Shirley Nielsen was interviewed on August 8, 1997 by Judith Morris at the village health clinic in Kokhanok, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Shirley talks about growing up in various communities in the region and relying on a seasonal round of subsistence activities, such as fishing, hunting, trapping, and berry picking, for their livelihood. She also talks about early health care in the area and how she became a health aide. Shirley discusses how people used the old site at Amakdedori, and the importance of teaching children tradtional skills. Finally, she discusses changes she has seen in the environment affecting subsistence and changes in the community and regional lifestyle.
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Her family background and her early years living in Iliamna
Carrying supplies to the store and camping at Lake Clark when she was a girl
The dedication of early schoolteachers, and how her mother and aunts trapped and hunted on their own
Her mother trapping, and learning to sew and knit as a girl
Early health care in the village
How people took care of medical problems before there was modern health care
Going to school and the importance that was placed on boys getting an education
Living in various villages in the area after she got married and what Kokhanok was like when she first moved there in the 1960s
Kokhanok in her early days there, and changes in the weather and how it has effected subsistence activities, like berry picking
Picking and preserving berries
Getting permission to move to Kokhanok and how things have changed in the village
People selling furs as income when jobs were scarce, and the beginnings of the Health Aide Program
Helping her husband put up fish and prepare food for their dog team
Changes in the types of food eaten and animals hunted
Using different parts of beluga whale
Different ways people have used the Amakdedori area
Teaching children survival skills at Amakdedori and the importance of this location for resource gathering
The old village at Amakdedori and different ways the area has been used
Access to Amakdedori on the winter trail, and other places in the area that people do not use as much as they used to
Early days when whole families would go camping together, and her family settling in Kokhanok after she and her husband moved there
Needing permission from the village council to move into the village and the types of land ownership newcomers get
The composition of households in the village and the building of homes
When chainsaws first came to the village, and the delivery of supplies and groceries via the portage and by mail order
Changes in life in Kokhanok, especially due to television
Changes in life in Kokhanok, especially in health care
Improvements in people's health and changes in health care
Raising kids in the village versus the city and teaching them to know how to make a living
Changes in the village, especially related to drugs and alcohol, and teaching the youth traditional survival skills
People spending the summer at fish camp, and changes in the village lifestyle
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JUDITH MORRIS: -- nine o'clock in the morning, talking about -- Shirley is the health aide here, and we're going to talk about a number of things, hopefully starting out with where you were born, Shirley? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Born in Iliamna. JUDITH MORRIS: And you were one of several? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: One of 14 children, oldest of 14 children. JUDITH MORRIS: I didn't realize you were the oldest. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And how long did you live in Iliamna? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I was born there, and we lived there off and on. My father traveled to Bristol Bay to do -- caretake canneries in some winters. And we moved back -- well, we were back down there in 1945 when my father passed away. And then from there we moved back to Iliamna where my mother and all the rest of us lived until we moved to Levelock in 1949. JUDITH MORRIS: When you were in Iliamna, can you just tell me a little bit about what it was like to be a young girl. Daily, say daily, what you did. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well -- JUDITH MORRIS: Did you attend school? Did you help pack water? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yes. Well, number one, our school was three miles from the village of Iliamna toward New -- which is now Newhalen. It was at the old Newhalen village, which was about three miles. And we had to walk. You know, and we were just little guys and we all had to walk with the rest of them. And three miles out and three miles back. And felt real fortunate occasionally if we got a dog team ride or some way other than walking, which was really no other way. There was just -- excuse me -- the dog teams and there was not a road. JUDITH MORRIS: Did your family have a dog team? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. We had a dog -- everybody had dog teams in those years. That was about the only mode of transportation before the time of snow machines and Hondas, and an occasional airplane. JUDITH MORRIS: You know, you hear a lot about dog teams, and everybody had a dog team. If you were a child, did you start out with, like, single dogs? How early were you able to have your own team or use the family team? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, when you're young, it depends on the size and what you can handle, but most of the time if we did get to handle any dogs, it was like one. But we did not get to use them for pleasure. They were always for hauling wood, going out to hunt or, you know, hauling fish, meat, wherever, take to my -- you know, my family or my mother or whoever was going to somewhere, where they could fish or hunt. You know. And we may have used one dog to haul in the water from out in the lake, maybe on a little sled or something, but that was about it. We never ever got to use them for fun because they were -- they were, I mean, tools, and they were what we needed to survive then, you know, to get us a way from other than what you could carry. And, you know, things like that there were no roads. At the beginning, I remember there wasn't even a road to the airport.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And Mr. Lee, Art Lee had a store, and I can remember a lot -- a lot of us kids and anybody that could walk to the airport and back and carry supplies to the store from that big airport, you know, we -- we all did that and carried things, if we could carry, which wasn't a lot when we were little, but. And we sort of got paid with a bottle of soda, or something, that we thought was so wonderful, and in those days, it was, you know, it was something you just didn't see very often. But so, you know, eventually, the road was built and then a few vehicles came in, but that was just travel from the airport to the village, you know, to Iliamna village, road to the school. And so in the winter months, we walked over the ice mostly. And a lot of times we had sleds, pushed the younger kids, or carry what we need. JUDITH MORRIS: Were the sleds handmade, homemade, or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah, they were all homemade. Everybody built sleds in those days. Everybody had those big heavy sleds for what they call trading or moving. In those days, you know, families, whole families moved around to go to different subsistence camps, I guess they would be called now, be it beaver camp or spring camp. You know, they sort of just went where there was abundance of either fish or food of some sort in the spring. And of course, in the fall, spring, summer and fall and whatever, wherever you could travel by boat, you travel by boat, or, you know, something like that. Because I remember we used to go to Lake Clark and camp up there in the fall and put up our berries, too, besides what we could get around Iliamna to sustain us for the winter. You know. Nothing, and so we just -- JUDITH MORRIS: And there wasn't the constraints on property? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. JUDITH MORRIS: On private property or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. JUDITH MORRIS: -- what you could or could not do on different -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. Everybody just -- there was a lot of respect for each other. Everybody sort of had, oh, I don't know what you would call it, their spots, you know, or their area or places where people, families have camped for years or something. And people respected that. And there was -- you know, we all -- they all had their different fish camps or their winter camps or whatever they wanted to call them, spring camps. And people lived side by side. And as far as I remember, there was never ever any -- I mean, I remember one time a whole, whole bunch of us were camping there right at Lake Clark at uh -- I guess it's now called Tenalian Creek -- grandmother, my mom grew up, but we were all camping in tents. And we were there for two or three months. But there was lots of people from Nondalton. When we came there we camped for two or three months, and we just lived side by side and all worked together and -- and those are some of the fondest memories I have, you know, of those years of growing up and I mean that's -- over there.
JUDITH MORRIS: Who was -- when you were going to school in Iliamna, who ran the school? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: It was -- I guess it was BIA schools in those years. A teacher came in in the fall, and he or she stayed there until the spring. And there were no leaving or moving or, you know, they were it. They took care of everything. Not only just -- not only the school, but a lot at that time those people had a little bit of training in medical or if there were emergencies. And a lot of them -- and of course, a little bit of everything. They helped out and those were what I called dedicated teachers that just came and they lived however best they could. You know. Excuse me. With the facilities they had, which was one room -- one-room classroom. And when we were going to school there in Iliamna, sometimes the weather would be so bad that we could not get back to our homes because it was a storm or something, and there was no way they could pick us up with a -- anything that would be safe, so there was a lot of times we had to overnight at the school. And you know, we were always -- Real dedication from those teachers, was one thing. JUDITH MORRIS: When you and -- you and, you know, your brothers were living there, were you the only -- I know Frank and, you know, all your brothers, but I don't know where you -- if there were any other girls. I guess I'm going to ask you about that, what you did as a girl. I've been impressed by the number of women and girls who ran their own traplines. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. No. JUDITH MORRIS: Did your mom trap? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yes. She had to go out and -- she trapped and hunted and fished because in those years, there were -- there was no income, other than what you could make seasonally, like in Bristol Bay. And of course, there were no jobs. And in those years, Social Security to help with the families for even a, like you know, our father dying, and it was years before we even got a little bit of that. But it was -- so she had to go out and trap and hunt and go out and get the wood. I mean, she was -- most days I'm sure she was out just about all day every day. And my grandmother was living with us, so she kind of, you know, took care of the children when my mom -- whenever she had to go sort of to bring home some food, you know, like fish or meat or something. Sometimes she would be gone for a week, you know. And they'd of course, travel by dog team. And you know, her and other, I know my Aunt Alexandra Drew and her did a lot of that together, driving their dog teams, and especially going after like fish or meat of some sort, like even ptarmigan or rabbits or just whatever they could get.
JUDITH MORRIS: When you moved to Levelock -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Hunting, and those -- when we went to Levelock, it was a little different situation because we were in an area where I -- well, there were women that went out and trapped, yes. They went out and trapped beaver. And I know my mom, I can't remember if she -- I think it was a full-time job just taking care of her kids. And I know she was helping with other children of the people that we were staying with. But I remember her going out a lot of times with another couple elder ladies that went out and trapped beaver. And right around the village where it was within walking distance or driving a small dog team. But after she married my stepdad, they did a lot of that together. You know, she always went with him. Not always, but a lot, went out and they trapped side by side. JUDITH MORRIS: Did the family stay -- did you guys stay -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, we were in school, so we didn't have a choice, you know, except for the weekends. But my brothers did run traplines after school, they did. And the girls would go along. Like I would go with my brothers just to go. But I wasn't actually the person that set the traps or took the animals out of the traps and things like that. But my brothers did, yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you learn any sewing or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah, we all had to learn to sew and everything. Of course, it was by hand. And everything from darning to sewing clothing, you know, knitting. You know, knitting socks and gloves and scarves and all those... JUDITH MORRIS: How did you get the yarn for knitting? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, I don't know. I -- sometimes that's like a miracle to me when I remember those things used to come. But how they came, I never ever really figured out. Except my grandmother, she didn't have an education, but boy, she sure knew how to get things. She always had a store of some -- of everything we needed, it seemed like. But we always -- a lot of times they just took apart old socks or old sweaters and just rerolled them up and made them into -- you know. And they were well used, you know, over and over. Something would wear out, well, you just take it apart and redo it. But I think in those days there was some mail order, and I know that a lot of that was gotten that way. Or if they traveled somewhere where there was a store that had some. I remember order -- later years. JUDITH MORRIS: What kind of health care -- where -- like where your mother had more children and you were living in Levelock, did she have the children in the -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Some at home and some at the -- well, she had, out of the 14 of us, I think she had about five in the hospital.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: But there was some little complications with her second pregnancy after myself, so she had her next -- third one in the hospital, and then like maybe her fifth one, and then it was like whenever there was a chance to, she would, but -- JUDITH MORRIS: But does that mean Kanakanak or Anchorage or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Kanakanak. At that time. JUDITH MORRIS: In Dillingham. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. None of us were born in Anchorage. JUDITH MORRIS: Was there any health care in the villages? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No, not at the time. In Leve -- well, of course, in Iliamna in those years, I don't remember even seeing an Aspirin, or knowing of aspirin other than what my grandma and they had their old ways of medicines, I mean, things they used that they knew what to do and how to fix things. JUDITH MORRIS: Different plants? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. And in -- after we moved to Levelock, one of the missionaries there was an RN. And I actually remember the first time I ever heard of penicillin. And of course, there was no Tylenol in those years, but -- and then eventually I remember there was aspirin. But I can't remember when those years came -- that came. But I can remember our whole family being down sick, and like I remember one time we all had -- I'm sure it was strep throat, and my mother just cared for us, you know, with fluids, and sponging for fevers. And there was nothing that I know of that she gave us. Medicine, per se. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And in 1954 or so, I can remember knowing the first penicillin shot I ever saw because I remember I got one. And it was at a time when an Air Force doctor came over because a child had gotten lost and there was a big search out and they thought the child was going to be in really bad shape when it was found -- and this was just a little 2 or 3 year old, wandered off. And so they had the helicopter fly in with a medic to be on hand. And I had a bad infection, whether it started from a bug bite or something, I remember getting that -- getting that penicillin shot now, and that was one of the first times I ever heard of such a thing, you know, or even knew there was anything like that. And I was only about probably 13 years old or so. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And immunizations were given just whenever you could be somewhere where there was someone that give. Our whole family, I was 11 years old when I got my -- no, 10 years old when I got my first immunization ever. You know, like all the stuff we give to kids now before they are two. Well, that's when we started -- we were in Naknek for that one fall, our whole family real -- I mean, and found out that was required, so we went out and the public health nurse gave them. And boy, I remember getting so sick from them. I guess it was because we were so old and not getting our first immunization. So, and then a lot of times the teachers, again, like I said, the teachers that came in had a lot -- some of this knowledge.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I can remember one of the teachers in Levelock was even willing to remove tonsils if someone would let him. You know, so he had some -- a lot of them had those kinds of experiences or knowledge or training or whatever. And but medicine, all I remember is if you got a cut, you soaked it. JUDITH MORRIS: And what about broken bones or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: It's kind of ironic to me now to think back in those years. People must have been a lot more careful, took a lot better care of themselves because out of our whole family of especially a lot of boys, (indiscernible) I don't remember anybody ever breaking a bone any time. My grandmother told a story of one -- used to tell a story of when they lived in Lake Clark, and of course, and that was even way, way back, you know, when there was no planes, no way to get anybody to a hospital. And the closest hospital would have been Anchorage from Lake Clark, and that would have been over the mountains and across the inlet. JUDITH MORRIS: (Inaudible.) SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. And one of her sons was out cutting wood and they -- a tree fell on his foot and just literally mashed his toes or his feet. And my mom told -- told us this story, too, but he came home, of course, in terrible pain and everything. But my grandmother fired up the steam bath and got all these plants and different things. And she had a little knife, I remember that, with a little -- looked like a little surgical knife that she kept really, really sharp for whatever reason. And she slit every one of those toes and set them and splinted them up. And my uncle, I just saw him a couple weeks ago, he's 89 years old, and he still walks well. You know. So whatever she did for him worked. And I guess that's the way they handled things. I can remember people talking about even here splinting bones, you know, people had to put them in -- but sometimes they healed up crooked, but they survived. And I know, I think it was John -- John's grandfather that took someone by dog team through the pass, is the story I heard, to Anchorage because of a terrible broken femur or something at one time, and to get them to the hospital. But you know, that's days away. And imagine the pain that was. But yeah, there was really nothing -- like I said, I think people just took a lot better care of themselves. And we were really isolated a lot of times, so there weren't a lot of -- well, you got colds, I suppose, but nothing like we get now. People just --
JUDITH MORRIS: Do you think diet made any difference? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I think it did because, you know, there were basic food from the land is what it amounted to. Not a lot of canned -- well, we had canned foods, but nothing like -- the only thing you had was regular meals a day and the only thing you ate was healthy food. You know. Everything was hand made all the way from -- vegetables and fruits were all canned because there was no other way that you could get them. So I think it did. I believe it did. And people were real -- I remember my parents, my mom being real strict about us eating good food, 'cause there was -- you didn't -- if you made any snacks, it was something you made yourself. And of course, that was just probably just some pastries or all the stuff that I think is not good for people to eat so much, and sodas. JUDITH MORRIS: After you lived in Levelock, did you go through secondary school in Levelock? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I didn't. Of course, in those days, it was important for the boys -- boys to get an education, and I was still in that era. So I was the older one in the family and being a girl, I did go through the 8th grade. And after that, when my brothers all -- and I didn't have a chance to go anywhere. Of course, there wasn't boarding homes or the money to send anybody anywhere. If you didn't -- unless you were lucky to have relatives living there. But after I went through the 8th grade, then I just more or less stayed at home and helped with the family. And helped try to get my brothers to school. And we all, I think, sacrificed to that point because we thought -- especially my mother, she was really for education, and one thing she was determined for us to get one way or another was an education. So what they -- the boys did after they got older, you know, in high school, went to a home in Palmer or Wasilla, and then they had to work their way through for room and board. And what Social Security we got went to them to help pay their room and board, you know. So that's the way it was then. And I tried a little bit of home -- oh, home school, ninth grade, but there wasn't anybody that willing to monitor it, so I tried to do it on my own and it just didn't really work. So that's as far as I went. JUDITH MORRIS: So how did you meet John? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, he was -- he was born and raised in the bay here, kind of upper side of the lake. But then they moved to Iliamna to the school, and so we have always known each other, practically. And his family left for Homer and lived over there during the years when the older -- Levelock so in them later years he came back. And then, you know, that's when we.... JUDITH MORRIS: So when you got married, is that when you moved or did you live somewhere else first? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum.
JUDITH MORRIS: So when you got married, is that when you moved to Kokhanok -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: -- or did you live somewhere else first? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. In fact, we got married up here at Denny Moore's place at the time, at the bay here. His wife was the magistrate. And my family had moved back to Iliamna. My stepdad was working up there. And so they were back in Iliamna. I think I lived in Levelock, one of my brothers and I lived in Levelock and took care of the dog teams and put up the salmon for them that summer. Because my family had just moved up to Iliamna that spring. So then we just came up here and then we got married up here. JUDITH MORRIS: And so you moved to Kokhanok right away or did you stay out -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. No. From there we moved back -- we were living still in Levelock and John had his place on the Kvichak. So that's where we went, back down to Kvichak and Levelock and kind of between those two places. And we moved back, until we moved back up here in '57 -- no -- yes. Lived up a year, then we went back down and lived down there for a year or two. We were kind of back and forth here for a while, then we permanently moved back up here in 1964. But we lived in Naknek and Levelock and Kvichak, and kind of just moved everything every fall. JUDITH MORRIS: Were you moving in your commercial boat, your -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Well, at that time there was (indiscernible) , so that was everything from the dog team, and we used to tow another boat, dog team, fuel, food. I mean, might have took a couple trips, but we managed to do it. But that's when our children were young, little, and didn't need to be in school. But in 1964 when we moved up to Reindeer Bay, Leanne, our oldest daughter, our oldest child was second -- and we've been here ever since. JUDITH MORRIS: And you moved down to where you live on the lake now? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: On Lake Iliamna? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And when you moved here initially, you would have had, what, no -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No electricity, no phones, no television. It was just wood stove, gas lamps. Gas operated washing machines. I mean, you know, there was nothing what would be considered modern. The village was down in the lower part there right next to the lake, and everybody lived by the water then. JUDITH MORRIS: I've heard that. One of the things that ATVs have done is move villages out because you can haul water and wood and things, and that a lot of -- traditionally, more villages were located closer to the water. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I think they all were, at some sort of a water source, rivers or lakes. Yeah. And then the -- oh, I don't remember, but it was 11 houses here when we moved here. And -- and I think there was 11 houses. I think there was about 18 -- maybe four teacher.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And -- and I think there was 11 houses. I think there was about 18 -- maybe four teacher. And of course, church, the old church is right there. It's always been up on top of the hill. And then eventually one family moved up here. And then they were it until we got the HUD housing, and then people started -- of course, we had flooding, too. Look at the low water now, but in those years, the water was just -- oh, there was times when the only airport we had was that little airport out here on the point. And there were times, and we've got pictures of this, where you had to drive your Honda or at the time we had the little three-wheelers or use hip boots to go out to the airport. JUDITH MORRIS: So do you think the weather has changed? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yes. The -- these movies that were taken about 8 years ago, and the water was so high. I mean, it was incredible from what it is now. And we had cold winters. It would get cold and freeze up in November and right around Thanksgiving, and it was -- I mean, we had ice in June a lot of times. But now we get freeze-up in December, January, and it's back out by April or -- or the ice is back out by April. No snow. You know, we used to have a lot of snow. And middle of -- middle of -- of course, then snow machines started coming in. I saw my first snow machine in 1965 when we were living up at Reindeer Bay. Different ways of travelling then. And people in those days still used dog teams, you know, for travelling. We did. And oh, yeah, things have -- the weather has changed, everything has changed. You know, we leave for fish -- commercial fishing usually the first part of June. And by that time, the leaves would just be showing green or the grass would be just starting to come up. Now by the time we leave for fishing, things are in bloom, the leaves are all out, it's earlier. But we get home and the fireweed's already bloomed out like now. And we were just reminiscing about this the other day, I remember when we used to come back from commercial fishing, the fireweed was just coming in bloom. You know, it was like later. You know. And then now it's earlier. Things are going to seed faster. JUDITH MORRIS: How has that made a difference in your berry picking and taking care of that kind of thing? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, it used to be when we would come home we could get in on the salmonberries, which is the first kind of berries that come ripe. But now, here in Naknek, we don't get them at all because they are already gone by the time we get home. We're coming home a little later than we used to, too, though, mainly because we do our -- I do most of our subsistence fishing in Naknek now because we do stay down there later. We used to come back earlier a lot because we had to come back to make sure we got fish up for our dogs and for the family. But then we get blackberries, blueberries, like this year, they are early. I mean, we wouldn't usually be picking blueberries by now. Maybe barely.
JUDITH MORRIS: When did you get a freezer? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, we had a -- excuse me -- access to a freezer, I would say in the early '70s. JUDITH MORRIS: In the early '70s? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. But then you had to run your own generator and it was really a costly thing to have. But of course, now that we've got full-time electricity, we have all kinds of freezers. But yeah, in those years, mostly it was just canned, kept things -- JUDITH MORRIS: You canned your berries? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. Can berries. Like for pies and -- there were ways that I learned after I moved here that these ladies would put away their -- even the blackberries, we would put them in jars, and then we would put them in these little cool creeks, bury them under the sod and keep them cool, and they will just be fine until freeze-up. And when it got colder, we would take them out before the ground froze, and then use them, blackberries, especially. Blueberries, I always made either preserves or canned them. But blackberries, which we used for the agutuk (phonetic), that was the one that was the hardest to keep. And we also had to keep them real cold. And they picked them late, usually after the first frost, and then they kept a lot better. We would put them away like that, like we do in keeping them cool, keep. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you ever -- you've always been able to get your berries since you moved up here just locally? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Pretty much. There's been years when -- well, say, like last year, we didn't have any berries here at all in the village. It was just -- we thought we weren't going to have a berry year. There was cranberries, but toward later in the fall, like late August, middle to late August, excuse me, we started going back inland in the higher hills, and there were berries everywhere back there. But it was like, you know, we thought, oh, gosh, we killed our berry crop here with -- one thing we've tried to outlaw here is berry pickers because we feel that they really ruin the tundra. And the vine -- our old people don't use berry pickers, not unless they sneak them, I think, but people from other villages used to come by the planeloads and pick -- if we had a good berry year, and we almost always have some sort of a good crop of berries here. But last year, you know, like I said, we thought we had lost our berry crop altogether because of this. But now -- now this year, there's berries everywhere. I mean, just everywhere. JUDITH MORRIS: Do people commercially pick berries in the summer? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. JUDITH MORRIS: No? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Huh-uh. Years ago when Denny Moore lived up the bay here, he had a -- he used to buy cranberries, they bought them by the pound, where people went out and picked cranberries to sell. But, you know, maybe people might sell, you know, to individuals, another village that doesn't have one kind of berry will buy some blueberries or whatever they don't have. And they will do that, but not commercially.
JUDITH MORRIS: Okay. We're back after taking a water break. When you first moved here and you had two young children, did you and John -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I think what we did was I guess I think of us as the first outside family to move here because the old -- the families that were established here during that time were (indiscernible) but were the missionaries, teachers. And there was like -- they only -- they had -- the village was pretty much ruled by the chiefs then of the village. Yeah. And so when we were wanting to come -- move to the village because of the school, we had to get permission from the village to move here. And the first school was a log building that was built by Bob Walker and the local people here. And they hired him to put up the block structure that was the first school and living quarters for the teacher. So when we were going to move here, we had to get permission. And then we didn't have a home or the resources to build one at the time, so we were -- excuse me. So we were the -- I guess I feel like the first outside family that moved in here. JUDITH MORRIS: Who was the chief at that time? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Mike Newyaka. JUDITH MORRIS: Okay. (Indiscernible.) SHIRLEY NIELSEN: So that's -- that was in 1966. And then, of course, one of the things that happened was people started buying generators and going to oil-burning stoves, which was in a way good because with burning wood so much, a lot of the wood local, you know, people didn't have very good resources to go out and -- in the winter so they couldn't go that far to get wood. And so the trees were fast going around the village, but -- and then they went -- most everybody went to oil-burning stoves. And (indiscernible) one of the local people had a little movie theater in his home, Willie Rickteroff was a big thing in those years, you know, and then gradually, you know, things started changing. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. How would you get the oil for the oil-burning stoves? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, the barge would come up in the fall from Bristol Bay. Different ones. Would -- JUDITH MORRIS: -- cache and your subsistence doing hunting? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And I know did you berries and you did fish. Is that mainly what you did in terms of -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Tanning -- was the only income there was for anybody here during the winter months. JUDITH MORRIS: Where would he take his furs to be sold? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, we would just mail them out or -- and then, of course, beaver -- we didn't, but a lot of people went to Dillingham for the beaver roundup where they would sell their beaver over there. But you know, everybody from here it was always too costly to fly to Dillingham to do that, so everybody from here always mailed theirs out to.
JUDITH MORRIS: Would that be to Seattle or Anchorage or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Mostly Anchorage or -- there were some years it was a means of surviving a lot of times because otherwise there was no income at all during the winter months. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And yeah, well, I started working as a health aide in 1966, and there was -- when there was not any pay in it, it was just -- JUDITH MORRIS: Volunteer? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Volunteer. Uh-hum. Got some training and then a little money started coming in for that. So that helped out, you know. JUDITH MORRIS: Who started, I mean, whose idea was it to have a health aide in the village? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I don't know for sure, other than the health aide program was unique to Alaska. And I think it was through the -- excuse me -- BIA at the time because that's where the money was coming from, through the federal government, which a lot of it still does. But everything was -- and I don't know for sure where the -- who was the first person to ever initiate it in any way because it was a program that was not done anywhere else. It was something that was -- and still is mostly for Alaska because it's not any -- they don't have it anywhere else. I've had people come here clear from Australia to monitor and watch us and see what we do as health aides, because I guess there's other countries, other areas that are trying to do something similar, if not -- as far as I know, the health aide program didn't -- well, I guess because in those years there was a lot of what you call lay people that just did things. I remember there was a -- a public health nurse came through here before I was ever here in 1966 taught -- a couple of the ladies how to do penicillin shots. You know. And that's pretty scary stuff, you know. But it happened. And that was a means of people surviving or not surviving a lot of times. You know. We were more prone to a lot more things happening, you know. Being sick for whatever reason. But -- so I think because there were people doing it in some villages anyway, I think that's -- but I'm not for sure who the first -- who actually started this. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I have -- I could probably -- it's something I'm very interested in finding out for myself, and I will, just kind of for my own records, find out. I know it was -- it was done through the BIA to begin with. And again, like I said, a lot of the teachers that came out here were doing those kinds of things anyway. Of course, then, you started getting into the legal kinds of stuff. You know, people had to be, you know -- people started learning how -- JUDITH MORRIS: Having expectations -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. And you know, we practice -- as health aides, we practice under another doctor's license, you know, so we have to -- they have to know that we know what we are doing, for -- you know. So we can go ahead with a lot of things so.
JUDITH MORRIS: And now, thinking back to when you first moved here, then, with John and you had two children then, did you have your -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: We were living down in Bristol Bay at the time when they were both born. JUDITH MORRIS: Yeah, that's right. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And then you came up here. So you were -- other than doing your health aide stuff, you also, you ran the house and then you would go down -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Help out, you know, as much as I was able to, caring for -- helping with putting up the fish for the dogs, and you know, just generally whatever I could do besides working, you know. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you have to cook for the dogs -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: Once the fish was dry? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: What would you cook for the dogs? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, John liked the rough tallow and fish. That's basically what he used most of the time. JUDITH MORRIS: And so you would once a day have to cook for them, or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Every day in the winter months. And then in the summer, it was more for the fish than in the summer, and then it was like every other day. But if you were fortunate enough to get enough dried salmon up, we would just feed them the dried salmon. When we were going to be at home, mostly cook for them and save the dry fish for when we were -- JUDITH MORRIS: Travelling. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: -- travelling, so it was easier to do. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: But it took an awful lot of fish. You know, about 10 dogs, 7 to 10 dogs in those years, and you know, that's quite a bit to have -- have to be able to leave like half the amount of fish and went twice as far. It was one of the -- JUDITH MORRIS: And you would bundle them in, you know, in stacks of what, 30, 40 fish a bundle? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Stack them in a shed or a cache in layers, and keep them dry. Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you put salt fish up on a regular basis? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. The eating fish always had salt in them, you know, for drying. And then salt salmon in buckets. JUDITH MORRIS: What kind of buckets did you use? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: We didn't use buckets then, we used barrels, wooden barrels. JUDITH MORRIS: Wooden barrels that came up on the ship? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Most of the time we got our butter that way, so the butter barrels then become fish barrels, you know, after you finish with the butter. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And of course, that kind of became a thing of the past. So we just been -- we just use the reg -- JUDITH MORRIS: When you use the fish barrels, I mean the barrels, since I've heard about them, but I've never seen it. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Did the moisture swell the barrel enough so that it didn't leak, or did you always have leakage? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah -- no, what we had to do before we started using them, is they haven't -- if they didn't have any liquid in them for a long time, we soaked them, and it was water, kept adding water until they would swell and become tight. JUDITH MORRIS: And then drain it and then you would stack -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: They were fine. They didn't leak a drop once they were wet and swelled back together.
JUDITH MORRIS: And swollen back up? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: What about some of the things that you remember, say, foods that you might have eaten as a -- gone out of favor, or people just don't do them as much? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, the one thing that we still get some of them but we don't get that much of anymore is the fall fish. We call it the fall fish. The spawned-out fish. JUDITH MORRIS: Uh-hum. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And I remember my grandma used to like the salmon while they were still whole. And some of them may or may not have had eggs in them. And they would just hang them whole on the fish rack, tied, the tail fin and -- and then after -- and then, of course, it would be getting cold. And then in the winter months, we would eat that kind of stuff. And then basically, I think we ate a lot more fish than we do now because now we have access to freezers where we can have more fresh -- salt fish. JUDITH MORRIS: Did you get bear? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Our family didn't because we -- in those years, a bear was something was like you got -- you got many miles away. When we lived in Iliamna in those growing up years, a bear was -- someone went bear hunting, of course, it was the men, would go up to Pile River or way up on the other end of the lake. There was no bears around. And when we first lived here for many years, in the late fall when the bears were up in the fish ponds, back inland, is when the guys would go bear hunting. You know. Or in the spring. I remember when we were up at Lake Clark, the guys would go up in the mountains to get black bear. But it was -- bears were just not like what we see every day here now, the nuisances they are. I guess it's gotten out of hand. I don't think I would want to eat a bear anymore. Because they will eat -- I mean, they eat anything. You know, each other and probably if they found a human, they would eat that. That's the way I feel about them. And you know, it's been -- so I think it's -- you know, years ago, people would used to really like the bear meat, and then for the fat, too. JUDITH MORRIS: For the fat. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And that was something that would stick through the winter, but we didn't -- we may have gotten some bear as a treat. JUDITH MORRIS: What about seal up in the lake? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: The same thing. Years ago, you know, I guess the guys went out seal hunting, you know, but it was -- they didn't have the fast boats and they didn't have the kind of equipment they do now. There was seal hunting was a big thing. You know, there was years, too. They went out seal hunting, several of the men went. And same thing, you know, they would -- I remember when we first lived here, too, whenever anybody got a seal, which was kind of few and far between, but they were able to get them occasionally, it was a big treat for the whole village, you know. I liked the liver, so I got the liver. And everybody else, you know, the fat, the meat, everything was used. Of course, seal up here, and when we lived down at Levelock, it was the beluga.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: We ate beluga meat and we ate the steaks and beluga liver. And use all the oil and meat and stuff for the dogs, you know. And -- JUDITH MORRIS: How did they fix that oil on the beluga? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: That was -- JUDITH MORRIS: Well, did they just -- did it render out? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah, well, we used to hang it in strips on the fish rack and kind of let it kind of dry. Of course, then, it would just drip, drip, drip. But what we used to do there was to bury drums in the earth under the ground and fill up the drums and cover them and they kept -- that's what they could keep, like if you got it in -- then that's what they would use in the winter months, dig them up, and oh, the smell was something else. You didn't dare get within 10 feet of it. You know. It was just really, really -- but boy, the dogs loved it and they really thrived on it. And if we didn't have that for our dogs, then along with the fish, I don't know how they survived. JUDITH MORRIS: So you used the stuff that was buried mainly for your dogs, not for -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. That was not for humans. But when it was fresh, and of course, we had no way to keep it otherwise, we ate it. Yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: I'm trying to think of... SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And the belugas we got, I remember during those years when we were down there is when they were having that project and I remember there was a fellow by the name of -- JUDITH MORRIS: He was a -- he was National Geographic? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Brook. Tim Brook. He was doing the study where they were catching the belugas, and then all of us kids would get hired to count the back bones in the beluga to see how many salmon they would eat. And then if you helped with that, the way we got paid is we would get some beluga for our family or our dogs or something. You know. So that's the way we got our beluga. JUDITH MORRIS: Do you remember -- do you remember your mom talking about getting paid for the -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I remember the -- JUDITH MORRIS: -- bounties on wolves or any other kinds of wildlife? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, I remember Dolly Varden, way -- or I guess trout in general, and that was before I could remember. Not during my time. But I remember them talking about it, that they got paid -- yeah, for sure. Yeah, it has.
JUDITH MORRIS: This is August 8th, I'm talking to Shirley Nelson again -- Nielsen again, we're in the village health clinic. And I'm going to start off, Shirley, talking to you about Amakdedori. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, well, I know Amakdedori, especially with the older people, a lot of them are gone now, that was one place that people always went for whatever season it happened to be, mostly spring, summer, and fall. And of course, winter, it's just all ice and cold, I guess, and not much protection over there. But I remember, oh, Mike Newyaka talking about he had a way of saying Amakdedori that was really different, Amakdeduli (phonetic) or something like that. But he talked about going over there and they'd get clams and they'd get all this seafood, you know, that was available whichever time of the year it was. And of course, over there they get early salmon, you know, a lot earlier than here, like a couple months early. And he was one of the people that always had -- and I think he was born over there in that Cape Douglas area, or somewhere over in that side of the -- JUDITH MORRIS: Mike Newyaka. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Mike Newyaka. He was the first old -- well, not the first chief, but the chief at the time when we moved here. And, you know, they talked about walking over. And John's father used to walk over there in the fall and back to get fish. Like there was a lot of, I guess, fish in the creeks over there or salmon, late salmon or something. JUDITH MORRIS: On down? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. And they would carry stuff back and forth, you know. And of course, people went over to that area to trap. And I don't know what else, you know -- you know, seals, of course, there were seals over there, then, too. But then through the years, different people, I know John Olympic that's gone now, he had a cabin over there that he used to just spend every spring, summer and fall, as long as he wasn't commercial fishing or something, just living over there. And different ones, you know, his relatives and just a lot of people used to go over there in past years. I don't know too many people lately mostly because the air taxis will not land over there anymore, I guess, unless they can land on the water. The beaches have changed so much over there, and now that people don't walk or go by dog team anymore, you know, we depend on -- dependent on airplanes. Well, we -- in past years, it's been, what, probably 15 to 20 years ago now, the last time I was over there was 15 years ago. But anyway, we took the whole school over there a couple -- about two or three different years and exposed them to that area because this was so much a part of their fathers, grandfathers, parents through the years. You know, that they talked about -- (End of side one of tape.)
JUDITH MORRIS: Okay. This is side B with Shirley Nielsen. We were talking about taking a group of people over to Amakdedori. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. We had a regular, I guess you would call it a field trip in past years when it was -- when the air taxis would fly people in there, we took like the whole school, plus --But we had like one school week, we'd go over on a Monday and planned to come back on a Friday. Well, we took the whole school that was all the way from the little kids, at that time as high as first grade, all through eighth graders. We didn't have a high school here then. But the staff. And then they took myself along as the health person. And they had -- we had cooks and the whole works. Everybody went. Well, it was so fun. We would spend the whole week. And what they did was a lot of going through the history of the area, things that were available there to survive on was like a lot of fish. And there were -- there were other animals there, like small, like, squirrels, different things that, you know, if a person needed to, they could survive on. And this is what, I guess, years back that the people used to go over there just to squirrel hunt in the spring since in those years they not only ate the meat, but they dried the skins for the parkas and whatnot. And it was just, you know, good living over there, you know. You could get all kinds of fish. And we used to go out and get clams, you know, if you went in a little different areas around there. But -- and then the driftwood is piled so high over there. We made shelters. I mean, there was a lot of survival skills involved with these trips. We did that two different times. And then the last time it was just the high school that went and they went to Chenik, which is farther down the coast towards Cape Douglas. And so -- but our kids and their friends, when they were just teens, they would go over there and just camp. JUDITH MORRIS: They would fly over, John would fly them over? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Fly over, yeah, or you know, the air taxis would fly them over, and they would just go over there and camp. And everybody did that, you know, just whoever could afford to go over. And they just survived fine, you know. And so a lot of the older kids here have gotten a lot of exposure. Now, a lot of the younger group of kids hear about it but we aren't doing it as much, and it's mostly because we just can't get there. In fact, we were thinking about doing a trip this year with our grandkids, just to get them exposed to that. Because their grandfathers and John's grandfather and all those people, you know, they utilized that area so much. But it's just a -- it's a really neat place to go because it's -- it's just nice. Windy sometimes.
JUDITH MORRIS: Was there ever a permanent village over there, do you know? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I guess way back when, there was all along that area. In fact, at Amakdedori, you can see old dugouts. JUDITH MORRIS: (Inaudible.) SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. You know. In the grass, as well. And when people actually lived over there. Yeah. I know the last -- I heard a story, but I can't remember all of the details, but I think the people used to go over there and put up fish for their dogs, and whatnot, or their families. And I guess there was either a tidal wave or a huge tide that just wiped everything out of there. And I think that was kind of the end of people actually just living over there. And of course, in the winter months, our guys, when there's snow, have traveled over there and come back with lots of ptarmigan, you know, and things like that. So people still -- cod fishing. JUDITH MORRIS: How many miles is it overland? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: 15 to 20 miles, I hear. Not all that far, you know, just kind of, you know, just -- JUDITH MORRIS: Is there a regular trail that they would follow out there? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: There used to be. There used to be a trail where people would travel back and forth with snow machines or dogs, since way back when. But I remember people used to go over there, and I guess there's a certain time of year like during freeze-up there's a time where there's some kind of cod fish, cod coming in there. And then in the freeze -- towards freeze-up when the lakes get travellable, the dog team years, they used to travel over there and they would get these Dolly Varden that were just nice and big and fat that they would go over and get, you know, for eating or for, you know, food for their dog teams. So those are some of the stories. And then, of course, there's lots of other birds, ducks, and things. JUDITH MORRIS: Is it always open water over there? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Not really. In a cold year, you get a lot of ice over there. JUDITH MORRIS: It builds up on the shores? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. It goes quite a ways out, too. So you know, there's a -- in fact, people have -- I know in the past years, there were people that actually stayed over there and trapped, too. Because there's lots of small animals like mink and otter and things like that. But yeah, I remember now there was a couple guys that were over there and just stayed over there and lived over there and trapped. JUDITH MORRIS: Who -- who owns that land now? Is that corporation land or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No. It's -- actually, it's kind of ironic, but it's the Kenai Borough, Kodiak Borough, one of those. It's not even any of our. So it's kind of put a damper on a lot of things, you know, building and whatnot. We had a cabin over there. I suppose it's still there. But now I think a lot of it is used by guides, bear hunting and -- JUDITH MORRIS: Commercial bear hunting? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Commercial bear hunting, yeah. Things like that. And the lodges take clients over for silver fishing in the fall, and there's a lot of other kinds of use over there now. And I think that's put a damper on a lot of the local use, too.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And like I said, if it were a little more accessible. They haven't found a way to get over with the four-wheelers yet. If they could find a way to get over with four-wheelers, they would be there. But nobody's tried that yet, so. And of course, I said, you know, years we had good snow, people were always going over there, you know, and trapping and hunting. JUDITH MORRIS: Weather changing might have had something to do with it. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. That's made a big difference on a lot of the things that people used to do and just can't do anymore. You know, now that we don't have a dog team. Of course, dog teams used to go over bare ground, too, but snow machines you almost have to have snow to go about anywhere. JUDITH MORRIS: Dog teams could take sleds over bare ground? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And it didn't hurt the runners on the -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: No, they just had the metal runners on it. It's not as easy as travelling on snow, but yeah, we travel a lot on bare ground. JUDITH MORRIS: Did they make -- did they make anything to protect the dog's feet? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Little socks just about like your little microphone bag here. JUDITH MORRIS: Yeah? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. Sure. JUDITH MORRIS: What would they make them out of? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, I remember I used to make them a lot of times for John, make them out of canvas or denim. If we had a sturdy material, just a little -- now they use elastic, I guess, but I guess you can even buy them commercially now. But with -- we used to just -- or now they use Velcro, but we used to just make little ties, weave them in there and then just tie them, you know, the boots protect their feet. JUDITH MORRIS: Can you think of other places like Amakdedori that people would go that maybe they are not going so much now, or maybe they still go? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, Kukaklek. Nonvianuk. All those places. You know, that's all the areas. And that's people -- JUDITH MORRIS: Now, I know a lot of people from Igiugig -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: -- have a history at Kukaklek, Kukaklek Lake. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Are there people here that have a history at Kukaklek? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Years back, yes. That was always well used by all the older people, like I said, for different kinds of camping. Seasonal camping, you know, for whatever they were there for. Whether it was for freeze-up, break-up, whatever. You know, through the years we've heard stories. And even our own family, I know we've gone, you know, John and different ones have gone over there for, you know, hunting or trapping. Trapping especially. And Nonvianuk is another area that. And of course, a lot of them used to travel up the lake to Tommy Creek. It's not that far away, but still in the winter when you don't have a way to get there, you know, for the times that it's worth being there. And then I remember years ago when people used to travel all the way up to the end of the lake to go bear hunting, to Pile River. You know. Of course, we have Gibraltar back there, which is about the most accessible area to us right now that has some of that kind of stuff there yet, the fish and the hunting and some trapping. And you know, they can get there by four-wheeler. Big Mountain was another area that was always well used.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Of course, in those days, now you can go down and back in two hours, but the dog team could travel in one day, and that's where you spent the night. And you know, it wasn't like a round trip anywhere. JUDITH MORRIS: When -- when you -- maybe not when you first moved here, but maybe when you first moved here, would women travel out with -- with men? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Before school, they always, the whole family went, you know. They went and just camped. Put up their tents or whatever most of the time. And yeah. Before school was established here, I guess anywhere, I guess, the whole families moved. Uh-hum. Whether it was by dog team, by boat, by whatever means they could get there. Walking. Yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: When you moved up here in 1966 and considered yourself one of the first outsiders to move into the village -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: -- and you said there were like 11 families living here at the time. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: But I know you have a lot of immediate relatives who have houses or currently live in the village. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Is that because you and John were here? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: In a way, I guess, because nobody was interested in living here until we moved here. And we lived up at the bay, at Reindeer Bay for two years before we moved here. And at that time, my brothers used to come and live with us either spring or fall, kind of freeze-up or break-up, one of -- at least one of my brothers, Frank, Robert, Larry. Pete lived with them at Kvichak, but always one of them lived here. And I think it gave them a little of a -- and then all my other brothers, Richard, Kenny, all of them have homes, these would come up and travel with us up here every fall. Even when we didn't live up here, we would make a trip up here every fall and just spend time camping up here in the area the whole month of August, with a big boat, our commercial fishing boat. And I think all of them kind of got a love for the area, and I think as a result, they just -- and at the time, like I said, when we first moved here, it was one of the nicest villages to live in because -- and raise children because there was no drinking, it was just a real laid back, set back village. But you know, a lot of that has changed now. And of course, a lot of my family has moved back away for -- mostly for jobs and for school, different things like that. So you know, they still have homes here, but... JUDITH MORRIS: When -- your mom had a house here and -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: She didn't have a house here, but she used to come and live in, like, Glen's house, or one of my brother's houses then. JUDITH MORRIS: Would they have to ask the same kind of permission that you did? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: In the very beginning, that was the way it was. People got permission from the village to move in.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Of course, nobody I don't think was ever really turned down, but if had been someone that the village just didn't think was going to make it here because of the way it used to be, then I'm sure they would have turned them down, but I don't think those kind of people ever came to ask permission. But I think that -- I don't know when it changed, but I know there used to be even a -- when it went to -- when it went to village council governing the village over the chiefs, then things sort of changed through the years, you know. It got more lenient. And some undesirables have been here and they have been sent on their way. Things like that, you know. But... JUDITH MORRIS: When they -- when they move into the village, an outsider, or somebody asks for land, do they get title to the land or is it still owned by the village and -- I don't quite know how that went. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, there's a -- there's a lease program -- well, not actually a lease. It's kind of a -- they don't get actual title, but it's a -- it's a noncommercial kind of a, you know, type of residence. But no, the only ones that would have title were the ones of us that were here before the Land Claims settlement. And we had prior use, like what they call frequency one claims, then we got title through the corporation. And then after that, we go to the village 1280, and they have different kinds of programs. Like there's the HUD homes, they have a -- I guess eventually, if you ever own the home, they will own the land, too. But then the other people are kind of a -- you own it, but yet it's not -- you don't get a direct title for it. I don't know what the actual name of it is right now. Yeah. Uh-hum. So yeah. There's been all kinds of different programs set up, too. And you know, they had to do this because, you know, these people grew up and people have families and they need to expand. And that's what this 1280 village land was created for, for expansion. JUDITH MORRIS: When you were younger or even in recent years past, it seems to me there used to be more people per household. You know, when I first started coming out, the households would have 8, 10 people living in a single house. And with HUD housing and stuff now, it seems like there are fewer people, maybe more nuclear families in a house. Do you see that changing in the way the households are composed?
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Because you know, way back when, you know, before the HUD housing came, there were mostly just, you know, small homes, but they were families. Everybody lived together kind of a thing. But as HUD homes came in, they got more individualized. But there are still families here that there are two and three families to a home, I mean two or three generations to a home. Where with another -- another segment of HUD housing coming in now, we're getting 8 or 9 units this year that will split that up a little bit more. But houses have always been a problem here because way back when, people built log houses. And it was -- you needed a home. Now there just isn't the money for people to build, you know, regular -- I call it board homes, you know, where you have to get the lumber and windows and doors, it's just so costly. And our people here, you know, are considered low income, most of them, because it's subsistence life-style and we depend on commercial fishing and -- JUDITH MORRIS: Would there even be the trees to harvest? If somebody wanted to make their own log home, would they be allowed to harvest the trees? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, they would be probably, but it would have to take some agreements of the corporation -- from the village it wouldn't really be enough, but in order to leave the village to go out anywhere else, it would pass through the corporation. And I'm sure, you know, if a person really was needing, you know, that they would have a way to do it. But it's just not something people do anymore because number one, it's just easier to get lumber if you can buy lumber. But if you want to get a house, like for our school down here with logs, you know, that's all they had, so they built it out of logs. You know, there's some beautiful log homes around. Used to be in the past. But it's just not as easy anymore as it used to be. And there's people that don't have the skills like the old people did. You know, the younger people, I'm sure if they really wanted to, they could do it, but the old -- everybody knew how to build a log house way back when. You know. JUDITH MORRIS: Who built the log school? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Bob Walker. He was in charge of -- he was the guy that lived over on the Copper River side, and that was what his trade was logging or saw milling or building some logs. And so they hired him to come build their logs. JUDITH MORRIS: And when was that? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I think in 1957. JUDITH MORRIS: '57? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. I think that's when he said it was built. JUDITH MORRIS: Do you remember before they had chain saws? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yes. JUDITH MORRIS: I don't know how long chain saws have been around. I mean, everybody has their chain saws now, and I was thinking about how long have chain saws been available?
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, let me think back here. I know we didn't own a chain saw for a long time and everything was done by hand. I would say in the -- when I know they finally became -- people were using them, you could order them out of the Sears Roebuck catalog or something, I think it probably would have been the '50's, late '60s, early '60s. JUDITH MORRIS: And so before that, they used axes? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Axes and the bow saws and the craft saws, the big two-man saws. I call them the great big saws. And then the regular craft, the little -- I think they are called bow saws that we still use occasionally. But yeah, that's the way everybody cut their -- JUDITH MORRIS: So life in that sense became much easier when you got a chain saw? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. Everything became a whole lot easier. I guess that's why we were all in good shape, I guess in those years everything had to be done by hand, and we got lots of physical exercise, you know. JUDITH MORRIS: Yeah. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: I've always been interested in that portage over from -- down from -- is it Williamsport? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Over. Do you guys still get supplies in that way or do you mainly come up the bay or -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: We used to get a lot of stuff through there when we had our big fishing boats that we could go up and haul things in. But people still go over there for propane, some fuel oil, heating fuel, and lumber is one of the most accessible places now to get lumber there that's fairly reasonable. And I think a lot of our building projects now that we have low water in the river, a lot of the supplies that come over that road now. JUDITH MORRIS: Because it's hard to get through the kvichak through the rapids there? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Uh-hum. And we used to get groceries, winter grocery supplies through there. Haul -- you know -- JUDITH MORRIS: How do you get your winter groceries now? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, you know, now that we can get things in by mail as freight, I just do it by mail. Or when I'm in Anchorage or most of us, most people do it by mail, just order and send the money in. But when I go to Anchorage just about every two or three months, I just do my grocery shopping that's going to last me for that length of time, except for perishable or produce kinds of things. JUDITH MORRIS: Are there particular sources in Anchorage that you use -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: -- or have used for a long time? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: People that will mail out stuff. There's not too many that will do bush orders anymore. Sam's Club, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Prairie Market, Carrs. Those are basically the ones I use anymore, but there are other ones that other people use that I don't.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I mean, they are ones that I am familiar with and I know what they cost and I know what I'm getting. JUDITH MORRIS: -- from the catalogs? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah, uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Prairie Market, and places like that? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. JUDITH MORRIS: You've been really patient through this whole interview. One of the things that I was wondering about is if you moved here and there were 11 families here and you were used to sort of more isolation, self-sufficiency in your daily life-style, do you have a sense that you're becoming more urbanized or that you're becoming like you want to get away from Kokhanok sometimes? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, I guess for me, with being in the health field, the only way you get away from work is to leave the village because as long as you're in the village, if something were to happen, you know, you would be there to help out. And in order to just get totally away from it, you would have to leave the village. Well, in a way, that's really true. Things have changed in a lot of ways there, though, because now we have telephones. And a thing that really made an impact I think on this village is when we got television. I remember when they first came in, I was on the village council at that time, and to ask -- Alascom wanted to put in this disk to get the television, one station thing, you know. And I remember at the time -- of course, we had VCRs already then and we could get tapes and things, but not the television where you could just turn on and pick up a program. Well, I remember asking the people that when we -- could we legally, say, if there was a meeting going on or to get the kids to bed early on school nights, could we just shut the television station off, and they said, no, we couldn't do that. Well, I think that has made such an impact on the village because then you saw lesser children out playing and being creative. I mean, we noticed that with our own grandchildren. People don't visit as much anymore. You go to a home and there's mostly the entertainment is watching the television. And you know, it has brought good things to us like the news, the weather, and you know, and we need to have the learning channels, things like that, but you know, that has made a real impact on the village. You know, I think. As far as like have a meeting and nobody show up because there might be a good program on that night, or something that's vital to the village. And same with the school, you know. Kids are coming to school tired because they have been watching TV half the night and things like that. Where we all used to get together just to play games, we had sewing circles and we had things where people would just get together for socializing and having fun. And we had a lot of fun nights with -- where kids and adults and everybody played together. That doesn't happen anymore. Not like it used to. And I think that's one of the biggest changes I have seen here.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Is that -- and then, of course, years ago, when nobody had freezers, if someone happened to get a moose or a caribou -- well, we didn't get much caribou, anything that was extra, it all gets shared because it would spoil otherwise. And now people can just fill up their freezers and there's not the sharing that used to go on. You know, there's still some, but not like it used to be. So that's some of the biggest changes I've seen as far as living here goes. We used to get mail once a week. Now we get mail three times a week. And maybe more often, you know. And because a lot of things that have changed through the years, you know, you can call -- you can leave to go to the city every day of the week if you choose to. You know. An airline will land here and pick up passengers, bring in passengers, where it used to be, you know, once a week, they would fly to Iliamna for twice a week flights, or whatever. It was just a lot of those things have changed, you know, from when -- JUDITH MORRIS: You're much more accessible now -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-huh. JUDITH MORRIS: -- as a village, and outside things are much more accessible to you? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. And that's been good and bad because, you know, you get things in here you don't want because of that, and yet there's the availability of, you know, say if for medical, you need to get out, you can get out just about any day, weatherwise, you know. So, you know, there's been the good and the bad. JUDITH MORRIS: As a health aide person, and you've done this 30 years now -- SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: -- and your clinic is very modern, got good communications in with the doctors and nurses if you need to. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: Are you proud of the steps that you have been able to make? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: I -- I think at that level, yes, because, you know, there were years when the only way you could get through to the doctor was patched through a radio operator in Kodiak or something, you know, to get any advice. And so much of it was on your own, you know, kind of a thing. And we have so many more trained people now. We have EMT's to help with emergencies. And all of the pregnant ladies go to Anchorage to have their babies where they used to just stay here and practically the day of labor and leave or something if they didn't get caught in the village having the babies. And things like that. You know. So yes, I think that way, you know, I can pick up the phone at any moment and call the doctor. We have an EKG machine now, and we have all these little things we can do, minor testing things with that, you know, before, you had to send to Anchorage. In the very beginning of health aiding, just about everybody, even with an ear infection, had to go to Anchorage. You know. And it was very inexpensive then, and -- but the hospital paid for most of it, but now, you know, most everything is treated here right in the village, unless it's something that we can't handle. You know, broken bones and different things like that. But real emergencies. But you know, so much of it is just handled at the local level. Of course, there's a lot more training involved now, and a lot better training.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, not say better, but I mean more training to do more different kinds of -- JUDITH MORRIS: More sophisticated training? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Oh, yeah. Training. JUDITH MORRIS: And you've become more sophisticated in your own skills? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Uh-hum. You know. Used to be, you had very little to work with and getting supplies in was a big factor. JUDITH MORRIS: Have you as a health aide been more involved in, say, preventative things, trying to get people to, say, quit smoking or to eat better? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Definitely. JUDITH MORRIS: And exercise and stuff like that? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah, definitely. And then, you know, way back then, it was so common to have a draining ear, you know, terribly bad colds, you know, the days when there was still meningitis because people waited too long and kids got real sick with fevers and high fevers. And now we have a lot of that, you know, we have immunizations now to prevent so much of that stuff. But definitely, impetigo was a bad -- on the rampage every spring, summer and fall. Now you don't see any of this stuff hardly because people -- you know, we've taught them over the years how to -- you know, you get a cut or a bug bite, wash it up with soap and water, that will prevent impetigo from setting in. If a kid starts to complain about his ear or has a fever, they bring him in and have him looked at, and most of the time they are treated before it becomes a major problem. You know. Most of the time pneumonias are caught early. And, you know, something that could have turned into pneumonia or early pneumonia, where before, until they got to the place where -- they were just used to the point -- excuse me -- to the point where they were actually medevaced out, or somebody had to take to the hospital because they had severe pneumonia or whatever. So yeah, through the years, I think we have been -- teeth, you know, we had a fluoride program for all these years. And when I first moved here, one of the first dental visit we had to the village, I think all he did was pull teeth. And now, when the dentist comes, he just looks at beautiful teeth and credits it to all this fluoride we've -- programs we've had and the good brushing. And we've also worked with the school, you know, different things like that. You know. And so, you know, there's been lots of big changes, you know, in that respect for the better. JUDITH MORRIS: You were just going to sum it up, you've got grandsons who are in the village? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And what would be your sort of expectations or your hopes for them as they mature in Kokhanok and where they might go in the future? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Well, the one thing we have going for us now, we have the high schools in the village, which is not having to send your kids out when they are just barely teenagers, you know, away to a secondary school, high school.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: You know, whatever. And that was always so heartbreaking, like we talked about earlier, the changes that was made because of the kids that left the school. But -- to go to school. But now they can stay here if they choose to, but some parents still choose to send them out to bigger schools, which is fine, you know, because they have a little more of an opportunity for music and art, things that we don't have here. More choices. And I think as far as living here in the village, they have been born and raised here, and I think this is home and it always will be. Just like our own children, no matter where they have been, they always want to come home. And this has been home to them because this is where they have spent the major part of their years, you know, growing up, and as adults, in adults. And now like Gary with his family. And you know, we have talked real strongly about moving somewhere else, especially because of school, high school, to give better opportunities, but then you look at the other -- the downside of it when you start thinking about, well, at least here you know where your children are pretty much, you know who they are with, you kind of know what's going on. But you get them to a city, and I can even say even a size of Naknek, they are gone, they are with a lot more different people, you don't know what they are up to, who they are with, where they are. I mean, you know, we just do that just for the summer. I mean, we -- we could feel it. And I think, again, it just makes me think, well, if you get them through high school here and they broaden their horizons by encouraging vocational or college if they choose to. Some way to survive. Some way to make a living other than we know we can't do it off the country anymore. Like with the commercial fishing and the trapping is no good anymore. And I mean, it may be okay, but you don't get the prices for fur to sustain you through the year. I can remember when John and I were -- the first two years we were married, he could go out and trap and make some extra dollars during the winter months. And that was the only way to do it. But the prices were good. And the same was after we lived here. And that was always a little bit of a boost before you go back commercial fishing when there were no other jobs. And in this village, you know, there is just very few jobs. We've been lucky in the last few years, we have had the water and sewer project where people have had some work. Now we have the HUD housing project. And before that we had an airport project. And it's like -- and the roads, you know, and the school. But you know, one of these days the money is going to run out for these kind of things, and then with the -- with, you know, the money, state getting real tight with their money. Well, the future is what worries me about these -- like my grandchildren. And already know in the early stages of their life, you know, they have always known and I've always told my children that, told my children that you cannot depend on commercial fishing for a living. You've got to have something else to back you up. And this is what we're trying to get into these boys.
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Mines. And like Neil, the older one, he's already got plans of wanting to go on to something, maybe not college, but some kind of vocational training that he could maybe eventually survive in the area, or at least, you know, near home. And of course, the others are still kind of young. But you know, I don't -- I know for a fact just by watching all these other young adults, you know, there is just no way that they are going to survive, you know, as far as jobs go and even the -- some training that maybe they could get. But they always want to come home. This is where home is. You know. And you can't blame them. I mean, we feel the same way as adults, you know. So that's -- like I said, times have changed. There's other things involved now, with, you know, things you didn't have to worry about before, you know, like the drugs, the drinking. I'm sure that -- I mean, I know it's a factor here even now when it didn't used to be. And it's sad because that's not what this village was originally made up of. Like you get -- and this is where -- why the village tried to be a little, especially with the older people, had a say in who lived here and would they help to keep our village the way it was -- the way they wanted. And now we've got a whole generation of younger people that -- the ones especially that were away to school and they learned what went on in the outside world, some of that has come back. Or come to the village, too. And then some other people that moved in that would not help to keep our village the way the old-timers always wanted it. And that was the one thing they wanted us, when we first moved here, is they asked us to help them to help them to run their village. And at that time, they were just getting into the village council kind of thing. And also to help it to be the way it was then, you know. Support them. And you know, we did the best we could for as many years as we could, but after a while, it was just -- there was nothing more we could do. And just have to kind of live with it, is what it amounts to. But yeah. It's -- you know, school has changed, you know, and it's just -- there's just a lot of different things now going on. But you know, basically right when it comes right down to it, though, we still, a lot of us, the old ways are still here, and that will go on forever, you know. And the skills that the older people learned and we're all trying to teach the younger people. The school has done quite a bit with the survival skills that has helped, too. Like they have taken the whole high school out and they have done survival training out, you know, where they have had to walk and survive off the land. JUDITH MORRIS: Is that part of that Project Adventure? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: That was the beginning of it. That was the best -- that was it. That was one of the -- the program. It's kind of not happening anymore, but the kids that were involved with it, now they are older -- the high school kids now. Project Jukebox Home | Katmai Home | Kokhanok | Igiugig | Levelock | South Naknek | Copyright Information
SHIRLEY NIELSEN: And hopefully we'll have that again somehow for the younger children. And you know, they have the fish camps and people go down there to -- couple, you know, a few families that do that anymore. And I think since we had the four-wheelers and the people could commute back and forth, it's not like they really have to live down there anymore, unless they choose to. Where it used to be you had to either walk or go by boat. You know. So people just went to stay. I remember the first years we lived here, there would not be a single soul in the village, everybody would be at fish camp. And then come end of July, August, then people with schools getting close, they would move back. JUDITH MORRIS: When you refer to fish camp, you're referring down -- down the lake here? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah, about two miles. JUDITH MORRIS: About two miles? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Uh-hum. JUDITH MORRIS: And were there people also that used to go up to like Sid Larson Bay to fish camp? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. Up to -- just below Sid Larson Bay there, we called it Fennie's fish camp, and that's that one area up there. JUDITH MORRIS: (Inaudible) name for it. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Boxidolic (phonetic). JUDITH MORRIS: Boxidolic? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. It was like a certain families that was just family, two, three, four families would live in that one area, and then another group would go down here, and then pretty soon everybody just started moving down here. And we even lived down there for one summer, which was so fun. And the fish are real easy to get right there. And it's just a good -- it's a fun place to be. But that was when everybody did it, the whole village. And at that time, when you say the whole village, that was like at the time 11 families or, you know, 15 at the most, or whatever. You know. Like that. So anyway. There's a lot of changes, you know. Some pretty good, some are for the bad. It's just the way life is. Uh-hum. And now that we have water and sewer, you can turn on the faucet, you don't see people -- you know, it used to be so fun every evening, especially in the winter months, I would call it gathering at the water hole. You know. And so many times I said I wanted to get pictures of that. We probably won't ever see that again. JUDITH MORRIS: Where, down on the lake? SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Down on the lake where every evening there was a whole bunch of people down there getting their water for steams. JUDITH MORRIS: I remember that years ago seeing that. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Steam baths, you know, for their house, you know. And now that's changed, you know. So it's just -- you know, like I said, a lot of changes. So, anyway. JUDITH MORRIS: Okay. Well, thank you for all your help. SHIRLEY NIELSEN: Yeah. (End of recorded session.)