Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Steve Oomittuk, Part 2

This is the continuation of an interview with Steve Ommittuk on June 2, 2017 by Karen Brewster at the Tuzzy Consortium Library in Utqiaġvik, Alaska (formerly known as Barrow). Steve lives in Point Hope, but was in Utqiaġvik attending the 2017 North Slope Elders/Youth Conference and was able to take time away from sessions to participate in this interview. In this second part of a two part interview, Steve talks about the effect of wind and current on sea ice conditions, the importance of checking the ice thickness and cracks in order to remain safe, and the ice conditions needed in order to pull up a whale and adaptation to changing conditions. He also talks about changes in the timing of break-up effecting bearded seal hunting, the whaling celebrations in Point Hope, ice conditions in the 2016 and 2017 whaling season, and the importance of listening to elders and paying attention to ice conditions.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-40_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 2, 2017
Narrator(s): Steve Oomittuk
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Effect of wind on ice conditions, and checking cracks in the ice to maintain safety

Areas of smooth safe ice (qaiqsuaq), and setting crab pots

Multi-year ice (piqaluyak)

Whale migration route, and increase in rate of coastal erosion

Timing of break-up and bearded seal hunting

Timing of freeze-up, and formation of slush ice (qinu)

Whaling celebrations, and eating of the whale's tail (aŋirruk)

Ice conditions during the 2017 whaling season

Ice conditions during the 2016 whaling season

Ice conditions needed in order to pull up a whale, and methods for pulling up and butchering whales

Teaching and learning about ice conditions and ice safety, and the importance of checking conditions

Importance of listening to elders and paying attention when on the ice, and effect of climate change on the ice, the land, and the sky

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Transcript

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know I -- I -- I grew up in that time, in that age where, you know, when I was living with my grandparents.

My aapa and aaka and -- and -- and saw their -- and listening to their stories and how it was.

And how we saw -- when they were still -- there were still people living in sod huts. I used to have to go to my auntie's on my -- and she was one of them to be the last one to live in a sod house.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. STEVE OOMITTUK: 1975 she moved out. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. STEVE OOMITTUK: A whalebone sod house.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. So when you’re out spring whaling and you’re out on that ice, if the wind comes from the south, is that the time to pick up and move? STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You wanna -- you wanna get back. You know, a lot of people will just go all the way to shore. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, ‘cause if you’re not that far out -- you know, in --in the old days -- you know, in the -- in the early '80s, '70s, you know, we would go -- only go half way back and -- and -- you know, there were times I didn’t go home for two weeks, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: On the ice.

Nowadays, you know, they don’t do that. You know, some people’s, you know, they -- they go home and then they -- you know, go home 'cause the lead is not that far, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right, it’s so close.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, it’s so close. When we used to have to go fourteen miles out, you know, we’d go back, you know, seven, eight miles and wait around for a while and hunt ducks and whatever and camp out there.

So when the lead is open -- open, we wanna be right -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause the animals gonna be. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Once the lead opened, the belugas gonna come, the whales gonna come. KAREN BREWSTER: So if --

STEVE OOMITTUK: We wanna be ready.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So when you were out there, a north wind keeps that lead open? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, if you’re at home and the -- it's north wind, you'd feel -- you would feel safe going out? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. ‘Cause you always wanna, you know -- you’re always walking and you're always looking at the ice.

You’re always looking at the cracks. Is there new cracks? KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know. The quppaqs (open ice crack), you know, you want to make sure, you know is it -- is it safe to go -- Is it gonna open where it was open the last time?

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so how do you dec -- What are you looking for to decide? What makes you say, "Oh, there’s a quppaq, but it’s okay, I’ll go across it."?

STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, you could -- you could actually see 'em moving up and down sometimes. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: When it’s -- when it’s broke all the way through. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: When it’s cracked all the way, you know, and -- and -- like, you know, you know that, you know, if it’s still south wind and -- and, you know, sometimes, you know, one might be lower and up and down like this, you know, they go -- moving.

You -- you know that once -- once a north wind hits, it’s gonna -- it’s gonna blow out. ‘Cause it’s -- it’s not connected. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It’s not connected. You wanna keep an eye out, you know. You can see 'em opening and closing, you know? KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: All the -- You -- you wanna check those. And you wanna check behind you, you know.

They always try to stay on a qaiqsuaq (smooth ice between areas of rough ice), you know. By the flat ices, by big flat areas. ‘Cause you never know, you know, you -- you -- you wanna be in a safe area and you --

KAREN BREWSTER: So those qaiqsuaqs are safe? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you have to have even -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Thick, yeah -- KAREN BREWSTER: You have to -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Thick ice. Yeah, the -- the -- the big, thick qaiqsuaqs, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Nowadays, you don’t have any -- KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- thick ones like they used to, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: And are those qaiqsuaqs, are they in between ivus? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, in between ivus, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so the ivu keeps it -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- closed in. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: When it’s thick ice?

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, and if there’s big ivuniqs right there, you know there’s a lot more ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And as you go further towards the, you know, the -- you know, we know how deep our ocean is from the beach all the way further out, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And to further out, you know. ‘Cause we -- we -- we put crab pots. You know, we get a oven rack. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. STEVE OOMITTUK: We put a seal head. We get a oven rack. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: Tie a -- and then we put it down when we’re out whaling. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: And we get crabs. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But they’re small. Small crabs. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: They’re not very big ones.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right, they’re not those king crabs. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. No. And we eat them -- you can eat them frozen, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: They eat the legs and stuff and --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I know they do a lot of crabbing now out of Kotzebue. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, oh yeah, they do crab. When -- when you go further towards Thompson they say there’s bigger ones. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STEVE OOMITTUK: We notice that there’s -- on the beaches sometimes they’re big -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, one time I thought -- you know, ‘cause we’re not normally seeing these big crabs and there was this blue one. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. STEVE OOMITTUK: I thought it was a dead rotten one and stuff, and then it started running, you know, and ah, go get it and --

When I take it home and cook it, it turn orange, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. STEVE OOMITTUK: But it was real bluish, purple color. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I think it’s a different kind of crab. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’ve heard of those. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: What was I just gonna ask? Oh, piqaluyak. Do you guys -- I don’t know if that’s what you call it in Tikiġaq, the multi-year ice, that fresh water ice. Do you guys have that that comes around? ‘Cause people up here talk about it all the time. STEVE OOMITTUK: No, I never --

KAREN BREWSTER: Those -- those big glacial multi-year fresh water ice. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, when -- when we want fresh water, you know, when we go to a flat -- the flat ice and when it -- there’s a big mound. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: On the very top is fresh -- fresh water. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: You could get ice from the very top of it. It’s a mound. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And it’s, you know, it’s just that part is fresh. When -- when -- when you’re on the -- in the old -- in the old days when, you know, before we had running water or anything. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: When we want fresh water in the late spring, the ivuniqs on the edge of the beach. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm. STEVE OOMITTUK: The very top, you know, after it -- when the sun and it -- it drains, it turns to fresh water. All the salt drops down. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But, you know, I -- I never -- KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t -- you -- Yeah. It’s diff -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That's -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: It must be different.

'Cause around here everybody talks about those piqaluyaks. Big multi-year glacial ice that they would help stabilize the ice and they’d camp by it and have fresh water. STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh, yeah, oh, the big blue. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, in the old days -- Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

Did -- did you guys have those? STEVE OOMITTUK: We -- we probably did. You know, they have big ivuniqs and it’s -- it’s -- it -- I -- you know --

KAREN BREWSTER: But your elders never really talked about it? STEVE OOMITTUK: No, only I -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, I never really -- You know, we just knew -- you know, maybe the older ones probably did talk about 'em. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: But we -- we knew where fresh water was. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: What -- what kind of ice to get for fresh water.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s in -- it’s interesting, the difference. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So --

STEVE OOMITTUK: We don't know because the currents -- you know, ‘cause we’re further south. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, they may get grounded up here. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And they don't get down there, so much STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, ‘cause -- 'cause it’s shallow.

You know, ‘cause, you know, we tried to follow a whale one time but the whales they -- from Cape Lisburne they go straight across. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And then they go by Wrangel Island and then they come. And then sometimes later on, you know, maybe October, late -- you know, sometimes they’re by Cape Thompson, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: A few of them will make it over here. Some of the elders talked about that, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause they tried to go hunt on the north side a few times, fall whaling. But they had to go way out there and it -- it -- it gets rough. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: Our ocean gets real rough.

Our -- you know, our land shore ice is -- is -- goes -- gone farther and farther in the last ten years. It goes back over three hundred miles to four hundred miles. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: From Point Hope out to -- it’s -- there’s so much open --we’re losing so much land. Erosion.

When we get that northwest wind the waves have been bigger and bigger and just -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- tearing up our land.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that -- in the springtime, the landfast ice, about nowadays when does that break up and you can go ugruk hunting? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, about in June.

KAREN BREWSTER: In June? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And when -- in the old days, when you were young, when did that happen? STEVE OOMITTUK: About, yeah, middle part of June. KAREN BREWSTER: So that -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that timing is still about the same? STEVE OOMITTUK: The ice -- seem like the ice would always stay around, you know. The ice was always around. You know, June, July. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, when it opened up July. You know, but you could, you know, -- it -- and it seem like it was open -- but nowadays you don’t see it.

Once the ice is gone, the ice is gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: It don’t -- you know, the broken up ice.

So this -- this last -- last spring -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- we only had a week of hunting. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: For ugruks.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then the ice was gone? STEVE OOMITTUK: And then the ice was gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: So we have to be -- make sure we’re ready. Once -- once the ugruks are around we -- you know -- ‘cause once that ice goes, it’s gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It’s -- it’s not like -- it’s, you know, like it’s there. Like, you know, we have a whole month or so of -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: Hunting ugruks and we’re at our camps and --

KAREN BREWSTER: And, yeah, in the old days you used to come and go, you’d have ice -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, come and go, yeah. Come and go but -- KAREN BREWSTER: Not anymore? STEVE OOMITTUK: Nowadays, when it’s -- when it's gone, it’s gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And once the ice is gone, the animals are gone. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: And --

KAREN BREWSTER: And for that qinu (slush ice) to form in the falltime, does it have to be calm water? No wind? Or -- or does that qinu start forming when it’s windy? STEVE OOMITTUK: No, when it -- it’s calm. KAREN BREWSTER: Calm? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. The qinu, yeah. It comes from -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it has to be calm?

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. And it depends how cold, you know. Salt -- salt water, ocean, you know, takes a while to freeze. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because that -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: That -- that qinu is freezing in place, right? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. Yeah, the fresh water. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: The rivers are already freezing up, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. The -- the qinu's not coming in? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: It’s -- it's freezing right there? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. And some of it is coming, you know, the -- But, yeah, it -- it -- when it connects that’s what they qinu. When the ice is born. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: When it connects to the land. When it's qinu. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: When it’s forming, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Well, that -- STEVE OOMITTUK: The ice is born. It’s a slush. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it’s that slush. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, slush -- KAREN BREWSTER: When it’s first forming. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, it’s a grayish color. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, and -- and it kind of -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Undulates a little bit?

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, and it’s -- and it's to the -- the elders take rides every day, you know. The ones, they’ve done it for so many -- you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: They’re looking for it. STEVE OOMITTUK: They’re looking for it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And they say oh, qinu. They bring the aŋirruks (base of the whale’s tail) out. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: After five whales -- After five whales, your sixth whale, you can have your aŋirruk any time you want.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see. You don’t have to wait for the qinu? STEVE OOMITTUK: No. Well, you wait -- you wait past the qinu. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: You can have it -- you could let it ferment ‘til March. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, oh, I see. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: They -- they -- they wait ‘til March. They let it ferment longer. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: In March, when they’re getting ready, they’ll pull it -- they’ll -- they’ll pull it out right before March before they get ready to start working on their boats. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And putting their amiqs (seal skin cover on umiaq frame). They -- they wanna -- and they have that celebrating, then it’s nice and green and, you know, really --

KAREN BREWSTER: Tastes good, huh? STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh man, yeah. This is, you know, you think Kentucky Fried Chicken is finger-licking good, this is aŋirruk, you know. But the younger generation has a little trouble ‘cause the smell is so strong. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

So what was this 2017 spring whaling season like for Tikiġaq? STEVE OOMITTUK: Ten whales. KAREN BREWSTER: Ten whales? STEVE OOMITTUK: No losses. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. STEVE OOMITTUK: All ten strikes.

KAREN BREWSTER: What was the ice like? STEVE OOMITTUK: The ice was thick. The ice was there. They were ten, seven -- ten miles out.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was it a lot of rough ivus or -- or -- ? STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, there were some ivus, but there was qaiqsuaqs. There was a lot of good places. And it was -- there was a lot of ivu -- ivuniqs. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah?

STEVE OOMITTUK: It was rough. It was rough. I didn’t make it out at all this year. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: I -- I -- I would -- I -- I was traveling a lot. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Every time they caught a whale, I was -- so, you know, I’m on the Assembly (North Slope Borough Assembly) now. I’m on -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- several other boards. I -- I do other things. I went to my daughter's graduation in Anchorage and -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It -- Every time I happened to leave, they catch a whale. And then -- and then one -- one day I was in town, you know, my -- my -- my Honda had broken down and I couldn’t make it out.

And everybody was, you know -- was so busy I -- You know, the year before I was -- on -- every -- so they caught seven whales. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: I was just about at every whale that year.

KAREN BREWSTER: So was the trailbreaking hard work this year? Did the guys say anything? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, they -- they -- they broke trail. But you know, it was -- they -- they break trail, but you it -- it -- you know. When -- when there was snow. But when you have four-wheelers going through, you know, different people have different trails for them. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But , it was kinda rough. KAREN BREWSTER: It was kinda rough? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what -- You said you were out last year, what was the ice like last year? STEVE OOMITTUK: The ice was close. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah? STEVE OOMITTUK: Real close. Everybody was over by Nuvuk. They had to pull ‘em up by Nuvuk all in this one area. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: Pretty much. ‘Cause that’s where the thickest ice was. KAREN BREWSTER: Was it -- ?

STEVE OOMITTUK: And then the -- the lead was open right in town, just three hundred yards, four hundred yards out.

KAREN BREWSTER: And last year was it rough ice to get out to that po -- place at Nuvuk or it was -- ? STEVE OOMITTUK: No, it was -- you could go on flat ice all the way. But a lot of water, you know, some parts.

Water got a little dangerous out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, you -- STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause they use the same trail so much right there. And pulled up all the whales right in there. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause most of all seven whales, right -- right in this area. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. STEVE OOMITTUK: Nuvuk, right out here. They go out this way and it’s just right there.

KAREN BREWSTER: So do -- Can you still find places to pull up a whale, or is the ice -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- getting too thin for that?

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, you know, you could still, you know -- you know, there was times in the old, you know -- ‘cause lot of these whales were fifty footers, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, it was --

KAREN BREWSTER: So how thick does the ice have to be for a fifty foot whale? STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh, it’s gotta be a good -- you know, it’s gotta be thick, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Six -- six feet? Four feet? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, you could pull it up in six feet, you know.

‘Cause when -- when -- when you dig the anchor, when you dig the anchor, you know, you wanna go at least three feet down. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: And then stay three feet wide and three to four feet down and connect.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you need at least three to four feet of ice then? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. And -- and you wanna make sure there’s no cracks, you know.

And if you’re by ivuniqs, you know, that’s a crack, you know, where an ivu is. Especially if they’re small ivuniqs, you don’t wanna pull -- you wanna -- You're more better to pull it up on a flat ice instead of -- so, you know, some people might think that it’s tough to -- but when -- where there’s -- where the ivuniqs are, small ivus, there’s a crack right there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: It was -- two ice connect and form an ivu. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And there’s a crack, you try to pull it up but -- and it’s happened before. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really?

STEVE OOMITTUK: No, no. This is not a good place to pull up a whale, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. You’re right, you'd think an ivuniq would be stable ‘cause it goes to the bottom. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, ‘cause it goes to the bottom. So you wanna stay -- you know, the flat ice is -- There’s no cracks, it’s flat, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: It’s stable, you know. It’s laid -- it’s laid flat. It has a pressure. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It might sink down a little, but it’s -- it -- it’s harder to break than when there’s a crack, ‘cause a fifty foot whale is fifty tons. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know. KAREN BREWSTER: It’s heavy. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

And in the old days when they couldn’t pull it, they used to take the head off and pull it up. And some -- In the old days, they used to pull it by the head. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, first? The head first? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. The head first in the old days. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: The heav -- the heavier part? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. And the tail, you know, just -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You could pull up the head, you know, and then the body will follow. But you always have to tie the taliġuqs (front flippers) together. KAREN BREWSTER: The flippers? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, the flippers. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: So they don’t get cau -- But, you know, you’re pulling up the head, you know. They -- just climbs right up. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But when you’re pulling it tail first, you know, the arms -- and it rolls. You know, you have to put the strap a certain way or it's under so it comes upside down.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So how come they switched from pulling the head first to tail first? STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause it -- it -- you know, they -- they -- they started using the kuyapigaurats (block and tackle rope pulley system). KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, the block and tackle? STEVE OOMITTUK: The pulley. Yeah, block and tackle.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so it was by head before block and tackle? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. In the old days, and how they made the, you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that dead man thing? STEVE OOMITTUK: With the logs. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And then it's like -- and cutting up.

And then in the old -- you know how they used to cut it up in the water. And how Point Hope marks a whale. And how they used to put rope around the body, two rounds one way, one round, so they can pull the rope and hold it and stop it. And round the whale. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Right on the edge. And they have a string on the tail. String on the head. They hold it on the edge. And they have people pulling. Stopping, pulling. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm. STEVE OOMITTUK: They can round the whale. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. STEVE OOMITTUK: Round it in the water.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s how you cut it up in the water? STEVE OOMITTUK: In the old days, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, wow. Cool. STEVE OOMITTUK: You can -- you could cut it up and take ‘em off. Take the maktak off. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-mm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And you mark how -- how -- when you -- you've seen how we mark the whale, yeah? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. And how -- KAREN BREWSTER: The different shares and -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, different shares. KAREN BREWSTER: What -- who goes to what. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And I know Point Hope does it differently. STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh, totally, totally in a different way. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. ‘Cause of your qargis. But -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Another question I had is, you know, in terms of trying to teach somebody about the ice, and identifying -- You know, you said you followed your grandfather and people. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And you learned -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- what’s safe and what’s not safe and how to survive. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: If you had --

STEVE OOMITTUK: Nowadays, you know, it’s so different it’s hard to predict. You know safety is the number one issue. KAREN BREWSTER: So --

STEVE OOMITTUK: In the old days, even though the elders knew. We had a lot of deaths. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: A lot of our elders died. A lot of our -- our women are widowed. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: And remarried. Some of them never remarried. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause it was a daily -- you know in those days, it was an everyday thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So --

STEVE OOMITTUK: You had to have a seal. You had to go out on the ice. They -- they knew the ice. They knew the danger.

You know, this is winter, you know -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: Thirty, forty below. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know -- KAREN BREWSTER: It’s dark. STEVE OOMITTUK: When it's -- Every day’s dark. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: There’s polar bears. And they’re walking.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right, so if you had a young person today, you know, or what you have taught to your sons and nephews -- What do you teach them that they need to know? STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, you have to have that unaaq (ice testing staff). You know, your unaaq. Your walking stick. Your unaaq.

KAREN BREWSTER: When you have that unaaq are you listening for certain sounds? STEVE OOMITTUK: No, you want -- you want it in front of you. You don’t walk like it with a cane and you just keep -- You know, it’s in front of you. You know, you -- you could -- if it breaks through, phew. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, hey, that’s -- That's, you know -- You don’t wanna walk and go on the side like this and -- KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- you know, use it like a cane, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: ‘Cause you’re ahead of it sometimes, you know, you walk out -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right, so you put it in front -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- you’re -- you’re seeing if it goes through? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Are you listening for it to make a certain sound on the ice? Or that’s only on fresh water ice? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, fresh -- fresh water. KAREN BREWSTER: Fresh water? STEVE OOMITTUK: You could see that, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But not with --

STEVE OOMITTUK: But you could, yeah -- ‘Cause it, you know -- if your -- if your unaaq goes --You know, ‘cause some of that ice is not very thick when you’re walking on it.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so the sea ice doesn’t make a sound like fresh water ice does? STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, you know when you walk on it, you know. And when there’s fresh snow or -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- you know, crystals. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: You could hear your muk -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, when you have mukluks on. Or your shoes, you know, the sound of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But, you know, when you have your unaaq, and it -- it -- it’s gonna go through, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: It will --

KAREN BREWSTER: What about color? If you're out -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, color. Yeah, dark color, you know. Dark color. You wanna watch for the dark color, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s dangerous?

STEVE OOMITTUK: But lately, you know -- late -- You know, it’s been raining in the coldest time of the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: And it -- then it -- then it freezes, and it makes a dark -- And then -- then it snows. But you still, you need your unaaq.

KAREN BREWSTER: So a dark color -- dark color ice is -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, is probably, you know, freshly formed, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Back in the day -- KAREN BREWSTER: Thin and dangerous? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, thin and dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, STEVE OOMITTUK: Because the water's right there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: But now, you know, that it’s been raining -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, And it -- and it gets, you know, wet on top, it gets dark.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. And how do you tell through the snow? I mean it -- As you say, the ice is all covered with snow. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you clear off a place and look or -- STEVE OOMITTUK: No, that’s why you have -- KAREN BREWSTER: You have that unaaq? STEVE OOMITTUK: That unaaq. That’s why you always have -- you -- there might be just a little part that’s dangerous and the rest might be all good. It's -- You know. It’s -- it’s -- it’s in your walking, right in front of you.

KAREN BREWSTER: So do you get off your snowmachine and go and -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, your -- so you won’t go -- you don’t drive on certain parts. You just -- You know, you get off your snowmachine and if you wanna go walk on the thin ice, you know --

Or they have these umiaġiuraqs (small sealskin boat), you know, that they -- when they -- they find a crack and they, you know. The little skin boats. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: One man boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. I was gonna say when you’re -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Umiaġiuraq.

KAREN BREWSTER: When you're out there, and you're say on your snowmachine. You -- you know oh, I don’t wanna take my snowmachine. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, yeah -- you won't -- You don't wanna lose your machine.

KAREN BREWSTER: What is -- what is it that you see that makes you say, "I’m gonna stop and go check?" STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, you -- you -- you could see, you know, the main ice and then it drops. Usually, there’s a drop and then there’s a -- there’s a thin layer of ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, it’s -- it’s not the same. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, you’re on where the lead was open the last time. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. STEVE OOMITTUK: And then it froze over.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Like an iiguaq (new ice attached to edge of shorefast ice) or something? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: An add on. STEVE OOMITTUK: And right there, you know, you could see, you know, the level of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: And sometimes, you know, ‘cause it’s not gonna -- It depends, you know, on where you’re at in some areas.

But you can tell where’s -- You know, and then safety is always -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: Checking the ice. You know -- KAREN BREWSTER: And if you -- STEVE OOMITTUK: Having your unaaq with you.

KAREN BREWSTER: If you’re at a crack, how -- before you were saying sometimes they move. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But if you’re at a crack that’s frozen, how do you tell if it's -- how long it’s been refrozen and if it’s safe to cross? STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, you know it --

KAREN BREWSTER: You test with your unaaq? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, you test -- test with your unaaq, yeah. And if it -- if it froze -- You now, if it’s -- sometimes they nipit (to stick together), you know, they get stuck together. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, they -- And piġiŋa (?) (to be bent). But if it -- if it -- you know, when it move, it -- it -- it’ll show a crack. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, you always -- it’ll have a dark, you know, when it’s broken all the way through. It’s -- it’s -- it’s loose. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It's -- it gonna uit (ice breaking away and forming a lead of open water). You know, it's -- It's gonna -- KAREN BREWSTER: It'll drift out.

STEVE OOMITTUK: If you get that north wind, it’s gonna blow away, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: It -- you -- you can see it, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: It’s dark. It’s a crack and you know, you wanna -- when you check, you'll -- that’s why the unaaq was always a very important -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- tool to the Iñupiaq people. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Especially 'cause Tikiġagmiis they walk. They walked. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, they walked everywhere.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Their dogs were too -- to take your dogs out there on the ice, you know, dogs were so important. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: They -- they used them inland. You know, going inland. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: They used them in the summertime when they pulled those umiaqs. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: They would pull their -- along the beach and pull them, too. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STEVE OOMITTUK: Or they would have them on dog packs and walk with them, too. They would carry packs and they would have their -- their food. They would carry their food. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, they’re --

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, is there anything else about knowledge about ice that you wanna pass along or -- that I haven’t -- we haven’t talked about? STEVE OOMITTUK: Well, just -- just be careful and -- and, you know, your elders, they know. Trust them. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, pay attention to where you’re at. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh huh. STEVE OOMITTUK: Pay attention what things around you.

KAREN BREWSTER: And now with the ice being so different and thin and as you've said, maybe a little more dangerous, what do you see for the future of whaling? Is that gonna be a problem? STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, it -- it’s -- it’s the scariest thing to think about. ‘Cause you know, the -- the ice is so important to us. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-mm. STEVE OOMITTUK: The ice brings the animals. Without the ice we have no animals. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, I noticed that -- You know, when I look at the stars -- You know, my house, I built my house in 1983, Point Hope. You know, and my dad built -- I added on to his house and he built it in 1961. And we were one of the first wooden houses in 1961.You know, with actual insulation, and -- and -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- everything like that, you know.

And -- but, you know, when -- when you look out your window, when you pay attention to what's around you, especially in the sky -- and when you see the stars, you always know where the stars are at certain area.

You know, you -- if you lived in one house for the last thirty, forty years and you look and you see where the big dipper is and how it’s always pointed, then all of a sudden it’s further on this side. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, the stars when you look are not like where they used to be. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh really? STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. When you -- like a -- like it -- the world has shifted a little bit. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

STEVE OOMITTUK: The stars are not -- You know, I’m -- I’m used to -- From my one window I’m used to -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- looking at -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: -- the north star, the big dipper, you know. You know, those three ones in a line. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: The small dipper.

You know, I’ve always looked at the stars. The nor -- wind -- especially when the northern lights are out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STEVE OOMITTUK: You know, you always -- when you pay attention, you know, ‘cause they were always used in the old days. They used the stars to go home to -- if -- you know -- if -- if -- if the north and south wind that api (to become snow covered) that make api in Point Hope, You know, it's different than different villages. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STEVE OOMITTUK: You know. When it api.

KAREN BREWSTER: What is api? STEVE OOMITTUK: Oh, yeah, the snow -- the snow drifts. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. So.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, thank you very much for your time today. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And -- and taking a break from the elder’s conference. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah, okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: I very much appreciate it. Quyanaq. STEVE OOMITTUK: Yeah.