Garith Nielsen was interviewed on November 2, 1999 by Don Callaway and Bill Schneider in Kokhanok, Alaska. In this interview, Garith talks about changes in the types of vehicles used for subsistence activities, including snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles (ATV's), and the effect of these changes combined with the establishment of Katmai National Park and Preserve. He also talks about changes he has witnessed in animal populations, especially moose and caribou, and competition between hunters.
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Ways of getting into the country, his parents, travels, and personal experiences
The first time he saw a snowmachine with his mom and sister in the woods
The first snowmachine his dad bought and compares snowmachines to dogteams
Learning about snowmachines and traveling in area
The first motorized vehicles and places they would be driven
The first motorcycle and exploring the capabilities of motorcycles in the country
The first three-wheelers and their advantages and disadvantages
Arrival of the first four-wheelers, the first caribou taken from the Preserve, and which vehicle to use with different snow conditions
The shift from the Big Red's to four-wheel drive four-wheelers
How technology has effected access to the Preserve and population changes due to flu epidemics and volcanic eruptions
Changes in travel and settlement patterns due to the establishment of schools
Changes in game populations that he has noticed in his lifetime or heard about from his father
Stories of game leaving before the eruption and the arrival of caribou in the mid-1980's
The summer caribou migration and non-Native sportsmen
The use of vehicles in subsistence activities
Using vehicles for subsistence activities and transporting gear and resources
The decision to stay in the community or move to a city
How he feels about the creation of the Preserve
Control of visitors to the Preserve by the FAA and competition for game between Native and non-Native hunters
Hunting in groups and the community depending more on moose than caribou
The impact of four-wheelers on the environment and trails into the Preserve
Four-wheeler impact, transporting moose, and climate change
The weather and modes of fishing
Subsistence fishing, commercial fishing, and waterfowl hunting
People in the community selling permits and how to afford technology
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BS: OK...uh today is November 2nd, 1999. I'm Bill Schneider, Don Callaway here's too and we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with uh Gary Nielsen. We're here at his house uh in Kokhanok and um we've been talking yesterday and a little bit last night about some of the issue that uh are important in terms of peoples' lives out here and so we want to pick up on some of those and uh appreciate you taking the time and be willing to do this..um. Let's uh...let's start by my asking you just in general terms to talk about the history of um ways of getting into the country that you can remember and maybe begin by talking about your parents and tell us who they are and some of their travels and then some of your experiences as a young person growing up here. GN: hmm...I know...Mom and Dad are from the area. We've lived all over between Naknek and here. What else you want to know? BS: What are their names? GN: John Nielsen and Shirley Hill Nielsen BS: mmm hmm GN: But up until I was...I don't know...six, five or six the only way we ever traveled was by boat or dogs and occasionally airplane. BS: Tell us about some of those trips that you remember as a young boy. GN: Cold and the smell of dog shit. I don't know, seems like in the wintertime it was dogs, where ever we went. We used live up Reindeer Bay which is about ten, twelve miles up and uh we got our mail through here or through Pope's and if I was really lucky I got to go with Dad to go get the mail. Anywhere else in the area we went with dogs and summertime with the boat.
GN: In fact, the first time I remember seeing a snowmachine was a beautiful spring day and my mom my sister and I were walking from the house to the soda water spring, which was about, I don't know, three quarters of a mile from the house I guess at Reindeer Bay. We heard this sound, this reverberating sound coming through the timber we kept looking for an airplane, but there was no damn airplane, so we got spooked. Swear it was a flying saucer, started heading for the house. Just made it to the house and around the corner comes and Willy on a snowmachine. First snowmachine I had ever seen. Had no idea what it was. That was in '65 or '66, I don't remember. And that was... I remember seeing that thing and oh man, didn't know what to make of it. . BS: yeah...that's a good story. GN: We heard of 'em, but never seen 'em. BS: Let's see how this sounds BS: That reminds me of uh some other story I heard up in Nikolai and Telida country uh I think it was or talking about hearing this rattling up in the sky by Fairbanks and it was uh Ben Eielson's flight out to McGrath...So you had heard of snowmachines before that, huh? GN: Heard of 'em, but never seen 'em. Didn't even know what they sounded like. Sounded like an outboard...but, it was wintertime, nobody around a skiff . BS: So uh tell us the rest of that story uh when you, when you saw it uh did that prompt you to talk to your folks about it or..? GN: Well, I just remember being scared and running for the house pretty much, pretty young. BS: yeah...how old were you then? GN: Five or six....wasn't very old.
BS: So when did Dad get his first one? GN: He was stubborn and didn't get one until we moved to Kokhanok here in, well after we moved to Kokhanok. '60 or '69 I think is when he finally broke down and bought one. Bought a Ski-Doo, ten horse. BS: mmm hmm...and how did that change life? GN: Made the area more accessible. He still had to walk home, but not quite as often . I know with the dog teams, I remember seeing the dogs come home and he's show up about three hours later...not too happy . And the dogs would know he wasn't happy and they'd hide for two or three days before they'd come out of the bush. The quality of the machines then were...aren't as good as good as they are now. I remember him and Willy , they'd the only one ones that had snowmachines here then at that time. They walked home a few times but it sure opened up the country though...much more accessible. BS: Can you give us an example of that? GN: You can make the snowmachine go where you wanted it to. Not like dogs where if they didn't want to go there, they didn't go there. . And uh you go further. Dogs, you gotta pack food for the dogs plus yourself, plus camping gear, which didn't make for too many long trips. In a snowmachine you go twice as far in a day and back...most of the time. BS: Danny was talking about how with uh dogs you could go to different places you could go to different places than you could with snowmachines. With snowmachines you were limited in some ways. GN: Well, if that was true we'd still have dog teams DC: I think he was talking about four-wheelers. BS: Maybe he was talking about four-wheelers, yeah. But he was talking about muskeg and uh swampy areas where dogs could make their way over it. GN: The only advantage I see of a dog team over a snowmachine is that the dogs can pull themselves out of a hole and up a hill, and snowmachines won't. BS: uh huh GN: It's a little bit more hard.
GN: But Dad kept dogs well into the '70s before he finally went strictly to snowmachines. That's when sprint...sprint mushing kept out in the area too and he had a number one sprint team. That's mostly what he kept the dogs for during that time. But with the snowmachines you could go anywhere. Fuel is cheaper than a dog team, anytime. BS: So as you were growing up uh you must have reached the age of uh being able to get out in the country just about the time that he got his first snowmachine. GN: I started traveling the country when one of my uncles was staying with us and he bought...bought a machine. He stayed with one winter and when he left, he left the snowmachine here and I got to use it. So I started running around that...probably in '72 maybe. I was twelve. BS: What were some of your early travels on a snowmachine? GN: Just locally. Once in a while I'd follow down on his trapline. But when you followed, you were on your own. If you got stuck, you got out . It was good learning, I guess...know what to do, and know what not to do on the machine. Same way it was with dogs. We used to follow behind him...I remember a few times following behind him with his what they call a second string now, what he called scrap...scraps then, and you hung on...or you didn't go . BS: And he just kept going, huh? GN: Just keep going .
BS: Well, one of the things that you were talking about yesterday was the introduction of motorized vehicles into the country. Could you um...could you go through some of that discussion? ...um, four-wheeled type vehicles or three-wheel or whatever or even motorcycles we were talking about. GN: oh, like in the late '50s or '50s to '60's a lot of people already had given up on dogs and they'd went to Jeeps, military surplus Jeeps. I mean there were guys on the Kvichak using Jeeps, Naknek going up into Colville Lake area even with Jeeps. Here on the lake, Iliamna Lake, there were people running Jeeps on the lake, and I guess back inland. I don't know how far back they went. And not only just Jeeps too, there were also two-wheel drive cars that they used. Back when the first cars in Newhalen, Fennie Andrew owned but he didn't drive it, Willie Rickteroff drove it for him. And that was back in the, I don't know, '40s I guess, '50s...I'm not sure. But, technology was embraced rather readily. BS: mmm hmm. And where there established uh routes that you went with these vehicles or could you go just about anywhere? GN: Well, here in the village, there was a couple of army surplus weapons carriers that were surplus for the village and Willie Rickteroff made good use of them. He pulled a lot of the old dog team trails and walking trails back up here in the hills and up in the mountains as far as you could possibly go. And they were good machines, solid four-wheel drives, where all four wheels pulled and if they got stuck it had a big heavy duty winch on it, he carried an anchor, so if he got stuck he'd just anchor it and jerk it out of its hole. I mean, he...he could see his tracks well past Gibraltar...and back up here in the hills. I remember him trying to cross river but he couldn't make it up the hill on the other side of the river, there was too many holes from the old pit houses...couldn't make it across... But, anything that was easier was used.
BS: Then you had mentioned motorcycles, and I notice you got some pictures that maybe we'll try to get some copies of. GN: The first motorcyle here was Olympic in uh late '60s or early '70s, I'm not really sure when. It was an old Bridgestone, I think it was a 70 CC. Probably get broken down or caught on fire somewhere, I think it just quit working. That was the first one, then the...one of the teachers had a small mini-bike ah just for local area between here and fish camp. In '71 I got a Honda 50, Trail 50. Well, Rickteroff's had one though so... With those things you could through Gibraltar with . Had to push 'em up the hills, but ya still made it. And then from then on, I think in '73 maybe, I know Greg Andrews had a motorcycle and I had a motorcycle. I think Rickteroffs might of had a motorcycle also. But Greg Andrew used his quite a bit. One of the trail I've pulled, Greg Andrew had already been there, and he went far as Dennis Creek area. I know he was up on them hills with them. I don't know how far back he went. But, I've been up to the top of the mountains. Not quite over the ridge because there was a rocky area up there you couldn't cross with a motorcycle...well, I didn't try I guess. By the time I got that high I was far from home and not much gun. BS: A sharp way down, huh? GN: Steep...for a motorcycle. Couple areas up there it was pretty steep and I had to walk it down. Easy to go up and uh hard to come down. Few places...uh there's one place in particular where it goes right along the edge of the canyon, makes a sharp left hand turn...not much fun. When that...everyone was gettin' the four-wheelers from the '80s and talking bout going up the mountain and you know being the first ones up there, but we were...we'd already been up there. BS: mmm hmm. GN: And the motorcycles too, we used around winter when the snow was packed it was really good going.
BS: And then when did three-wheelers come in? Or is three-wheelers the next development? GN: Three-wheelers were...came in next, the Honda 90s. um...I think the first three-wheeler here was uh...my aunt bought one for my cousin, Rolin to keep here. He used to spend quite a bit of time with us. I was three...Trail 90 and I think that was in '74. But they were so gutless. You could use 'em, actually we wound up using 'em quite a bit just because of the packing capacity, much more than a motorcycle. We all switched to the three-wheelers. But they weren't near as efficient as a motorcycle . Uncomfortable riding. Then they got the 110s two years later and that was a lot of power. But the chain system was so, I don't know, inefficient or make-shift, I guess that when you traveled you had to carry extra parts for your chain and a pocket full of tools and extra parts...hmm...wires, snares, anything to keep 'em together. But those cover a lot especially in the winter when the snow was hard, you could go all over the place. In the falltime when the water was low, and they couldn't ford very deep water but if you couldn't ford 'em you could walk 'em across 'cause they could float. BS: hmm GN: So we used 'em quite a bit that way...that was with the 110s. And with my 110, I went up to the top of the mountains with it. Easier to come down than a motorcycle. 'Cause they didn't have the power, you had to put it in a low gear and then the engine would over heat. Took a while to get up.
BS: hmm... Do you have some of those old machines around the house here? GN: Gave 'em all away. BS: uh huh GN: When the four-wheelers came, the four-wheelers were so much better I just got rid of 'em all. BS: So after the three-wheelers, then uh... GN: After the three...after the 110 we got the Big Red's, uh the 250s...well, first it was the 200s then the 250s. BS: uh huh GN: Big improvement, but the 200s were still chain driven, same kind of problems with the 110s and the 90s. Then we got the axle drive 250s and boy, that...very little maintenance. They go all over the place. That's when we started really penetrating to the other side. BS: hmm GN: In fact, that picture right there that's one of the first caribou taken in the preserve. DC: He got ya there. BS: We gotta finish that sentence...One of the first caribou taken in the preserve with that machine? GN: But then that's the first year the caribou really showed up, um actually not showed up, that we realized that they were there. People said they were there, but we didn't believe them. BS: So now, certain snow conditions are important in terms of different types of vehicles. How do you decide when to use a snowmachine and when to use a four-wheeler? GN: If the snowmachine...if the snow is hard you use a four-wheeler. If its icy then a snowmachine is useless, pretty much. BS: Because... GN: Wears out the under carriage. BS: Skids out? GN: No, slides kind of thick and they overheat and cook. BS: hmm GN: When conditions are icy, use the four-wheeler, when the conditions are soft use the snowmachine. BS: Let's see how we sound
BS: OK...so let's uh...what's next after Big Red? GN: Well used the Big Reds up until Honda got sued too much and uh quit makin' Big Red three-wheelers. And they started developing the four-wheelers that...when the four-wheelers first came out they only had two-wheel drives and they were almost as worthless as the 90s because they were underpowered, so everybody still preferred the Big Reds, the three-wheelers. Until they came out with the four-wheel drive in uh, I don't know what year it was, and we all switched to the four wheel drive four-wheelers. They could really go. anywhere still, gas capacity whether or not you wanna be home that night. BS: So, for those of us that aren't technologically focused uh tell us about that difference with the four-wheeler, four-wheel drive. GN: The difference between the four-wheel drive and the two-wheel drive? BS: Yeah, in terms of the country and travel? GN: It's like the difference between biplanes and jets. About the same. Two-wheel drive on the three-wheeler and on the two-wheel drive four-wheelers about 15 to 25 percent of your time you were pushing. BS: mmm GN: To get where you wanted to go. The four-wheelers you pushed on rare occasions, the four-wheel drives. And if you're stuck, you know it. BS: Did those allow you to go places that you couldn't get to with the two-wheelers? GN: Kind of...uh not really. We...allowed to get us there better with less work. The places that we go with our four-wheelers are the places we've gone with the three-wheelers before anyway. Just that its wasn't as much work and a little bit more comfortable. BS: uh huh GN: Just made it more efficient. Less expension of energy.
BS: So, where do we go from the four-wheelers? Is that where we are now? GN: That's where we are now, right? I think, unless you can invent some kind of anti-gravity machine or something. DC: machine? GN: Don't work, had one. DC: Tell us about that. GN: The hover-craft? DC: yeah. GN: Nice toy and that's all they are is a toy. Let me see, the technology further, not much use. BS: So we...the other big area we wanted to talk about was use of the preserve and um I gathered from what you said that people have had a long standing use of the preserve um but technology has allowed you to uh utilize it faster, easier. GN: Technology and population. BS: Ah...tell us about that. GN: way back before all the flus wiped everybody out, there used to be quite a bit of people in the area, and there are stories, I've been told of people living over in the Kamishak area, Douglas region that used that area quite a bit and also the people from here. Going up in the mountains for squirrels and uh hunting in general, I guess. That was a long time ago. And its a historic use area. Then them...the flus came and wiped everybody out, then eruption came and did an even better job of chasin' everybody away. A period of early 1900s to probably the late '60s, I don't think that area was used very much by too many people. This is what I've been told, and heard.
GN: There were people that used it from this area, but not a lot. In fact, uh going back to the transition between dog teams and snowmachines, when my father first started exploring the country with his snowmachines, him and my...one of my uncles was trying to find the pass over to Kamishak River...and they tried several times to get through the mountains but they kept gettin' lost or hittin' dead end canyons and they couldn't make it through. So there was an old man still living here then, he was still alive. His name was Mike . And he was blind then, so they go down to talk to him and Greg Andrew would interpret and ask him you know how do you find your way through the mountains to Kamishak? and how far is it? I remember Dad saying that old Mike told him ah...little bit, no far. Maybe the sun come up and go down and you're there. And uh he told 'em when you go up through the mountains at the end of Gibraltar you don't, you don't turn right like it looks like you should, you go left, you go left a couple times and then you turn right. You hit the Paint River and you go down the Paint from McNeil then over through the mountains to Kamishak. They followed his directions and made it there no sweat. And this a guy from years ago, used to travel that whole country, hunting. And they were just rediscovering it with snowmachines. It's not new, it's just there was a period of time where there was nobody used it, because of the schools, government forcing everybody to stay in the village to stay in the village to stay in schools. Before that, it was a semi-nomadic way of life. Nobody stayed in a village. Maybe for a few months in the winter, during the cold months, but then they'd all disperse to their own camps. Each family had their own area that they went to. Some would go to , some of 'em Dennis Creek, others would go to the coast, someone go up in the mountains, some to Tommy Point. hmm, they went all over. The worst thing they did was made us, made 'em stay in the village. Destroyed the way of life. But now, we're just now rediscovering the traveling, the past twenty years, now they say we can't. But these trails we're following or the passes we go through its nothing new I mean that's the way they've always got 'em, we're just using a different mechanism of transportation. It's nothing new.
BS: Let's talk for just a minute about uh the changes in game populations that you've noticed in your lifetime or that your father may have talked about. I'm thinking about yesterday and Danny talking about the impact of the Katmai eruption, something that I hadn't considered but...um...what do you, when you think about changes in game populations or things you've heard from you're dad what comes to mind? GN: One of the first things that come to mind is um there used to be a prospector, silver miner, that lived up on Meadow Lake. His name was Bill or and they said he was a hell of a storyteller and he'd come over to Iliamna or Pile Bay to get his supplies, sometimes during the winter, I guess. And the few times he'd come over he'd tell people that he saw a moose track and nobody would believe him. 'Cause it wasn't...then, it was in the '30s I guess when there was no moose around, still after the eruption. They were gone, all the game was gone for, I don't know, couple of decades I guess. The main meat animal was bear. Everybody hunted bear. Not much moose up until, from what I gather, the '40s they started showing back up. And by the late fifties there was a few around. There was a period, oh just in my lifetime here during the '80s when the hunting pressure by the outside guides was so great that you couldn't find a moose within the village area here to save your life. They were all wiped out or chased away, until the Native corporation got control of the land, we took control of our lands and well, its building back up again within the area around the village. BS: How was...I'm sorry, go ahead. GN: Which is one of the reasons why we're up on the mountains looking around. BS: uh huh GN: Just scoping out for game and stuff.... Then when the caribou came through here in the '80s. That's the first time that caribou had been through here in human memory. But the old stories say that there was caribou here long time ago, way before the eruption. Just that before the eruption all the game left and didn't come back.
BS: For the record why don't you tell that story. GN: Which one? BS: About the game leaving before the eruption. GN: Well that's...I heard it in different stories around here where they said before the eruption that the game was disappearing and nobody really knew why because the there was no explanation for it then the eruption happened and buried everything they made, figured out that's why the game left. Its also written on by...what the hell's his name?... Father Harry from Prarieville? BS: mmm hmm GN: He wrote about it and he was living in Cape Douglas at the time and he mentioned the same thing in his, his book, the game had left and didn't know why or was leaving and he didn't know why. My wife's uncle told me a bunch of these stories and I can't remember even a smidgen' of what he told me. That was one of 'em. Was about the game leaving before the eruption. BS: What...what was his name? GN: , but he's dead now. He told me so much and I can't hardly remember any of it. Remember...young, dumb...courtin' my wife, wasn't paying attention. BS: yeah...yeah you know how that goes. Well, let's get...talk about the caribou a little bit more then in your father's time and in your time have you seen changes in the caribou population? GN: Here, yes. They didn't show up in mass until the middle '80s. Before that there was occasional caribou kill here. One of the first caribou I remember being killed was probably in...see, I had my MT125 then...that would have been '74 or '75. My dad was using my motorcycle, he was coming back from the airstrip, the old airstrip down here and he ran into a caribou right on the airstrip. So he ran to Joe's house, which is that Quonset hut right here on the beach and got him since he was the closest one with a rifle and took 'em back down on the motorcycle and they got it. In fact, I have Joe's rifle on the wall that got the first caribou, that I can remember 'em. And it's a lousy rifle it jams at every shot. BS: ah yeah? GN: Dad said that when Joe was shooting, I guess it was two caribou, he shot and knocked one down and the rifle jammed and Joe was cussing, trying to get the other bullet out, trying to get the other caribou but the gun just would not get unjammed and the caribou just wandered away and got away, the second one.
BS: So then they were coming back? GN: We actually don't know where they were coming from, I...I assume they are coming from up in the mountains or just coming from the main Mulchatna or we don't know because it was during the summer when they'd wander through here once in a while. That was the first time I remember seeing, but I guess they're...I remember before that I was down at fish camp with my Honda 50 so that must have been the early '70s and Gregory show me some tracks on the beach down in front of his fish camp there, he told me they were caribou tracks, but I didn't believe him...but I guess they were. That was the early '70s. BS: When you uh talk about outsiders coming in, outside hunters, um is that related to the lodges or is that a different situation? GN: Lodges, outfitters, those damn guys from the Kenai who think this is their backyard playground when it isn't . BS: So they're flying over, flying across the inlet. GN: Just coming across the inlet. It used to be pretty bad until we started chasing them off the Native corporation land. BS: mmm hmm GN: I mean they were camping literally in our backyards up here and... BS: mmm hmm GN: Harassing our game our game. BS: Let me shut this off a sec.
BS: OK, Don. DC: um, yeah Gary what I'd uh appreciate is a little more detail on how the Jeeps and the other surplus army equipment was used in subsistence activities. Were they used to pull in nets? Or haul stuff? or... some details on that. GN: In the village area, mostly used for um hauling stuff, to and from the airport, pulling up the boats in the falltime, ah...transporting stuff to and from fish camp, which was, then up until '80s the main village was abandoned during the summer and everybody went to the fish camp. I think it was after transportation quite a bit, haul that stuff back and forth. Then the one up inland was mostly for hunting and then you go up to Gibraltar in the falltime and bring back red fish and candlefish, bear, moose. Like a lot of the trails up in the hills are just after moose and bear, otherwise they to go up there. That was with the old weapon carriers, the old M38s I guess they were. DC: How 'bout the Jeeps? What were they used for? GN: From what I understand, basically the same thing. um...just enhancing the subsisting hunting and trapping lifestyle, easier to take care of, mostly from the guys in Newhalen and on the Kvichak. I don't think there were any Jeeps here. There might have been, but not that I know of. But the guys in Newhalen and on the Kvichak and Naknek I know use them pretty...quite heavily, rather than use a dog team or snowmachine then, much more reliable.
DC: So it was mainly the weapons carriers in Kokhanok that were used to enhance subsistence activities by transporting gear and then transporting resources back from Gibraltar or where ever? They're also used to hunt? How would they be used in hunting? The weapons carriers. GN: Hop in 'em and go hunt just like a four-wheeler. I mean, I'm always surprise when I run into Willy's, had to have been Willy, he's the only one that I know that used that machine in that way, ran into his tracks at...up on the mountain on the other end of Gibraltar. Must have went up there on the ice, I would assume that's the only way he could have got up there. The hill behind here, it's incredible where he took it. I'm sure he knew there was game on the other side of the mountain and he'd a went there too I'm sure he knew, he probably just didn't go DC: What period again was this, '60s? GN: Late '60s early '70s. DC: How bout the use of uh three and four-wheel technology and uh subsistence issues? Were they used to haul in nets too? I mean, I've heard of that use. GN: Oh yeah, I do it myself. In fact, just a couple weeks ago yeah. DC: How 'bout putting...uh...four-wheelers or three-wheelers on skiffs and transporting them. GN: Transport...oh yeah, all the time DC: Where would that be GN: Mostly for hunting, um transport to Big Mountain, Tommy Point, up the Bay, down toward the Kvichak. DC: And this would be spring through summer? GN: Yeah...falltime. A lot of it just across the river. I mean, Gibraltar River is our main optical here and if you don't have a skiff to cross the river, you're not going to cross it. There are a few ford up on the river that you can cross it with but boy, it's hard on the machines.
DC: How 'bout uh one of the things you talk to people about is how tough it is to keep the young kids here, there are few jobs available? GN: How tough it is to keep 'em here or how tough it is to make 'em leave? DC: Well, what's you're perspective on that? GN: In what way DC: Well uh...when I talked to Sheila, for example, she said it was a tough decision for her to learn these skills but not have a chance to employ them because there wasn't much jobs. On the other hand, she didn't want to leave her family and her friends. So it was a real conflict for her. GN: If they're gonna want to stay here, it'd have to be a combination of welfare and subsistence. There is no other way to live here. For the vast majority of the population that lives here, there is no other way to do it. The economy can only sustain so many stores, so many video rentals, so many service industries, which leaves about 60 percent of the population with nothing else to do other than welfare and subsistence, period. You have a hard time living just on welfare without subsidizing with subsistence. I mean you have to subsidize with subsistence in some way. Whether it be wood getting, fishing, or hunting, or somebody has to help you subsidize by sharing with you. Otherwise, you're not gonna make it. DC: And what is your perception of it? Most of the kids staying in the community or do most of 'em leave for Anchorage or other places? GN: With the advent of the high schools in the villages I have noticed that the majority of the graduates are staying in the village, because that is the only life that they seem to know. Good or bad, whatever, they're staying here. There doesn't seem to be much desire to go out and further their education or see the world
BS: We're back on DC: um, Gary could you talk a little bit about the impact of the creation of the preserve and regulations on subsistence way of life here in Kokhanok? GN: The creation of the preserve? You mean for good or negative? DC: Well, how you see it. GN: The only good I can see is that it limits the concession heirs to one, but it doesn't limit the outfitters dropping off people, which does create problems. As far as keeping us out of there. Its doing a good job of that to...or it has until we finally gave up and said we're going to do it anyway, regardless of the consequences. That's where the game is.
DC: Let me uh follow up on some of this, Gary um the outfitters uh is...they're controlled by state regs to a large extent is there much the uh park can do to limit their impact? GN: I don't think the outfitters are controlled at all other than by FAA, are they? DC: I...I don't know. GN: I'm pretty sure of that. Outfitters don't fall under any game regulations. There's an outfitter they just haul 'em out here and drop 'em off and they don't care where they drop 'em off, or how many they haul out. There not limited to how many they can haul out, where they can put 'em, or anything. The only thing that limits them in the park and preserve is uh that they can only drop legally drop off Alaskan residents in the preserve and non-residents require a guide. But, we don't think that's happening because we run into hunters up there that have been dropped off by outfitters that run away and hid from us, which leads us to believe that they're not really legal. DC: If after is work control, would that make uh some difference uh is there pressure and competition from...from the hunters dropped off by outfitters for resources on the other side? GN: Yes. There is. Quite a bit, actually. In fact, the last time I was up there I ran into so many hunters I just turned around and came back. I figured it wasn't even worth looking...because the hunting pressure has been too great. And I didn't feel like getting shot anyway. DC: So the competition, does that force you guys to go further? I mean.. GN: Further. DC: Into the preserve or further east or...? GN: Actually further in any direction, where if there is game that happen to be in the preserve, yes. I personally gone fairly deep into the preserve, not really deep. The furthest I've ever got a caribou with a four-wheeler was in the mid-'80s and that wasn't when the preserve was here. First we went to Big Mountain, or just this side of Big Mountain. Didn't find any game, we came back. Loaded the Hondas in the skiff, went to the other side of Big Mountain up Windy Creek, spent three days there, didn't find anything. Traveled to Igiugig by the four-wheelers, didn't find anything. Crossed Kvichak River and traveled not quite to Lower Talarik before we ran into, I think, six caribou...and got four and we brought 'em all the way back. That's... just shows you to the extent we will go to find meat. And there was four, what...four or five of us in that group at the time.
DC: Do you normally hunt in groups of a couple of uh hunters? GN: At least two, just for safety. You get the me once in a while who go out by themselves, but we usually leave a some kind of travel plan behind. Or if we're not back by dark, we usually communicate saying we're going to be back after dark or somebody comes looking. But now we have cell phones. Before we just had the hand held VHX or again like the old three-wheelers, notoriously unreliable. DC: How 'bout moose? Where do you take most of your moose uh in the last, say, five years? How do you get it? GN: I usually wait until winter when the going is...when I have more access to more country. A lot of times, I'll hunt in the fall but the chances of getting one in the fall is pretty slim, again because the hunting pressure. uh.. The winter season there's not as much pressure from outside sources. And I've gone up over the hills looking for moose, and there's moose up there but, there's just so damn many bears and so many people around that I And caribou a little different, you can throw it on the machine and get away. Moose is big, you have to be there for a while. DC: But the community depends more on moose than on caribou, right? GN: Yes. This is moose country, not caribou country. DC: So...so where do you get most of the moose from then, for the community, I mean where does the community get most of their moose from? GN: Well, where ever you happen to see it. Caught anywhere from Nonvianuk to Tommy Point, Squirrel Village, anywhere in between, McNeil River, which is State Game Sanctuary...but...nobody there at the time . Anywhere in between, where they happen to be.
DC: Now, is it your experience that uh when you use four-wheelers on this hard compact snow that it doesn't have uh much impact at all on the environment much like a snowmachine 'cause its protected by the layer of snow? GN: Yes and no. um... In the winter, if you get stuck with the four-wheeler and you dig down to the ground, that scar is going to be there for a long time. Where as if you go over it when its green, it won't scar. DC: huh GN: You won't kill the plant. The only time I notice damage being done to the tundra is when you've gone over it when it's frozen with a Honda and you tear up the ground by spinning your tires or whatever, that scar is going to be there for a long time. But, if you go over when its green, its...you go back the next year and you won't hardly be able...you wouldn't be able to tell you were there. DC: hmm GN: And the one time you'll see a trail is when there's a lot of repeated use over in one certain area, then you'll see a trail. But, I can guarantee you right now that if you went up there and you got into cloud or fog trying to come back or go over, and if you tried to find the trail to follow...you're not. You're gonna have to sit and wait for the cloud or the fog to go away. Either that or go off a cliff somewhere. DC: And um...could you talk a little bit about uh as we discussed yesterday, that there's kind of one main or two main trails to the other side of the mountain, but then after that things fan out? GN: There are two...right now there are two main ways to penetrate into the preserve. I say there's two main ways, because right now they're the easiest. But if they were blocked, there's other ways. Just that those are the two, happen to be the two easiest. And, if you go up and over the mountains, once you hit the preserve where the game is, or most of the time, sometimes, the trail disperses, it fans out. And you can't...there really isn't a trail once you're into the preserve, it just disperses. And it goes down to the lower side of Kukaklek all the way over toward Kamishak area, and back toward Battle Lake.
DC: And these trail that fan out they...they leave little impact that's discernible on the tundra in your...your experience? GN: Yes, um not much...what...what would make it leave even less...lesser impact is tire pressure. If it was rigs that could only go in there with so much tire pressure the impact would be minimal...minimal...less . Its when you have your tires pumped up hard that you create damage. DC: Now...lower tire pressure gives you a little more traction too. Why do people run it hard? Just cause it's faster? GN: Faster and you can pack a bigger load. DC: ah. GN: A lot of times when I've been out hunting I carried a tire pump and ran low tire pressure up until I got my game, then I pump up the tires so it wouldn't be riding on the rims coming back. DC: And uh a party of three or four four-wheelers can transport a moose back? They quarter it and uh get it on to uh... GN: A small moose, one four-wheeler can haul it. A big moose, it'll take at least two. And I've seen moose over there that took four four-wheelers, a single moose, it's so big. I just all depends on the size. DC: um... If we could talk about another subject for awhile. I'm interested in climate change and...and uh how that may be affecting various activities um change in snow fall, snow cover, uh change in the runs of salmon that you guys may get. Do you go...do you get salmon uh here? GN: Yes. OK... DC: Well, yeah...reds, I know come up this far. GN: Just regular salmon...yeah. Get 'em here. Fall fish up in Gibraltar. But the fishing pressure, again...the population is getting so big that I don't think Gibraltar is going to be able sustain what we take out of it for too many more years. And you'll probably see a...I would say within ten to fifteen years you'll see people heading for Moraine to pick up red fish in the fall. So, it's gonna happen.
DC: Have people been getting enough fish the last, say, five years? Or have there been interruptions? GN: Usually just the weather makes interruptions. Like this year, nobody is out netting fish. I think there has been thirty, maybe sixty gotten out of Gibraltar total this fall. The weather got cold too early. There's still fish up there...and we could probably go up there and get 'em if we wanted to...really bad, but we're just waiting for better weather...hmm, subsistence...subsistence way . DC: How...how bout... BS: Better weather meaning...better traveling weather? GN: Better traveling weather, warmer. You're not gonna freeze your nuts off to...for a few fish. BS: mmm hmm. DC: How bout uh commercial fishing? Do people in the community uh still have set net and drift net permits and use those? GN: There's only a few left. But according to our numbers last year, in one of the worst seasons that we've had, and everybody knew it was going to be a bad season, still forty-three people from this village took part in the fishery. And on a good year, it would be more than that. That forty-three is still a third of the population even though everybody knew it was going to be a bad season, we all went down anyway. DC: And would this be for fishing mainly or for processing too...or what? GN: Mostly commercial fishing, we do our subsistence fishing in Naknek for uh smoke fish. And sometimes when we come home we do salt fish here, if we don't have time out on Naknek...and or in the falltime, with red fish. DC: Is this mainly set netting now...or uh you guys use your boats? GN: Naknek? DC: Yeah GN: For fishing or subsistence? DC: Both GN: Commercial, I drift. Used to set net. My mother drifts, my sister drifts, my wife has a...my stepdad's permit. But, the past few years my wife hasn't been fishing, which is...thank God. Or we'd really be in the hole. DC: You mean given the expense of fishing versus the return? GN: Yes.
DC: yeah... How 'bout subsistence fishing? You said you get most of your subsistence fish out of Naknek where you smoke 'em. GN: Yes...uh, just for the smoke fish though. If we have time, we do the salt fish at the end of the run, just because it's more convenient. By the time we get back home here, after the season the fish are pretty skinny and there's not much fat content, difficult to smoke then because it's raining and blowing and hard to dry 'em up here. The good months are June and July, when were gone. DC: How 'bout um...uh waterfowl hunting? What do...do you get a lot of waterfowl? Is it mainly geese or ducks and where and when? GN: Geese and ducks in the spring only. Mostly right in the area here um... In the falltime I've gone over the mountains, look for birds. And there are some up there, but not a lot. I've never been really lucky. Maybe I'm BS: OK, we're back on and uh...we got the cockatiel on the shoulder and...there he is, see! Well this...we've added him to the interview . Alright. DC: How...yeah...Could you just kind of give some general memories of uh commercial fishing and your summer activities with respect to subsistence fishing too? Talk about that a little. GN: Commercial fishing. In the '60s, '70s, every able-bodied man and boy jumped in the skiff, conversion powerboat and went down to the bay and fished. Before the wonderful days of the permit system, when all we had to do was buy a 25 dollar gear license and a boat that didn't sink and you went fishing. And everybody went fishing. A boy was able to handle a net, he went...basically all there was left in the village.. fish...was just women and kids. That was well into the '70s.
GN: Then this wonderful permit system came along and gave us this little piece of plastic that was worth some money and when the times were a little bit hard, people sold 'em off and that destroyed a good part of the livelihood for this village. A good part. I think, let me guess, there is only three drift permits left and...maybe...there are two set net permits in the village that I know of, mine and one of my cousins has a set net permit...that I know of. And before that there was at least six or seven drift permits. But before that, it didn't matter, I mean, if you had a skiff, a conversion, a boat, and you're able to afford a net, or if you're in good grace with the canneries, you go down and get it on credit, and go fishing, and take your kids with you...and the cash income, but not now. DC: Why did people sell their permits? GN: A few bad seasons. um... Some of them just retired and they're...didn't trust their kids with them 'cause they figured they'd sell 'em anyway so they sold 'em to beat them to the punch. That's how they disappeared. DC: How is uh the technology to engage in subsistence activities uh affordable in the community? How do people get money to purchase the four-wheelers? GN: Dividends. Permanent Fund Dividend pays for a lot of equipment. DC: What...was returns from commercial fishing a big contributor in the late'70s? GN: Yes, it was. um... Actually, there was a lull there after everything was sold until the Permanent Fund Dividend came along, now that I think of it. BS: OK to shut if off? DC: yeah BS: Let me bring this to a close since the water is about to boil. uh, anything you want to add just as a final note uh that you think people ought to know about? GN: All kinds of stuff, just don't have enough time. BS: Yeah, we'll have to...maybe we'll have to do it again.