Alex Tallekpalek was interviewed on May 5, 1998 by William Schneider and Don Callaway at his home in Levelock, Alaska. In this interview, Alex talks about learning to live off the land and how to fish, hunt and trap from his grandfather. He also talks about hunting beluga whales. Alex also discusses changes he has observed in the environment, in animal, bird and fish populations, in the culture, and with the climate, and impacts on subsistence living from the development of sport lodges and the presence of Katmai National Park and Preserve.
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His personal background and learning how to survive and live off the land
Learning traditional subsistence skills from his grandfather
Learning how to live off the land from his grandfather
Using landmarks to guide your way when traveling
Traveling and living off the land, and teaching his sons the skills he learned from his grandfather
Culture and climate changes that his grandfather warned him about and he has seen happen
Changes in animal numbers over the years
Hunting beluga whales
Hunting beluga whales and throwing the harpoon
Hunting and eating beluga and changes in their numbers he has observed
Hunting beluga and catching them when they are still alive
Transporting live belugas, and impacts to subsistence living from the development of sport lodges in the area
Changes in fish numbers and other impacts from sport fishermen and sport hunters coming into the area
How fishing and community activities have changed
Weather changes he has observed
His work as a representative on the Alaska Beluga Whale Commission
His grandfather's knowledge about climate change and learning from others
Keeping close watch over the environment around you and noticing changes in it
Knowing your environment, and changes he has seen in numbers and types of birds
Changes in numbers and types of birds, and the condition of the salmon they catch
Changes in fish populations, and how they used to hunt beluga from kayaks
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Bill: Okay, today is May 5th 1998. I'm Bill Schneider. Don Callaway's here and we have the pleasure of talking with Alex Tallekpalek and we're in his place here in Levelock, which is a beautiful old house with lots of museum quality artifacts here. Some of them nice things he's made, old models. Thank you Alex for taking the time to do this. Alex: Mmhm. Bill: Tell me about your background. Alex: Well, I was born on Coffee Creek about ten miles down the river here, and I didn't see mom and dad, my when I was adopted, they adopted me when I was small so I was raised by Tallekpalek family, and, uh, they adopted me and then they moved, they moved to the Levelock. You know, around in thirties. Twenty nine, yeah, twe...thirties. From there on I have been living here ever since. And the folks that raised me they were Lawrence Tallekpalek and Effie Tallekpalek, that's my step mother and my step dad that raised me. And of course when I was, when I was adopted, John Tallekpalek, his dad was, I call him grandpa long time and grandma, they're the ones that helped me out, when they was living. Taking care of me, traveling, you know, out. All these years when I was gone they teach me how to live, live off the land, and how to survive the cold weathers. Most of the learning, I learned from my grandpa 'cuz he takes me out camping and show me how to build a fire and how to sleep under the trees and stuff like that, you know. And another thing that I learned, in all the time when I was living, staying with him, he showed me how to build traps, fish traps. How to catch fish traps. With fish trap you small fish. Chop a hole through the ice and hooked on beavers and all, in them days. How to catch birds and ptarmigans, we used to make, um, things like that, the little hole in the middle to catch ptarmigans. Snare 'em. He used string and make it look like a snare. That is how we used to catch them in those days. And grandpa used to make bow and arrows, make his own. Then he goes out hunting, gets ptarmigans that way. He teach me how to do that.
Alex: And, of course he had a lot of..., he had thirty dogs. Them days, we used to travel a lot by dogs up Kwichak River. Up the river and then back here, about, oh, twenty miles back route Levelock. He was trapping every year towards spring just before, oh... it was this month in May, before May sometime. They go upriver, tent out that way. Then in the, mmm, after we, um, get everything all settled and get all ?, grandpa used to make kayaks and that's how we used to travel them days. No boats. No kickers. Nothing we could use to row and go see them guys. Then we, uh..grandpa used to go down the creek and then we'd go down with dogs over the land, and he used to show me how to ride in the kayaks. Show me how to stand inside and how to handle it, you know, with a paddle and stuff. And right before we would go up the river, wait for tide sometime, you know, go up with the tide. Up to our cabin- tent, we live in a tent them days. And all of the food we eat, we live, we eat off the land. We don't see, never see the canned stuff them days, no. You know, mostly beavers, fish, that's all we eat. And then, in the fall time they have a lot of cranberries- that was our desert; cranberries, salmonberries, blueberries. Then they get, they got this, they call Alaska celery and, uh, Alaska spinach. That was our main, uh, food we would eat. And grandpa used to pick, grandma used to pick some kind of plants, too. When he cook, when he boiled fish he, uh, put those in there, make a flavor out of that. In the springtime, like this, he used to, grandpa used to go out hunting, geese hunting, he show me how to hunt, how to catch 'em. And after all that then we all come home again and then, sell the beavers when the fur buyers come in. You know, and like summer time we put up fish. Of course I do all the work. He show me how to hang 'em up and split 'em and dry 'em and smoke 'em. He teach me all that.
Alex: What I learned I enjoy all those, outdoor life. You know. Yeah... Bill: Tell me about your grandpa. Alex: Well my grandpa, he, he came from I think he came from the North. And he used to build a lot of fish traps and stuff. And do all the, make all the fish traps to catch fish in through the ice and creeks. And of course he would do a lot of traveling with dogs. He'd do a lot of camping in the winter time. And most of the time he, what he does, he, in the springtime he go along the bank and get a bunch of a, uh, those long roots to make fish traps out of. That's what he used to do. He goes a lot of hunting and never stays home. Mostly out in the camp. He make sure he get enough, uh, food for the family. You know, like fish, mostly fish in the winter time. And of course, um, uh, beavers and all that you know. And, uh, when he's got time, he builds a kayak. Two hole kayak, three hole kayak. Sometime one hole kayak. Then he makes the, uh, bidarkis. With open hole, one big open hole. He builds, he makes a lot of those. I used to watch him build. And he have these old curved knives and so he cut the holes, make it round. And then... Bill: He was good at carving? Alex: Yeah, carving. Do a lot of carving, yeah. And when he make the kayak, he make the bow round, up the little hole, and you can hold it like that. He make a lot of those. Then what he used to use, uh, canvas, regular canvas, instead of skin. Put 'em over his shoulder together and then he'd paint 'em. Bill: Canvas? Alex: Uh-huh. It was wonderful. Then when he travel he always take me with him and he always teach me how to ride in the kayak in rough weathers. How to hunt and stuff and how to shoot. He did all that and show, y'know, teach me how so someday if I get older I'll remember all those things. Bill: You were lucky to have him. Alex: Yeah, yeah, I was. Yeah. But like nowadays --
Alex: everything's different. It ain't nothing like it used to be. And I really miss all that, hunting and trapping and stuff y'know. Bill: Well, tell me when did you go off on your own as a young man? Alex: All I know I was about, oh, fifteen. Oh, I started from ten, when I ten years old. He used to tell me to, 'You go ahead and go, I'll watch you while you go. And then give you help. I'll time you, see how far you travel. And make sure when you, when you go, you remember that tree over there. You mark it, and you go somewhere remember that tree, that little hill. You mark that, too. That's your, your marker where you, where you travel. So when you come back, you, you know where, where you go. And steady your hand. Your mountains, your trees, your creeks, and all that. He teach me all them things, you know. Every time you travel with dogs and come up on top of the hill, you stop. Look around. And you look where you came, your landmarks, don't forget. That creek you came across, don't forget that. And dogs, stop and look, look around y'know and what he tell me. I never did forget and everytime I try when we were like now, always remember him, my landmarks, those things. Then he said 'Matches, axe, making them too, you survive. Don't worry about your food. You can get that later.' And anything else he, 'Don't ever eat snow, 'cause if you eat snow it makes you tired.' I didn't listen, I tried it. Didn't work. The only thing else it makes you eat ice, solid ice y'know. And keep it in your mouth that way everytime you get thirsty you suck on that ice. And he used to travel, oh, about five, ten miles up the river, and he, he put out a tent all the time. And like it if he go with dogs, he always stop, have something to eat and he keep on going to another place, to his trapline and when he'd get to the end he'd come back. Stay over night, then come back home again. Sometime stay out there two, three days. But, but when we travel --
Alex: But, but when we travel, oh, every time I travel with him he always tell me, 'Where are we now? Did you study your landmarks?' I 'Oh yeah, I remember that little house, that creek right there.' 'You're right.' Bill: Tell us his name again. Alex: Evan Tallekpalek, it was John Tallekpalek's dad. Bill: And then did you get married and start a family? Alex: Oh, I got married when I was thirty years old. I got married, had kids. And I live, lived in Dillingham for a while and then I lived in Branch River for a while. And I teach all my, my two boys how to dragline trapping you know. And I teach 'em the way my grandpa teach me, and I teach them. So they'll know. Bill: How was life? What were you doing on a typical year when you went out on your own, uh, when you became a man? Alex: Oh, when I get, when I got older, I done a lot of trapping and hunting and traveled in the kayak somedays. Them days we didn't have no boats of course because .... I used my grandpa's kayak to travel, go hunting, y'know and all that. And how to eat fish without cooking it. Eat it raw, you know, or build a fire and cook it over the fire, um, like that. All the food we, he caught, even like fish he cook 'em over the fire, barbecues and stuff. That's how we cooked, eat our meat, we had cooked meat. He cook 'em over the fire. Them days you never see no cans and pots and pans, like that. No fruit and stuff. That's how he, he teach me a lot, all that, how to survive. And that's what I did when I, after I got older. And I did all the trapping, hunting, and I.... Later on in '45, '47, or '48. In '48 I got married, and then I got, had two boys. I teach them how to, um, live off the land and how to camp. How to survive, survive out in cold weathers. Sleep under the trees to live .
Bill: How old are you now? Alex: Oh... seventy. Bill: Uh-huh. Alex: I just turned seventy in March. March 31st, my birthday. I was born in 19..., March 31st, March 31st, '28. Bill: '28? Alex: Um-hmm. Then, uh, all these years since I've been living here in Levelock, climate changed. Oh! First thing, my grandpa told me long time ago, he said 'Now I know you, you're young. I'm gonna tell you the story and I know you won't believe it. You watch, older you get you're gonna remember this.' And he said, 'The climate's gonna change, weather's gonna change, people's gonna change, animals gonna change, everything's gonna change. It's gonna go different way. It's not gonna be same it like used to be. Like right now you have friends, you have good time with these people, you live with them, stay with them, help them, they help you. Later on you wouldn't see that. You will see people gettin' drunk, people gettin', smokin' stuff that you never seen before. They gonna be fightin', like when kids don't want good. Sure enough. I see it now. I didn't believe him, I didn't believe when he first told me, y'know. Y'know all that nice see. That's what he used to tell me when he, when he was alive. Y'know, he said 'I know your young, but when you..., older you get you're gonna see, something, something's gonna change. It really did. Climate changed quite a bit last four or five years now. Like in the springtime, we used to have thirty, forty below and five, five to six, seven, eight feet of snow around, even out in the flats. Now we don't. Weather change, even more rain, more, uh.... Summertime is not like it used to be. It's wet the whole time. Never dry, kind of damp, it could sunshine for a while. Every time you get up to eighty, ninety, that's what he told me. He said the weather's gonna change. It's gonna get hot.. It's not gonna like, like it used to be, it was long time ago. And, I see it now. It's changed quite a bit ever since I was living here.
Don: How have the animals changed? Alex: Pardon? Don: How have the animals changed? What, what, what changes have you seen in...in the... Alex: In the animals? Don: ..in the animals. Alex: Well, when I was young, grandpa used to tell me, well them days they didn't see no bears, no moose, mostly caribous. Reindeers. Reindeer herders, they used to come and bring two, three thousand of' em, you know, to the village, to trade them out for flour, sugar, or something like that. Y'know, for their meat. And later on there was a... we didn't had no moose, no caribous, or no bears around. No place. And slowly, we didn't know where they come from. And now it's getting more and more. More and more caribous now. More wolves, more bears and moose, we haven't seen them long time ago. Bill: Why...why is that? Alex: I really don't know why, really. I know they all come from someplace. I don't know where they came from. To anyone who used to, trying to get moose or something or...you have to go five, ten, fifteen, twenty miles to get anything, any kind of animals like that. Mostly we eat beaver and fish. Then later on, wolves start showing up and caribou start showing up. We don't know where they come from. Bill: How about fire? Have you seen fires here? Alex: Only once, when I was a kid. I saw a fire across the river, that's all. The only time. I was in about thirties or thirty-five. Them years old. They had fire go through here. I don't even remember. Y'know, then they dig, uh, they had the cannery down here two, one or two canneries down there. Down here, under there they had a bunch of people dug a ditch cross through here so the fire wouldn't. See this Levelock is rolling hills, no trees. Nothing. This, rolling hills, like this. You stand this, on top of this hill here and look clear down that way. No brush, no trees like that. Nothing. Now look. All growed up. You can't hardly see anyplace.
Bill: What about your boys? What were your boys' names? Alex: Umm....first my boy, the oldest one is Gustie. And the youngest one was Lawrence. And, uh, the oldest one is working in, in the hospital right now. The youngest one, he, he got killed during fishing season. Yeah. Don: Does your oldest boy still hunt on the land? Alex: Pardon? Bill: Does your oldest boy still hunt and fish, like you taught him? Alex: Yeah..., yeah..., yeah he still remembers those, what I taught him how to, what to do, y'know. And he, he enjoys 'em. I told him, well, you're young now, but after while, you get a little bit older, you, you're gonna see what I said, y'know. He's catching on slowly. He's got two girls and one boy. I got grandaughters. Bill: That's pretty nice. Alex: Yeah, I think she's fifteen now, the oldest one she's fifteen. And the youngest one's thirteen or fourteen. Bill: Let's talk about beluga. How did you learn to hunt belugas and how did you get into work on belugas? Alex: Oh...I had a friend named Charlie Wilson. He was my best friend. And him and I was just like two, two brothers. Stick together, work together, travel together. And, um, guy you see on that book there, Jim Brooks. Bill: This is a National Geographic. Alex: Yeah, Jim Brooks. He used to run a team here. I think he was working for Fish and Game. And, uh, Jim Brooks and Charlie started out hunting in around here. Catching belugas and, y'know, bring 'em in, cut 'em up, weighing 'em, and see what they eat. And I would watch 'em all the time. And, oh, first year they did, second year they did it and, second or third year I, I, he got me to work with him. So I start working with Charlie and hunting, and he was teaching me how to... First, what he, what he did, he practice on the harpoon --
Alex: Y'know on the ground, put a five gallon can over there and balance your harpoon, see. See, when you balance it, like if you have it, like it's straight, see when you throw it, it go flat, slide on top the water. See, then when you balance, you got to balance, this end be heavy, down. Bill/Don: The point? Alex: Yeah, it all point down. And then when you throw it goes like this. And go right down. Instead of sliding. And he teach me how to chase, herd those belugas to shallow water, y'know, get 'em into shallow water and the sand bar, you like the belugas over here. Then you, here you come down below 'em and you herd 'em into the, get 'em over to that shallow place. Just go back and forth 'til you get 'em where you want 'em. Spot and you just watch and watch 'em, y'know. Pretty soon you see one go like this and that's about, oh, this deep of water, or maybe this deep. Bill: Maybe eight, ten feet? Alex: Mmhm. Then you get 'em about, oh, about eight feet of water, three or four feet of water and you see that big wave and you're behind 'em, y'know, like. And then you, the beluga's here and you're behind 'em. He, then you chase 'em, and that, that people waits over here. Every time you turn this way, you don't follow him. You go the opposite all the time, you catch him. Bill: Mmm. Alex: See, if you follow 'em like that, what happen? They go back out to the deep water. You lose him. Every time he turns, you go the opposite. He turn this way, you go this way. Bill: Hmm. Alex: All the time. And you keep chasing him 'til, when he come up and then you harpoon him. But you have to get, learn how, where that, learn where that wake is. See, the wake be over here, okay, see the wake's over here you shoot through here, you, you be, you catch 'em by the tail. The wake's here you got your head of him. Bill: Oh. Alex: By the time you throw it, see, then you get it right in his back. Very back of the beluga. Then when soon as you catch, when you catch one, you pull it, y'know little bit, 'cause the arrow, it'll go in and the arrow's about this big, see. And sharp and you got a wire right here and the back is, it's slanted like this.
Alex: And water goes into that rod, goes in and when you pull this way, this here will turn that. This way you got a pull it real quick and let go. Then throw the buoy over. Bill: So it toggles? Alex: Yeah, the float, y'know. You throw it overboard and let it go. Let it go for while. Then when he slacks down, then you go behind him. Get that buoy and you pull it. But you have to tie it on the bow there, 'cause he, just like that, he go. Or sometime he go under, then he's turn right around, and you keep on, hang on to it, he tow you around for a while, then when he come's up you pull some more and when you get close enough then you shoot him with a .270 or a 30-06, right behind the blow hole. And after you get him, get him, then you take him to the shore and you cut him all up and weigh him. See what they eat. Bill: Have you noticed changes in belugas over the years? Alex: All over the years since...uh...Jim and Charlie quit, oh, they gettin' more, more belugas comin' in. Sometime its two miles long. Belugas come up the river here. They're gettin' more every year. Bill: How long have you noticed that? For how long? Alex: Oh, about four, five, six years now. Don: Do people eat beluga here? Alex: Yeah, they do. They mostly eat, what they eat is flipper. There on the back of the tail. The tail part, they eat that. And when Jim Brooks and Charlie they used to take the back, y'know the back part and cook that, make steaks out of that. Or you can dry 'em. And you dry the meat y'know. Oh, then these, most of the people they dry meat....fat! That's what they like. 'Cause in the fall time these red fish, when they turn red, they'll hang 'em, dry 'em a little bit and when they cook them, they use that seal oil or that beluga oil for, for eatin' y'know. Then, uh, in order to catch a live one, boy, this is fun, and dangerous. You do the same thing, and you go behind 'em, and you chase 'em, 'til they get to shallow water. But in the boat, on top the boat, like this you see the skiff here, right, right, oh, about in the middle anyway, you put a plywood and you coil your net real nice.
Alex: And you coil it, oh, the coil is so when you travel you wouldn't, you don't tangle up. And you coil it right there in the middle. And you have your buoy on top. See then, when you chasin' him, you chase him, you see him, oh, quite a ways. You get from here to snow machine in shallow water, y'know when he's going straight through the, when, where the water's gettin' shallow and you throw the net from here, you go clear 'round him. Like that. Circle. And, of cour..., then they, they'll have two guys with wet suits on, y'know, to jump overboard. Jump overboard, soon as you jump overboard, you got to catch that live beluga and try to keep his head up. If you don't, he, uh, he'll drown. Y'know from not gettin' his air, when the nets tangle him up, see. So, first you try to keep it up, his head up. Then after you take the net out, then you keep 'em, they keep 'em right there. Bill: Can they hold on to him? Alex: Yeah. They can hold onto 'em. Bill: Hmm. Alex: Then they hold on to him. They have three guys in there, y'know, and hold on to him. And when he calms down, when he doesn't fight anymore, then like, we got a skiff here, this is a skiff. Anyway, put a plywood, y'know, eight foot plywood alongside like that wood, water be, oh, about this deep then... Bill: About three or four feet? Alex: Alongside, yeah, alongside. Then we have, uh, two, mmm, two straps. Long straps, y'know, we put 'em over this way. Then the three guys down there, two in the, in the boat, then we, uh, everytime, everytime he fight, this, uh, Doctor Johnson, he... What he, what he does, he goes up and pet him, talk to him. Same time. Like that, he calm right down, wouldn't fight no more, relax and just take him, roll him right into the boat. Two guys pullin', three guys push, same time. We get him in the skiff then. First time we caught one, we put him in the lake, in the pond, y'know. Then, later on, we got, got two more and by the time we got, we got three of 'em, after we got three of 'em then we finally, when big airplane came in, DC-3 I think it was --
Alex: We put 'em in there. First, we got 'em out of the pond, drag 'em down to the river, put 'em in the skiff, put 'em in the power boat, great big canvas, fill 'em up with water and put 'em inside. Don: I think it was a B-29 that they got. Reference to National Geographic article Alex: Yeah, yeah. Don: One of them is named after you. One of the belugas that went is named Alex. Alex: Yeah, yeah. One's named Alex, one's named Bertha and one's named Charlie. Bill/Don: Yeah. Alex: The smallest's named Alex. Bill: Boy, that's quite a job. Alex: Yeah, it's fun. But the only thing's, uh, you gotta watch what you doin'... gotta balance yourself. Like harpoon a beluga, see when your standing in the skiff you have to balance yourself. And you have to, your legs gotta, you can't stand up stiff. Like when you go, you go and your bouncin' and when you quick turn, if you stiff you, you have to stand up, y'know, like this. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: So you, only when you turn you fall when you're stiff like that. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: When you go stiff like that, when you go you.... Bill: Easy to roll over. Alex: Yeah, well not only that you have a hard time with your harpoon. See, you got your harpoon right here. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: On your shoulder. Just above your shoulder here. So you got to balance. You got to have your knee bent little bit so you be like a spring. Bill: Well, one of the things that we've been asking people about is the development of lodges in this area. How has that affected subsistence living? Alex: Oh, like the rainbows and stuff? Bill: Yeah. How has fishing and hunting lodges, have they had any impact, positive or negatively on life in the village? Alex: Oh, before, you know, before these lodges came in, we used to fish, uh...through the ice, even like down here, or any place. Man, we could get trout that big. Bill: About two feet, maybe three feet? Alex: Yeah, and they were fat. Bill: Thick. Alex: Along the ice, right down here. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: And all these years, y'know, they been good, no problem. Then sportsmen start coming. The first year was good. Y'know, no problem. Then later on, slowly, fish start disappearing. Rainbows.
Alex: You know, you don't catch 'em like you used to, like around in, uh, them olden days. Big ones, now you get little ones sometimes. Them days, you, when you used to go down, chop a hole, put your hook down and you jiggle and you get big one in five minutes. Now you stay down there on the ice, they stay for hours, three or four hours, nothing. Since the, all these tourists come in. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: And these camps they got here, they catch 'em, what do you do? Hold 'em and let 'em go. And you see a lot of them just drown dead. They were like in Branch River. We used to catch all kinds of fish over there. Trout, rainbows, y'know, steelhead. Now we can't. You're lucky if you get one. Takes you hours and hours to catch, to get anything. Branch River and up the river here used to be good. Now, not anymore. Bill: How about, how about hunting? Alex: Hunting. Used to be good. In Branch River there used to be good hunting over there. Moose. In the winter time, ever since, uh, you get anything you want in no time. But now since the hunters start coming in, they come down, the rafters, they catch moose. What they do? Cut the heads off, leave the meat. Bill: You've seen that? Alex: Yeah, see 'em over there. All they take is the head and horns. That's where the meat is. Someday, oh, sometime the old people, people when they travel they'll see the carcass there, there meat, no head, just meat laying right on the ground. Y'know. A lot of people, they didn't like that, y'know. When the hunters coming and they kill 'em and just leave 'em. Why don't they kill 'em and bring the meat to the people? Let them have the, all that what they caught instead of letting it spoil out there. Let the bears eat 'em. Bill: Hmm. Alex: And they get more bears over there now. On Branch River, sometime even around town here. They're a danger, we have to get rid of them. 'Cuz the kids, y'know. The family with a bunch of kids playing around. Bill: Hmm. Alex: Yeah, it's momma over there lettin' the baby go in the old Branch River catchin' all those trouts and rainbows, and moose, kill them and just leave 'em there. You see lots of trouts, they got them big scars there, some are torn, mouth. And they're dead, some of them, just barely moving.
Don: Do you go back to the Branch and camp there as much as you used to or is there too much traffic or...? Alex: Well, ever since these tourist camps they got now, I don't go over there very much. 'Cause every place you go 'round the bend, you see people fishing. You go on a little bit and a bunch of people are fishing, camping along the beach, y'know. Out there catching the big fish, look at 'em, pretty, take picture and then let 'em go. And, uh, pretty soon you see them drifting down the bay, down the river, half dead! Them days, long time ago we never had no problems like that, y'know. People used to catch fish, they divide it. Have to get so many divide to the people. Let the people have what they want. They only need that much. The next day you do same thing, everyday. You catch animal and di..., divide it, to people, so that everybody gets enough, enough food. Help each other all the time, y'know. Don: It's changed now though. They don't share and divide like that anymore? Alex: No way. Like now, before I, I used to go visiting my friends, no problems. Sit down and have something to eat, y'know, sandwich or something, in this house you used to have good time. Weekends, people, oh, them days they used to get together. Talk things over. Then you have a dance or something. The ladies they'll make pies, they'll make cakes and all that, homemade ice cream and Saturday nights and they have nice dance, y'know. Everybody have a good time. But now, you go visit the one house, they say, 'What you come for? What do you want? Go back home where you come from.' Bill: Hmm. Alex: Too much, y'know. Everything's changed nowadays. The only place I ever go now, I see my friend, y'know. And him and I talk things over, y'know. Tell the stories. He comes up to visit me and we tell stories. Like tellin' stories. Don: Who-who's that? John? Alex: Nick Pokadok Don: Nick Pokadok? Alex: Mmhm. Now everything's changed nowadays.
Bill: One of the things we wanted to, um, ask about in all these interviews, this is a Park Service project, National Park Service project, and...? Alex: Mmhm. Bill: So, we're eager to find out what the impact of the park has been and the preserve... Alex: Mmhm. Bill: ...on people's lives. How has the establishment of the park, which was early, and then the preserve, which is later, how has that affected people's lives? Alex: Umm...like what? Bill: Has the park made life better or worse, or, how would you evaluate that? Alex: Well, I really don't know 'cause I haven't been around the parks. I don't even, don't know what's going on, y'know. Bill: You don't go into Katmai Park? Alex: No. Uh-uh. I never did. I really don't know what's going on. Bill: Uh-huh. Alex: I see lot of people down there at the Park Service and stuff. Bill: Yeah. Alex: I never go ask 'em or anything y'know. So, I don't know what... Bill: Ok. Alex: ...if anything changed from, ever since you had these parks or not. Bill: Mmhm. Um, have you noticed any changes in weather patterns? Alex: Yeah. Climate changed, weather changed, like before there never used to be, like this rain and warm weathers. Now its start blowin' and... Last, last three years it been blowin' east wind for every spring it blow, east wind steady, twenty, thirty mile an hour wind. Every spring. This year, it blow southwest wind for a month. Bill: Hmm. Alex: No, hardly east wind. Mostly south or southwest wind. Everyday. Rain, little bit of snow. Once in a while you have a sunshine, oh, about an hour, two hours. Then pour down rain. And, uh, last year, weather was different. It was dry. Everything was dry. No berries and the ground turned brown in spots like this. Bill: Had you seen that before in your life? Alex: No. No. Everybody was surprised to see that. Bill: Uh-huh. Alex: Y'know, these great big spots, they'd be brown. Brown, y'know. Like one place be as big as this here. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: Then you go another place, another big spot like that. No berries. Maybe few here and there, that's all. Cranberries, nothin'. But this year, there's a lot of rain.
Alex: Lots of snow this year, too. Mostly southwest wind, um, no east wind, once in a while get east wind. Y'know. Don: What about, uh, your work with the, uh, beluga, uh, Commission. How's that going? Do you still, do you still go to Fairbanks and go to meetings? Alex: I haven't in two years. See, I was going to go to the meeting in Fairbanks, and I got, I got sick. I couldn't go. And they had meeting in Dillingham and I got sick on that, too. I got a cold, y'know. I couldn't go to them, so I let my friend go. I let Tony, I let Tony go, took my place. And then I let my......... End of Side A
Side B Bill: We're, we're talking about the beluga commission work? Alex: Mmhm. Yeah, I let Nick Pokadok go, go to Dillingham, take my place. Well, him and I was going together and I couldn't go 'cause I got sick. I let him go over to that meeting. And last year, I was supposed to go Anc..., uh, Fairbanks but I got sick and I told, I asked Tony if he could take my place to go to Anchorage for that beluga meeting. So he left, he went. Don: What do you think about the subsistence issues in the state right now? With the federal goverment and the state government and so forth? What, uh, what are your thoughts about that? Alex: Like, uh, what? Don: Well, the, do you know what the regional and federal regional advisory councils do and you know the state wants to have, you know, urban hunters have the same preference as rural people? Alex: Mmhm. Don: Do you have any thoughts on that? Alex: No. Don: No? Alex: Unh-uh. Bill: I'd like to go back to what your grandpa told you and ask you, how do you think he knew about the changes that would come? Alex: Ahh-well, I was kind of young them days. I didn't know too much about it. But he always tell me, y'know. He learned that from, from these older people, where he came from, up Yukon someplace, up in Yukon. That's where I learn all that from, y'know. He, he hear the stories from other people when they come around, or anybody wherever they come from, when they come down to Levelock, reindeer herders. They stay all night, see, and they'll tell stories about y'know, how they used to live, and pretty soon they start talking about the weathers and the climates and all that, y'know. That's how he learn, he noticed that. And from there on he, uh, watch, y'know, the weather, watched the sun, the moon, always keep track of it, all the time. And the weather, and the trees, he would watch leaves when they would change. You can tell by lookin' at a tree when it's gonna turn cold or when it's gonna turn mild. Just by lookin' at 'em. What, y'know, uh, any kind of, these evergreen trees, you can tell.
Don: What was he looking for? Alex: Uh, what kind of weathers gonna have. What kind of weather we gonna have today or tomorrow. You ever noticed it? Someday you watch evergreen trees like, even the short ones, towards evening you watch the color, color on the one side and, it'll be different. It'll be brighter and shinier. On the back see where it's not , it's no color. Especially when you travel with a car or something, you can see it, in the evening. Bill: Hmm. Alex: That's how we tell the weather. Or what's it gonna be tomorrow or wind is gonna blow. Watch the clouds. Keep his times. When the sun comes up he marks it. In the springtime the sun will come here and he'll watch it. He change everything, keep on. Like I, I study the sun every, everyday. Summer time it'll go over here and everyday it'll go, and when it gets right, I got two trees right there, my marker. The sun stop right there. And it'll come up everyday. I keep my time, that sun will come up right there. And towards spring, I keep my time, slowly, y'know. Look at the month, days, uh-huh, uh-huh. That's what my grandpa used to tell me, 'Watch the sun.' 'What kind of weather we gonna have? Watch it when it comes up. Keep your time, mark it.' All this time y'know. And you stop over here 'bout this month now and it'll start coming up. Bill: Was he looking for changes in that? Alex: Yeah. Changes. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: Changes. Don: Your grandfather seemed to work very hard and he taught you to work hard, too. Alex: Yeah. Yeah. Don: Do you notice the change in how hard people work these days, is it, is it less or more? Alex: It's less. Nothin' is still goin' down. Not like it used to be. Now I, I go up and, and help these kids out. Teenagers and stuff, y'know. Tell them my stories, and how I used to live.
Alex: They don't, they don't know what I'm talking about. Y'know, I tell, watch, look at the sun, stand up and listen. What do you hear? If somebody don't know anything about it, they don't hear it. But if I stand and listen, I can hear it . Aha! You see that, you hear that bird singin' over there. He's singin'. You hear it? That's what the elders tell me, my grandpa. 'Listen.' He hears it, I don't. I gotta have my, y'know... Don: Awareness. Alex: Yeah. You come in the house and stand in one place and get up in your mind here. And I stand there. When I want it, I hear it. I hear them over there. Any kind of bird. All these years I been livin', we used to have lots of robins, lots of sparrows, lots of blackbirds. All them different birds. We had a lot of 'em. Every morning about four o'clock, from on, you hear 'em, nice calm days, some days when used to be good, you hear 'em singin' and a whole bunch of birds, oh, about twenty or thirty in the bunch. All over. Blackbirds. Robins. Ever since I could remember now, goin' down. Bill: Getting smaller? Alex: Mmhm. Now I only have one robin, sometime two. I can hear 'em singin' out here. Every year I, I keep track of that one. And see if the same will come, same one will come. So far he has. The same one always come, come back again. But, in all these years now there's no more robins, no moose. Hardly any robins, hardly any sparrows, hardly any cardinals, blackbirds and all that. You don't see blackbirds no more. Nothin'. The last two years now, they, uh, got falcon. I got two of 'em here now. I keep track of them too. They have nest over here. Last year they had nest down there. While they had nest down there they eggs in 'em, kids come around and broke all the eggs. Bill: Hmm. Alex: So they moved over here now 'cause I always wanted watch them, y'know. Don: They peregrines? Alex: Hmm? Don: What kind of falcon? Alex: Oh, they're small, 'bout that big. Don: Oh. Alex: Kind of greyish color. And their, their eggs about that big, and, oh... Bill: Maybe an inch. Alex: Kind of --
Alex: --Reddish color with spots. That kind of eggs they got. Four, four eggs, that one. So all that change now. No, we don't hear no pretty birds singin' anymore. And we used to hear those birds, I don't know what they call them. They look like robins but they, there's, uh, spotted- Don: Thrush. Alex: Oh. OK. Yeah. I always like robins but when they, they whistle and singin', y'know. Don: Hermit thrush. Alex: Oh. OK. You don't see them no more. Used to be lot of 'em around here. Don: Pretty whistle that went up and up and up. Alex: Mmhm. Don: Yeah. Alex: You don't see them anymore. Even like snipes, we see them snipes go. All like that only make, only... Don: I heard plenty of snipes out there today. Alex: Well, there used to be a lot of 'em. Don: Yeah. Alex: You, you be lucky if you hear one or two in the evenings. And they have those, uh, birds that, y'know, they'll fly up and then they singin' and they come down like this. Don: That's the snipe. Alex: No, it's, uh, little bit bigger than sparrow. Still out on the tundras. Don: Oh. Alex: Those kind. You don't see them anymore, used to be a lot of 'em. Bill: Lot's of change. Alex: Mmhm. Bill: Well, this has been very interesting. This is great. Alex: Well, then that's what he told me, too, I forgot. He told me that this was gonna happen. He said 'You're not gonna hear robins, you're not gonna hear all those birds you hear before. They gonna go disappear. Then he said 'Later on, all the fish gonna disappear, slowly. It'll come and go. Won't be like it used to be. Oh, they'll come in by the thousands, each year they gonna slack off. Salmon.' This year salmon, last year salmons come in, wasn't too many. The meat was soft. Really soft. When you split 'em, the meat is like, like it was cooked. Real, I don't know. Catch 'em in the net down there on the, cut them, even kill 'em when he's alive. And I take 'em up, y'know, cut the head off and split 'em. The meat is like, I don't know, just like it was cooked. Different.
Bill: Did he say more about that? Alex: Yeah. He said, 'The fish gonna change. When you, when you, uh, cook 'em or you, you split 'em, the meat's gonna be different. It's not gonna be really solid like, like long time ago. Everything's gonna change. Bill: Mmhm. Alex: In them days, before ?, they used to hunt belugas. Wasn't too many, but they, they catch 'em with the kayaks. You heard? They kill them in the bay where, the big bay, like, he herd them in there. Hit on the water with a paddle, get 'em right in there and keep 'em in there. And then when the water drops down and you get what you want. Bill: Mmhm. Well, this has been good. Let's see if we can't get some pictures of your artifacts, and... Alex: OK (laughing). Bill: I'll try to video tape it. End of Tape