Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Bruce Nukapigak, Translation 2

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 The interview was first translated in 1979 by Molly Pederson and appears in the Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979, p. A-II-30).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 in this project as Bruce Nukapigak, Translation 1. The interview was translated a third time in August 2014 by Ronald H. Brower, Sr. and appears below synced with the Inupiaq audio. In this project, it is known 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: Ronald Brower, Sr.
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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Childhood at Ualiqpaa (Walakpaa)

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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2014 Translation by Ronald H. Brower Sr.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When I was finally born, they named me Nukapiġaq. I was born on the west side of Barrow at the source of Ukkuqsi Creek.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes, at the source of Ukkuqsi Creek is where I was born.

KENNETH TOOVAK: In a sod house? Perhaps in one of the old sod houses?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In a snow house.

KENNETH TOOVAK: In a snow house?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes, in a snow house.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes. In a snow house. Perhaps it was during the winter.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In 1900. That was quite a long time ago.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I just recently turned 78 years old. April 10, 1900 is my birthdate.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes, I agree, you have recently turned 78 years old.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Coming up from the south, my parents came up here to give birth to me there.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Where did they come here from?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Down at Walakpa, we had a home during the time my grandmother Taipauraq was still alive. On the north side of the bay just back of the small crevice is where our house was located.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so I grew up becoming totally aware of my surroundings while we lived there. I grew up with Aqalgiuna. And so, we lived there until my grandmother Taipauraq died.

And so when I became a young boy, after my grandmother passed away, our mother took us to Barrow when our father died shortly thereafter. Out there on the ice. Our mother took us to Barrow and married my new stepfather, Iqaluk. Now, he had a kayak which he used to hunt with, this stepfather of mine. He never went anywhere without his hunting kayak. Always pulling it along to go hunting when I was growing up as a boy.

Whenever I saw him coming home, I would go meet him, dragging a seal below the kayak. He was one of the old way hunters of the time. Always on the hunt, always searching for game for food. There was never a penny to be found in one’s pocket. I grew up in that lifestyle. And so, when I grew into a young man, I joined a whaling crew. With Taaqpak’s crew. No, it was with Igasak’s crew. So I was with Igasak's crew, who used a wooden whale boat. Who, in spite of the cold, would go whaling in the fall.

When they launched the wooden boat, there was no time for much sleep on the hunt for those men. When there was deeply grounded icebergs on the east side of Point Barrow, they would make their way there. And only if there was a safe way to climb its shear walls of ice, they would climb and make watch for whales in the northern currents. Once they spotted a whale, they headed out straight away. They did not have outboards . Once they captured the whale, they would to tow it toward Point Barrow, to Kipalu, . There they would butcher the whale if conditions permitted. If they did not do the butchering on the shorefast ice.

So it was, that I grew up in that way of life.

KENNETH TOOVAK: In that time when you were whaling with Igasak, you said earlier that grounded icebergs, those grounded icebergs were present in the fall?


KENNETH TOOVAK: Were those grounded icebergs there all summer long or were they recently grounded?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Some were recently grounded icebergs that were melting. Sometimes a grounded iceberg never move. It would be there all winter before it is gets dislodged next fall.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Those were what you were talking about earlier. Is that correct? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Those are the type of icebergs the investigators wanted to know about.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: They did not move. They only eroded away from wave action, breaking off here and there, but some of them never completely melted away in those days.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes. That is so.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: So it was under those conditions that I grew up. We would camp out at Point Barrow. We started out early in the morning with the intent of reaching those grounded icebergs. It was so the men could perch there in search of whale. But only if it was possible to climb upon them.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so when I grew into a young man and was able to hunt on my own. When I married Tavvialuk, our mother, Qusangana, traveled eastward to relocate to Barter Island.

And so after she left. Being a man of my own right now, I had begotten a son, Isuġaaq.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So it was after you had got married that they departed eastward?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And then Maniksaq was born thereafter.

KENNETH TOOVAK: I see. Here in Barrow?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. So it was, we received a message from our mother asking that we go there.

KENNETH TOOVAK: To Barter Island?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And so obeying our mother, we left for Barter Island. And so I began learning the country on my own. At first, I had no one to advise me or guide me. I was doing this by myself.

It was then, Uqimailaq’s father-in-law became my instructor. Perhaps you knew of Uqumailaq’s father-in-law. He was a small man.

UNKNOWN: His name was Quġlaq.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Quġlaq was his name and he became my instructor. Doing the best that I could for myself, I studied the sea ice.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Where? Here or at Barter Island?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: After I went there.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I did not learn about the ice conditions here in Barrow. However of the ice, he instructed me extremely well, this great little uncle of mine.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Uqumailak’s father-in-law? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: His little father-in-law. KENNETH TOOVAK: So it was his father-in-law? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: His little father-in-law. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: He taught me about the sea ice movements. Also a lead weight used for a depth finder which he had. My stepfather also had a depth finder, but he never taught me how to use it. KENNETH TOOVAK: I see. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so my instructor taught me about ice movements. Out there when an east wind there would form an open lead.

KENNETH TOOVAK: At Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: At Barter Island.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Just like here at Barrow.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. From the east wind. The lead would form westward all the way from Cross Island. KENNETH TOOVAK: Yes.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And end on the east shore of Jago River.

KENNETH TOOVAK: To the east of Barter Island?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And after being there for some time, I began living at different places after our mother passed away.

KENNETH TOOVAK: How far from Barter Island did the lead open in the winter?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It was close. It was always close to the shore.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So it is similar to the Barrow coastline?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. From Jago River and at Cross Island, the ice would form ice ridges. Sometimes it would form an open lead in a straight line between these points.

KENNETH TOOVAK: And would it form a long shorefast ice edge?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. It formed a long shorefast ice edge, but it never had any grounded ice like at Barrow.

KENNETH TOOVAK: The coastline in front of Barter Island?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It is deep so it never has any grounded icebergs.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So it never has any grounded icebergs?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes, however the shore of Jago River will have a wall of shear ice at times. But never to a great extent.

KENNETH TOOVAK: I see. Does the shear wall of ice ever pile high enough to anchor to the bottom?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: No, it never does that. It remains just a shear wall. Caused by currents shearing the pack ice against the shorefast ice.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So that is why there is never grounded ice at Barter Island, because between these two points of that? I see.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It never has grounded ice. Just shear ice wall caused by currents grinding the shore fast ice with drifting ice floes. KENNETH TOOVAK: So the front of Barter Island never has grounded icebergs? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It never have any grounded ice bergs however there will be multi-year ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: Do they ever get grounded? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: They hardly ever touch the bottom most of the time.

It is because the Naulagiaġvik Island is a bit further out than Barter Island, therefore it causes the main ice pack to bypass the shores of Barter Island.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Is it because that Naulagiaġvik Island is like a point?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It is a geographical point and Barter Island is its bay. It acts like a bay.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So Barter Island is inside of this bay?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It is the bay. It is like a bay all the way to Cross Island. When there is an east wind it causes a lead to form at Naulagiaġvik Island. KENNETH TOOVAK: I see. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When there is a west wind it causes Cross Island to open a lead. So large heavy ice floes that were stranded there seem very light and are easily carried by the currents eastward.

It causes Barter Island and that place I talked about, Jago River, to form pressure ridges. It is because these heavy laden ice floes are shoved hard against it. So large pressure ridges form there.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Does it cause the ice to get grounded? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: There are no signs of grounding in that area. KENNETH TOOVAK: I meant when large pressure ridges form. BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: While it may create large pressure ridges close by, however they never become grounded because it is so deep.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So while it may cause it to form huge pressure ridges they never get grounded like around Barrow? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: That never happens.

KENNETH TOOVAK: It never gets grounded?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It is the ice that is moving because there is a weak current there.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So when you lived at Barter Island was it obvious there was no grounded icebergs? Was it obvious that ice that was close to its shore did not form pressure ridges to your knowledge?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It never formed pressure ridges.

KENNETH TOOVAK: In front of Barter Island? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It is only moving ice that caused pressure ridges to form without the help of ocean strong currents.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: And so there is a small gravel island called Tapqauraq (Little Island) just north of Jago River. When the west wind is blowing, it will open a lead right along the edge of the gravel shoreline.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Along the edge of the gravel shoreline.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Along the edge of the gravel shoreline.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: It forms a point for its lagoon. Because Jago River resembles a hook that connects to Barter Island. And on the eastward side of the Jago River is the backside of the formation. It has a small gravel island called Tapqauraq. KENNETH TOOVAK: Does it cause it to open a lead? .


KENNETH TOOVAK: That is south west of Beechey Point?

UNKNOWN: Of Kuukpaaġruk River.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: However, that time while I was trapping for foxes on the ice, I experienced the whole ice sheet move as an inertial mass. KENNETH TOOVAK: Oh.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So you were traveling all over the ice by yourself?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. In those days when we lived among the mountains. When I traveled down on the ice to set traps out on the ice. That is when the entire mass of ice moved.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Since the indistinct past, Beechey Point, from its front, to Cross Island, forms an open lead. In this lead, pack ice takes large icebergs with it out to sea when the lead opens up. Also when the lead opens, large icebergs are carried straight toward Cross Island, then seem to stop. But they continue going into the inlet, these larger icebergs. And the front of Beechey Point along its outer shore is struck with large pressure ridges.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Do you mean pressure ridges form at Beechey Point? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In front of the island .

KENNETH TOOVAK: On the ocean side of the island?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. Where pressure ridges would form.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Was it in winter or in the fall? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: In the fall, no, it was in the winter.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So it was in the winter?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. Because when the west wind is blowing one can see the ice breaking up. KENNETH TOOVAK: I see.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Forming pressure ridges.

KENNETH TOOVAK: From the west wind? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: From the west wind.

KENNETH TOOVAK: When the shore ice breaks off.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And that sheared ice is slammed onto the shores in front of Beechey Point area causing it to form large pressure ridges. KENNETH TOOVAK: I see.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: There is a drop off ledge just west of Beechey Point extending to Cross Island. Along this ledge, the drop off is very deep. This condition is the reason very large bergs flow into the inlet.

KENNETH TOOVAK: When you mentioned that large icebergs make it into the inlet, what kind of large icebergs are you talking about?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Multi-year ice. KENNETH TOOVAK: Oh. Multi-year ice.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: With huge pressure ridges attached, would go into the inlet.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Would go into the inlet? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes. And there is Cross Island further out. So these icebergs would pass through the channel exiting to the southeast of Cross Island. Then there is the current which is not very strong. However, the wind and current working together have no problem in breaking up the ice. Thereby causing the ice to pile up.

KENNETH TOOVAK: How many miles out from the shore of islands are these large icebergs located out there?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: When they are in front of Beechey Point.

KENNETH TOOVAK: What year would it have been when you lived around there?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I don’t know. I do not recall the year.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Can you make a guess on the year?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: This happened in the year my daughter Mary was born. That is recorded on Mary’s birth certificate.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So you must have been around 30 years old at the time? BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I agree.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So if you were about 20 years old when you got married -- Do you remember how old you were when you got married?

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I got married fairly young.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Was it before you reached 20?

UNKNOWN: If it was over thirty years ago, that would be pretty close.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: I agree. Now in front of islands there are no strong currents that flow along the coast of the barrier islands.


BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: So on the leeward side of the islands, when the lead opens, moving ice was being pushed toward the coast and was the cause of pressure ridges forming there. It is only the icebergs with extended depths that are controlled by currents. Is that understandable?

UNKNOWN: It is the incoming current from the deep that controls these large icebergs.

BRUCE NUKAPIGAK: Yes, the current's from the deep.

KENNETH TOOVAK: So after the multi-year thickens does the front of Barter Island ever get grounded ice?