hunting, for instance.

You mentioned for instance, you know, currents can heat up the ice from underneath and make the ice thin. Is that something that is easily identifiable?

When you’re out there, is there something that is easy to -- or that is not easy to identify that could be used for -- ?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: So when you have a lot of snow cover, it would be hard to tell what’s happening underneath.

And I think it's after the snow melt is when we start or it starts to melt you can more easily identify areas where it's darker, more dangerous.

So I guess under the ice devices that can tell from underneath where the ice is being eaten away or what the current is doing further it would probably help, too, you know. So --

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Does -- does roughness play a big role in where you choose to put in your trail at all and how -- jumble up the ice is?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: So, yeah, in some cases. Oh, actually in years gone by in most cases because you had lot thicker ice everywhere so you try to naturally avoid the -- the -- going through the super rough stuff because you're going to have a lot of trail to break.

And you try to catch all the smooth cakes of ice going down and minimize your trail breaking, while at the same time you try to make it as straight as possible for when you're going to go for safety.

In any dangerous condition, you want to be heading towards the land and not be snaking all over the place if you're in a hurry to get closer to land.

On the other hand, in recent years with the ice thinning you’re -- you’re wanting to try to stay on ice that has been piled a little bit to be on the safer side, you know.

But as far as having major pressure ridges as indicators of where the ice is anchored to the sea floor, that’s -- that’s the main thing that you would be looking for is where you have the major pressure ridges,

and having some kind of telltale sign of whether it's grounded or not.

Not to go through them, but to have them -- to try to have them on at least both sides of you knowing that this ice that you’re on is going to be safe. So --

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: So he was the one they would listen and obey. We always obeyed him. He would say that they would surface. They always wait, is what he would say.) She's the one that can say it, right?

LAURA PATKOTAK: I don’t know what I’m saying --

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: Arnold Brower, he's the one that send us over there. Get out of here, you folks, you don’t belong in here. That’s what he says.

And that guy, what’s his name? (In Inupiaq: If you recall, he ran.)

(In Inupiaq: It was when it resurfaced towards the front area that we caught the whale.) That time. We got a whale that time.

(In Inupiaq: We obeyed him.)

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that you beeping?

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Yeah. It went off by itself.

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Are you still filming?


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Sorry. I’ll turn it off.

I thought it was quite interesting you mentioned this condition at the ice edge when it gets really -- really straight edge, you say.

So it goes -- extends from the water like vertical up for --


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: -- a certain distance. Like how --

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: It depends on how -- how hard it has been slammed. And it's the rubbing of the two.

You have your landfast and your main pack ice, so depending on how hard it's hitting and rubbing that forms that.

And it -- it ranges anywhere from a few feet to sometimes 20 feet in the air.

And there's been ones that we've observed that were just straight for probably ten miles sometimes.

So it's pretty amazing.

KAREN BREWSTER: What do you call that in Inupiaq?


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Do you remember when the last time that was seen here?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: That was a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t as high.

It wasn’t as high as in years gone by, but it was still pretty impressive.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Have they become less -- less common or is it --

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Uhm. Kind of hard to say. It seemed like -- it seemed like different parts of the coastline you would still see them.

So -- and the coastline I’m referring to is the edge of the ice, the edge of the landfast ice as we progress into any of the spring seasons when you’re kind of still whaling.

If you’re still whaling by end of May, so you go out in motor boats and you’re going out, you’re checking it out either further south or further north,

and even around the Point (Point Barrow) to the east depending on the conditions of the ice, you’d still see those around.

KAREN BREWSTER: So do they have it at certain times in the season or you just see them then because you’re out cruising?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Yeah, so I think they’re -- they’re happening throughout the winter.

They're -- they're shaping up, you know, throughout the winter months.


CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: But we’ve also have -- we also have late spring storms that could be forming them, too, as late as, you know, April.

So they could be happening anytime during the winter months right up into spring.

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: Another one that used to be in discussions that we heard recently was “Those who are up late ought to be quiet.” It’s good to be quiet. With persistence the whale does eventually come up for air. He used to tell us not become discouraged. We’ve heard that.)

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: (In Inupiaq: Uh huh.) So what the thing that he was mentioning is that being quiet around the ice is very important, and that -- because a whale could be coming up anytime.

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: I’ve always believed in his comment. It is the women who do not obey us men. Arnold Brower Sr’s comment is good. He used to tell us to go and be rowdy, carry on with personal business a little off to the side of the camp. He’d also tell us that it was better to obey than not to obey. The one who should’ve been here, what’s his name anyway -- he used to be the runner if you recall when the ocean opened water. I wish for our mother to be here but she isn’t.)

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: He would've liked it if my mom was here because she knew.

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: I was hoping that she's here, you know. I sure miss her.

KAREN BREWSTER: But as a woman, she knew all about the ice?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: She knew a lot, yeah.



KAREN BREWSTER: How? How did she know?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: So she was real -- she had a keen memory.

And a lot of the things that she learned from her grandfather.

She was raised by her grandfather, Taaqpak, who taught her about the land, the ocean, animals, the migrations and --

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: I think I should go home for a while. What’s been discussed has been good.)

KAREN BREWSTER: Did she go out whaling?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: She used to go out when the whales were caught.

KAREN BREWSTER: I didn’t know if -- when she was young with Taaqpak she went out on the ice with him?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: I believe so. It sounded like it. The stories that she would tell.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Do you know if that’s typical for women?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Not really. I don’t think it was really typical. There's some folks -- some women -- young women that go out active -- that are active out whaling.

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: It would be good with me if someone would bring me home.)

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: (In Inupiaq: Yes, I will bring you home.) He's ready to go home. Anything else?

SIMEON PATKOTAK, SR.: (In Inupiaq: Not too long ago Uyaġak -- in Wainwright they have the old shorefast ice to deal with. They tie the rope on so that it doesn’t come off.)

When he told that story I believed him because that’s the way it is. In Wainwright they have the old shorefast ice most of the time.

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Tavra. (In Inupiaq: That’s true.)

KAREN BREWSTER: Tavra. Oliver, do you have any more questions?

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Just one that I actually had for a while and you mentioned that it's -- it's important to be quiet on the ice out there.

Has whaling -- how has whaling changed since you started to use snowmachines and has that impacted whaling with sound in any way or --


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Compared to (inaudible)?

CRAWFORD PATKOTAK: Yeah, it's -- it has really affected the whaling when you're out on the edge of the ice because you have more frequency of snowmachines coming in and out from the shore -- coming in for supplies.

So you have a nonstop snowmachine. One crew after another are coming and going.

And we’re just as guilty, so it's made it harder for anybody to have a real quiet time compared to the old days.

So there's been -- it has a negative effect definitely.