Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Nick Nowatok

Nick Nowatak was interviewed on August 7, 1997 by Judith Morris in Kokhanok, Alaska. Nick spoke in his Native Yup'ik language and an unidentified person served as the translator. In this interview, Nick talks about living in the Kvichak and Kokhanok region, being a reindeer herder, and trapping. He also discusses fishing, living a subsistence lifestyle, and changes he has observed since moving to Kokhanok in the 1940s.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 1998-21-02

Project: Katmai National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 7, 1997
Narrator(s): Nick Nowatok
Interviewer(s): Judith Morris
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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Slideshow
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Sections

His personal and family background and herding reindeer around Kokhanok in the 1940s

Trapping around the Kokhanok area

Moving to Kokhanok when he got married, raising a family, commercial fishing, and learning to trap when he was a boy

Animals, bear hunting, and what Kokhanok was like when he first moved there in the 1940s

Trapping and how snowshoes were made a long time ago

Waterproof mukluks and fall fishing

Changes in the village

Sharing your first kill with the elders of the village

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Transcript

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: August 7th, in Kokhanok, Alaska. This is Judith Morris and I'm here talking with Nick Nowatok. Nick, can you tell me where you were born? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He says in the Kvichak, probably at Kaskanak. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah, Kaskanak. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Kaskanak? You were born in Kaskanak? MR. NICK NOWATOK: That's what they say. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: That's what they say? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where were your parents from? Where was your mom from? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said that as long as he can remember, they have been from that area, like Kvichak. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: From Kvichak, Kaskanak? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. Yeah, Kvichak, Kaskanak area. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: When did you move to Kokhanok? When did you come to Kokhanok? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) THE INTERPRETER: He said right toward 1940s or so, and around, he came up and ended up staying there. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You were coming up trapping and going back to Kaskanak? THE INTERPRETER: You know, they have reindeer up there. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Were you a reindeer herder? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He says he was with Alex Gregor. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Behind Igiugig? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Olber (phonetic)? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Behind Igiugig and behind Kokhanok? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. (Answers in Native language.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: As the caribou? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you sell the reindeer? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said they issue a (indiscernible) -- MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: From what he can remember, he said during first few years of the war they just let the herd leave. And I guess that was -- MS. JUDITH MORRIS: That was the end of that? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, at the end. You know, and they didn't regroup after...

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What about when you were doing reindeer, were you also trapping? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, he said from the start that they -- yeah, they always have trapped. That was their mainstay of being in an area. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. What things did you used to trap, Mr. Nowatok? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said, what they usually get in this area. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you ever trap wolves? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Wolves? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you use dogs when you were trapping? Did you use your dog team? THE INTERPRETER: They had to pull their dogs together because they couldn't... MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Okay. We're back with Mr. Nowatok, and I was asking about your dog team. Would you trap, do your trap line with your dog team? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Who was your partner? Did you have a trapping partner? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Zachar sometime. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Who? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) Zachar (indiscernible) down there. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Lots of -- a partner? THE INTERPRETER: People -- MS. JUDITH MORRIS: -- spend the night out? Did you go for many days on your trapping line? Overnight? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) Almost two weeks sometime. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Sometimes two weeks? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you have a tent or a cabin? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Tent. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: A tent? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: A white canvas tent? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. THE INTERPRETER: You know, they always had a tent. (Inaudible) tent (inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Where did you go? Did you have your own trapping area? When you moved to Kokhanok, where did you trap? Where did you go? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Down Big Mountain. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Big Mountain area? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. Lots of guys trapping down there before. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Lots? What kind of traps did you use? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Fox and beaver, lynx. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where would you get your traps? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where did you buy your traps? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Naknek. (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He says they were cheaper down at Naknek.

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Mr. Nowatok, did you have a skiff? When did you get your first motor? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Down at the bay. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You got it in the bay? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: How old were you when you got a motor? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said -- he said that once he was able to be on his own. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where was your wife from? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Huh? MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where was your wife -- what village was your wife from? Where was your wife from? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: Right here. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Right here? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: That's why you moved to Kokhanok? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You met her when she was up here? What family was she from? What was her name? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: (Indiscernible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Was living here, and you got married, and you had how many children? MR. NICK NOWATOK: The oldest one right there. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: The oldest one is right there? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) Martha and Annie. There were four girls. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Four girls? THE INTERPRETER: Dead or alive, you know. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Yeah. Were you a commercial fisherman, Mr. Nowatok? Did you commercial fish in the bay? MR. NICK NOWATOK: I go down to get job labor someplace. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Someplace down there? For many years? You fished for many years? On a sailboat? On sails did you fish? (Interpretation given.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: (Indiscernible.) When did you quit trapping? How many years ago did you quit trapping? MR. NICK NOWATOK: I quit long time. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You quit a long time ago? THE INTERPRETER: (Inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Who taught you how to trap? Who taught you how to trap? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said you learn by watching your elders so you do what they are doing. You know, that's -- that's their way of... MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Parents tell you anything about taking care of animals? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. THE INTERPRETER: He says, yeah. And you know, he got a (indiscernible) and his dad was Alex Zackar's. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You were raised by old, blind grandma? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: With Alex Zackar? THE INTERPRETER: No, they weren't even born yet. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: They were not? THE INTERPRETER: They were not.

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Were any of the -- were any of the animals considered stronger than other animals? You know, is a wolf considered a strong animal? Is -- THE INTERPRETER: The wolverine had a -- MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Like ancestors. THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, they are considered like ancestors. A long time ago they claim even when animals used to talk like. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: When you were a young man, Mr. Nowatok, did you see mostly moose or caribou? Did you see the moose more or the caribou? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Caribou. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Caribou? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Before I got no moose around here. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: No moose? THE INTERPRETER: No moose. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Nothing. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: When did you start seeing moose? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said for a while there they -- you know, there was hardly... MS. JUDITH MORRIS: How about bear? Did you used to hunt bear? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You hunt bear springtime or fall time? MR. NICK NOWATOK: One time in the springtime sometime. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: In the springtime sometime? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you go with a group of men for bear hunting? A group? THE INTERPRETER: He said -- he used -- when people lived here, they had two or three men in the camp, supposed to be two, two people. Two or three at the most. You know. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: (Indiscernible.) -- take your beaver with a gun? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: When you took your bear, would you use the fat or the meat or? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Meat, yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: The meat? Did you salt it or dry it or? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Salt your meat? In barrels? (Interpretation given.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Yeah. Get up? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Talking about -- you moved to Kokhanok in the '40s. How many people were living here? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Not many people before. Now lots of guys around there. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Not very many? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Long time ago. Not many of them. No kids much, too. Even down the bay and Iliamna. Nondalton, not much kids. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Not too many. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Right -- MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Go ahead. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Like right now, Nondalton has lots of them now. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum.

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did people have houses close to the water? How did you haul your water? Have them on the shoulder, yoke, with buckets? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Carried them that way, the water? THE INTERPRETER: Most people -- some people had yokes, you know, some didn't. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Pack it with your dogs, water with your dogs? Did you have to cut ice in the winter to keep a water hole? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Can you tell a change in the weather, Mr. Nowatok? It's getting warmer in the winter, than when you were a young man? More snow? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Some -- sometime, yeah, got lots of snow. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: But not now? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Right. Not right now, nothing. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Well, not now, nothing. That's true. But -- MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah before, lots of snow before. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. When you would take your dogs down to Big Mountain to trap, how long would that take you? How many -- would it take you a day? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Nice day, can make one day. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: One day to go down for your trapping? And you -- by dogs? Did you ever use snowshoes? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah, I use snowshoes all the time. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: All the time? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. THE INTERPRETER: (Inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you buy your snowshoes or did you make them? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Some a long time ago I make some. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What would you use to make your snowshoes? MR. NICK NOWATOK: A long time ago I make snowshoes. (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Moose hide. THE INTERPRETER: It was mostly moose hide. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Moose hide? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Make them dry first. You got to make. THE INTERPRETER: Make them dry. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: And back and forth weave them, the moose hide, on spruce or birch or what? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Birch. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Birch?

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you ever use -- did you ever use anything like bear for making mukluks? Did you ever -- did you ever see bear insides, the bear intestines, used for mukluks? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. THE INTERPRETER: (Inaudible.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said they used to use them for clothing most times, you know. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Waterproof clothing? THE INTERPRETER: Waterproof. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Keep you dry? THE INTERPRETER: Waterproofing. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Who would make -- who made the boots? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: Yeah. He said that he -- MS. JUDITH MORRIS: -- food is your favorite food today? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said mostly fish. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Fish? Do you like fish? Dried fish? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Do you -- do you still help with the fish? THE INTERPRETER: (Inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: -- did you used to take your subsistence fish? Where did you go subsistence -- where did you get your subsistence fish? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said all around this bay here, he likes for fish camp within this bay. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where would you get your fall fish? What do you call fall fish? -- what I mean by fall fish, Mr. Nowatok? Fall fish? In the fall? Spawned out? Where would you go for spawned out? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Go all over. THE INTERPRETER: He says all over wherever there's lake -- lake fall fish. (Inaudible.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: When I trapped, it was good to eat. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: They are good to eat? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: When you go trapping? (Indiscernible.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: For travelling.

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What's the biggest change you've seen? Biggest change in the village that you have seen? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He says so many changes. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Too many changes? THE INTERPRETER: He says there's so many changes, he can't -- you know, he says so many changes. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Electricity? Motors? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Got no motors a long time ago. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You had motors for a long time. MR. NICK NOWATOK: Only row that time (indiscernible). MS. JUDITH MORRIS: And before that rowing? Rowing? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: In a -- in a bidarka? Is that what they call them? Kayak? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, kayak. Kayak. MR. NICK NOWATOK: They're tough kind, the kayak. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What were they made out of, the kayak? What were they made from? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Most time women make it, make them. (indiscernible) Sometime. Some old time. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Some old-timers? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Too tough. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: They are tough? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: (Native language) Whatever skin was available, it used to be like (inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Moose? Or caribou? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, whatever. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: If you saw a caribou? THE INTERPRETER: Yeah, whatever. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Where would you get your eggs? Did you go -- did you gather eggs in the springtime? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. THE INTERPRETER: It's all -- the bay right in front also, you know like... MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Favorite kind of eggs? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said the -- he said the eggs were about the same. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: About the same? THE INTERPRETER: About the same, you know. Seagull or the duck eggs. He said they were about the same.

MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What do you think is important for your grandchildren to know? What do you want your grand -- MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: I guess life is taking its own form. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: What was the first animal that you killed, Mr. Nowatok? What was the first animal you killed? (Interpretation given.) MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said probably the first caribou. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Caribou down in Kaskanak? MR. NICK NOWATOK: We go on way down, almost week and I never see nothing before. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Go for a week and not see anything? So maybe a caribou when you were a young boy? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Yeah. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Was the first thing? What did you do once you -- when you killed your caribou, did you give it away? Did you eat it yourself? What did you do with it? THE INTERPRETER: That he gave to the elders first before he could take to his family. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: You gave it to your elders? THE INTERPRETER: You know, older people. That need it. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Mr. Nowatok, when you moved to Kokhanok, did you have to ask permission to live here? Did someone have to say it was okay for you to -- to come, if you could come live here? Who was the chief, the village chief when you moved to Kokhanok? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) Some chiefs here a long time ago. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Some chiefs? Do you remember who? MR. NICK NOWATOK: Mike. THE INTERPRETER: Mike Newyaka. MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Newyaka? Mr. Nowatok, is there anything you would like to say on the tape before I turn it off? Anything you want to say? MR. NICK NOWATOK: (Answers in Native language.) THE INTERPRETER: He said no (inaudible.) MS. JUDITH MORRIS: Nothing?