Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Brad Angasan, Part 1

Brad Angasan was interviewed on November 27, 2018 by Katie Ringsmuth at the Alaska Peninsula Corporation headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Brad talks about his family's cultural and historical connections to the region and to the <NN> Cannery, and the long-term impacts from the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. He shares his childhood memories of the facility, including the smells associated with specific buildings, as well as his own connections to the cannery when he worked there on the spring/fall crew and beach gang.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2018-13-08_PT.1

Project: <NN> Cannery History Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Nov 27, 2018
Narrator(s): Brad Angasan
Interviewer(s): Katherine Ringsmuth
Transcriber: Emily Mueller
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


Contextual background of the interview

Growing up in South Naknek and Anchorage

Cultural background and family ties to Savonoski

Impact of the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic

Long term legacy of the flu pandemic and government treatment of Native Alaskans

Settlement of South Naknek, and establishment of canneries

Childhood memories of the cannery

Rhythm of the cannery operation

Sense of connection with the cannery, and family ties to working there

Role and responsibilities of the spring/fall crew and the beach gang

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. Well, welcome, Brad. Today is Friday, November. No. Sorry. It's not. Why did I write the wrong date? Oh, 'cause it was the -- the one we had originally planned. Ok.

So, today is Tuesday, November 27, 2018. My name is Katherine "Katie" Johnson Ringsmuth. I'm the director of the Cannery History Project.

Today I am interviewing Brad Angasan and we are at the Alaska Peninsula Corporation in Anchorage, Alaska. So thank you, Brad, and thank you for taking the time with talk with me today.

BRAD ANGASAN: You're welcome. Happy to be here.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. So, let's first start with having you state your full name, and if you wouldn't mind just spelling it for me, so we make sure we get the correct spelling of your name.

BRAD ANGASAN: Sure. It's Brad Trefon Angasan. B-R-A-D. T-R-E-F-O-N. A-N-G-A-S-A-N.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. Thank you. And what is your professional title? BRAD ANGASAN: I am vice president of corporate affairs at Alaska Peninsula Corporation (APC).

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. And can you describe a little bit about where we are right now. BRAD ANGASAN: Physically or -- KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah, physically. Yeah, mentally. No, it's Ok.

BRAD ANGASAN: We are at the headquarters of APC, located in Anchorage Alaska. APC is the village corporation for the communities of South Naknek, Port Heiden, Ugashik, Kokhanok, and Newhalen.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok, and so for those who might be listening and may not be quite familiar with the corporations, can you give me a little brief background. BRAD ANGASAN: Sure. We're an Alaska Native corporation. We're born from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

APC is a wholly diversified corporation. We've got two division lines. One commercial and the other for government services.

Within my role, I also manage government services. I've got three operating subsidiaries that -- that I direct, as well.

And those companies are engaged in construction, remediation, and administrative and general services.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok, great. Thank you. And you are a resident of South Naknek, correct? BRAD ANGASAN: I'm formerly a resident of South Naknek.

My father moved us out of the community back in 19 -- between 1974 and '75. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. BRAD ANGASAN: When he began work at the Bristol Bay Native Corporation here in Anchorage.

But I had the best of both worlds, because I would go back every summer and, you know, engage in the fishery, and I -- I got to love the village life and I also benefited from the education of the Anchorage School District.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And can you just describe, geographically, where South Naknek is in relation to Anchorage? BRAD ANGASAN: South Naknek's approximately 350 miles southwest of Anchorage, located on the Alaska Peninsula. At the apex of the peninsula, where the peninsula meets Western Alaska, basically is where it's at.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And you said you were a young person at South Naknek. Yeah? BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah. Well, I -- you know, I grew up there and I continue to go back there every summer, so -- Of my 46 years, there's not been a summer that I've missed going back there.

So, I've seen it evolve over the course of time, significantly, and 46 years is nothing. But, you know, in terms of the, you know, the grand scheme of things, I guess. But, you know, in that short period of time, you know, we've watched South Naknek evolve from a full-fledged community to, you know, near abandonment, just in a very short period of time.


KATIE RINGSMUTH: And the history is deep and long and, in fact, it's right smack in the middle of a cultural confluence. BRAD ANGASAN: I -- I would agree. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: I think that's a great way of terming it. Yes.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And your cultural affiliation? BRAD ANGASAN: Well, are you talking about my -- my lineal race? KATIE RINGSMUTH: Hm-mm. Yeah. BRAD ANGASAN: I'm Alaska Native. I'm Sugpiaq. I believe that archaeologists and scientists refer to that as Alutiiq.

My grandfather's family comes from Savonoski, located in the Katmai National Park. And Savonoski was abandoned in 1912 when the volcanic vent Novarupta blew, up which is at the base of Mount Katmai.

And my father was four years old when he escaped the eruption, and they fled in skin baidarka boats down the Naknek River to a location called New Savonoski, which is approximately five miles upriver from where the cannery is located in South Naknek.

And that's where my father -- my grandfather met his wife, my grandmother, Vera. Vera Kie and they -- they had ten children, three of them born at New Savonoski, and the rest, I believe, at the government hospital in Kanakank.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Do you have any memory of your -- of -- of your father's parents? BRAD ANGASAN: Oh, yeah. I have great memories of my grandparents.


KATIE RINGSMUTH: And do -- they -- So they have pretty strong memories of -- of Savonoski, as well? BRAD ANGASAN: Oh, I'm sure. Yeah. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: So, you know, Savonoski, it's really unfor -- New Savonoski is really unfortunate, because you know what -- what's left there is just the frame of the -- the old Russian Orthodox Church there.

There's a couple outbuildings that are left, but everything else has just, you know, been absorbed into the tundra. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Right. BRAD ANGASAN: You know.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And, of course, you're talking -- This is some significant, world-changing events that take place at this time. You have 1912 eruption, and then just a few years later, the Spanish Flu -- BRAD ANGASAN: Pandemic, yeah. KATIE RINGSMUTH: -- pandemic, 1919, that devastated that particular region.

Do you have any memories or -- or have heard any stories at that time? BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah, there's a lot of stories surrounding that. So, the -- the matriarch of our family, Pelagia Melgenak, is my great-grandmother.

And she sort of became somewhat the community savior. She brought in a lot of orphans during that time. Kids that were orphaned, lost their parents, you know, during the sickness, the Great Sickness. And raised a lotta people.

And it was -- it was, you know, through that that my grandparents met, because my grandmother was -- was part of that. And they sort of grew up together and then married each other and, you know, raised a wonderful family, a huge family. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Hm-mm.

BRAD ANGASAN: So, eventually my grandparents migrated down to the community of South Naknek.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: You know, I heard -- I was reading transcripts from the National Park Service, and in the 1980s there was an event -- and I believe it was Trefon and Mary Jane who went to Katmai.

And the story of the flu pandemic came up. And it wasn't clear who told the story, but they said that it was considered -- the sickness was transferred by money, cash, currency.

And so it became a habit where they would launder the -- BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Literally launder. BRAD ANGASAN: They'd wash the -- KATIE RINGSMUTH: Wash and iron the -- BRAD ANGASAN: They'd wash the coins. Yeah. Wash the coins. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: I never knew that, but I knew that they washed their money. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. BRAD ANGASAN: It was a big deal. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: They would boil the coins and they'd -- they'd -- they'd -- they'd literally wash the -- the paper dollars and hang them up.

So, my family had talked about that, but I never knew why. I never knew the significance of that.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah, isn't that fascinating, that it's this -- BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah, well it makes perfect sense. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. Metaphor -- BRAD ANGASAN: You know, I thought it was a type of vanity, you know. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. A metaphor of kind of the sickness coming in through capitalism. BRAD ANGASAN: Right.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: So, during World War I, the canneries in Alaska were canning a lot of salmon that was going to the -- the troops fighting in the trenches in France.

And what happens, due to overfishing to try to keep up with the -- the demand, the -- the red salmon fishery crashes. That same year as the flu comes, in 1919.

So I imagine that was like a -- just a one-two punch that just devastated the communities out there. Do you have any recollection or are there any stories, or is that just the -- the flu pandemic's overwhelming, that the -- the -- the salmon crash is kind of overshadowed?

BRAD ANGASAN: I think that's, you know, the recovery of that event, the -- the 1990 -- 1919 pandemic spanned generations. You know, I mean there was a cultural recovery in addition to the physical recovery of that -- that social group of people.

And, you know, I don't really think that there was a lot of emphasis on the economic impact of the community. Because really, you know, the great dysfunction that followed the recovery of the pandemic was immense and really unfathomable, from my perspective. I mean, it must have been an incredibly terrible time. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: You know, not only enduring the loss of family and loved ones, and maybe your parents or your siblings, but, you know, undoubtedly the governments came in and, you know, took care of business.

And the way that they did that was, you know, to institutionalize that generation of people -- those who survived. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Right. Yep.

BRAD ANGASAN: So, I was just talking to a shareholder yesterday, and very, very angry. His -- his mother was -- was killed in the, you know, 1950s, and the government came in and took him and his three year old brother away, and they split up -- split up the whole family.

And through the grace of, you know, God, basically, they -- they somehow maintained contact with each other throughout the years.

So, this individual is down south and his brothers continue to live up here. And, you know, he just has a real tragic story.

And I had known about it because Mary Jane had shared those stories with me about that -- what that particular family. So I had complete empathy for, you know, his frustration.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. Yeah, we're still reeling from that event 100 years later. BRAD ANGASAN: Still. Oh my god, it's just incredible, you know.

And he was only two years old and he was just a product of it. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Mm-hm. BRAD ANGASAN: Really.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. I find it interesting, as an Alaska historian, I would say it's the most important thing that's happened in the -- certainly in modern times and -- and yet very few Alaskans really understand or know what happened. BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. Ok, so -- So, New Savonoski was established, and then very quickly, because of the flu, people began to migrate down to South Naknek, primarily because, at that time, the canners who first, you know, kinda stepped in to assist people. Kind of -- Kind of a crisis situation. Orphans were sent to Dillingham to the -- the hospital there.

And then I read in the reports from the superintendent that the spring/fall crew was established after the 1919 pandemic. It was a way to keep those who were still living in the ca -- near the canneries in the village, to give them jobs.

And, of course, this is the age of the entrepreneurial spirit and -- but -- but that's -- I found pretty interesting.

And, of course, it's not just South Naknek, where the canner -- APA had canneries, it was also Diamond O and Diamond M, too. So, was there -- there was clearly a village there prior to the arrival of the canneries? Am I -- Am I think -- BRAD ANGASAN: I'm -- I'm certain of that. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah, I've -- I've seen old footage. Old barabaras, you know, where Bob Metivier's house is. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Hm. Oh, wow.

BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah. Or Brad Markison's (sp?) house now, I guess. You know, where the fish racks and the -- and the barabara racks were -- were just above the -- the -- the cannery there.

And, yeah, I'm -- I'm certain of it. I've -- I've heard the same stories you have, about, you know, the old ATCO trailer office, you know, was probably on top of a couple of graves there, you know.

My grandma once talked about a family that lived in a old wall tent next to the -- next to the cannery. Right next to it. And -- and the mother had -- had recently died, and my grandmother had gone down to check on them and -- and, you know, did what she had to do because she was sort of a quasi-health aide of the community at the time.

And, you know, I'm not sure what happened to that family. I'm sure, you know, somebody came in and took care of 'em, took them away, but, you know, it was just --

You know, the layout of South Naknek was so much different back then, 'cause there weren't alders, you know. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: There weren't trees. I mean, I've seen tons of old pictures where the landscape of South Naknek is -- I mean, you could see from, you know, the school all the way down to the cannery. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: And it's unobstructed. You know, whereas now, you've got all these alders that have just ballooned up and forested the area. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah, taken over. BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah. Yeah. KATIE RINGSMUTH: For sure.

BRAD ANGASAN: Hm-mm. So, I -- I guess, yeah, I -- I believe that there were settlements along the way, and --

You know, those old -- older Native settlements, you know, they grew -- they -- they -- they settled in groups. You know, so -- You know, just in pockets all along the way there.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Well, and I imagine for the same reason APA decided to build this cannery on the Naknek River, you know, for the first time is because it was a good location. BRAD ANGASAN: Oh, yeah.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Good -- Good place on the river, nice little stream for fresh water. It would just make sense. BRAD ANGASAN: It does.

You know, and similarly with New Savonoski, you know, it's the same -- It's a good staging area, because there was a creek that ran through the base of the village there, and was high enough to where -- high enough up and upriver, to where, you know, tide didn't really come in and wash the banks away like they do down South Naknek.

So -- And it's much less exposed, because it's more inland. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Gotcha. BRAD ANGASAN: Great staging area, I think. Ideal.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Very cool. All right. So, we're going to switch directions here for a second.

So, you and I are about the same age, and we both kind of grew up at the cannery as, kinda, the colloquial cannery kids. So -- So would you mind -- I'm going to ask you a very tough question here.

Would you mind telling me how old you are? BRAD ANGASAN: I'm 46. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. So, you were a kid in the 1970s? BRAD ANGASAN:Mm-hm. KATIE RINGSMUTH: '70s kid.

And what do you remember about the cannery as that kid? BRAD ANGASAN: So, as a child, ok -- So, I've got memories of -- my childhood memories of the cannery, and then my memories as -- as an employee. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Hm-mm.

BRAD ANGASAN: But as a child, probably the most obvious memory is the smell of a cannery. And it's -- you know, it's really hard to explain, because there's a -- there's a form of familiarity that's -- indoctrinates a sense of home, ok?

Like the smell of the cookhouse, when you're walking by the cookhouse. Or the smell of Devona's (sp?) baking, you know.

'Cause those -- those memories stand out the most to me. The smell of the store. You know, walking into the store and -- and -- and, you know, all the -- all the perfumes of the, you know, detergents, and, you know, the smell of all the -- the merchandise, the spring merchandise that came in. You know, just really stuck with me.

The smell of the boats in the -- in the covered warehouse. You know, the -- the carpenter's smell of fresh cut wood. The cedar -- cedar plank boats.

Steve Alaniz, you know. Someone like him, I mean, who just lived in sawdust. You know, those are -- those are fantastic memories.

So, to me, the -- the cannery is -- is -- was a living organism, because it came to life and it thrived.

And, you know, then it would lay dormant for a little while and, you know, it was just this cycle that I was part of and have been part of for the last 40 years of my life, forty-six years of my life.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And as a kid, what was your favorite building or place in the cannery? BRAD ANGASAN: Wow. Oh, my gosh. As a child, oh my -- Oh, man. Where do you begin?

So, there's so many curiosities about a cannery. Everything has its -- its own appeal. I don't think that I could put my finger on on -- one location.

But, you know, as a child, you know, if we got a chance to go down to the store with grandpa or grandma that was a big deal. 'Cause we'd end up gettin' a candy bar, Tootsie Roll Pop, or a can of pop, or somethin' like that.

But it was always an adventure going through there, because one, APA was, you know, it's highly controlled. So, you know, they limited entry into there. If you didn't have any business bein' there then, you know, you'd know it, because somebody'd chase you off.

So there was -- you know, the air of that element there. You know, that sort of the -- What would you call it? The privilege of being able to walk into the cannery and -- and conduct whatever business that you had to do.

And if I was with my grandfather -- father or my grandmother, it musta been pretty darn important, you know. Going down to the stock -- stockroom, you know, to, you know, stock up on -- on their summer supplies or -- or whatever.

Even buying gas was kind of a big deal as a kid. You know, 'cause then you'd go down to the stockroom and, you know, somebody'd come out and -- Frank or whoever would help you pump gas, and -- And, you know, that was that.

Now, so that was sort of, you know, that was the -- that was the exposed part of the cannery. But within that is this sort of submersive part, which is the heart of the cannery itself, where the actual work occurs. The fish processing, you know, the Egg House and the Fish House, and the cannery.

And, you know, where, really, the heart of the cannery. You know, just sort of pumped life into the -- into the installation there.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: There was a rhythm to it. BRAD ANGASAN: Oh, really. Very clearly. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Choo, choo. Yeah.

BRAD ANGASAN: And it was nonstop. I mean, just 24/7. Was amazing to be -- you know, to walk past those canning lines at three o'clock in the morning, and somewhere, somewhere along the way, somebody was up tending to that even though the cannery itself -- the facility would be, you know, relatively turned down for the night.

But it was nonstop. I mean, I just -- I loved it.

And you know, I guess it harbors the same type of appeal that say New York City might appeal to somebody, where it's just nonstop. You know, it just never rests. And for a short period of time throughout the summer, that -- that -- that was our cannery.

And, you know, the thing is with -- with APA, I, you know, I -- I refer to it as Trident South now. And with APA, I've always felt a sense of ownership to that cannery. I imagine you probably do, too. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Mm-hm, sure.

BRAD ANGASAN: And, you know, whenever I walk, you know, walk through the cannery, and I do it every year, I make it a -- I make it a -- a general practice pre-season. You know, I go over there.

Even though I'm not supposed to have nets and stuff over there, I still keep 'em over there. You know, because I -- I don't care if Vic or anybody else, or Matt tries to tell me I can't, I'm -- I'm gonna do it anyway.

You know, it's -- it's -- it's part of who I am. It's part of my cultural identity 'cause that's the area that I grew up in, you know.

Two hundred years ago, the era of my -- my -- my ancestors, you know, was living a very indigenous nomadic life. And that was their culture. Now, this is mine.

And, you know, I -- I -- I'm a fourth generation commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay, my son is a fifth generation. There's a story in our family that somebody in our family, somewhere along the way, has somehow been affiliated or been employed from -- from the start.

And I don't doubt that that might -- might be true. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. BRAD ANGASAN: Because it really might. We just don't know.

What we do know is we can -- we can track my grandfather's employment records, my dad's, mine, you know, and that's where it ends, right there. But that's three generations right there.

And I -- I had a -- an immense sense of pride going -- going to work for the cannery, the spring and fall crew, the beach gang crew.

And it was because it was -- really, it was part of a tradition, you know. And I was -- I was actually carrying that.

And I -- I -- I think I'm -- I'm the last of that generation that got to do that within my family. You know, my -- my younger -- my younger relatives, my cousins, will never know what it's like to have to, you know, go and, you know, produce the type of manual physical labor to start a cannery up in the springtime. And then to knock it down in the fall time.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Can you elaborate on that and kind of talk exactly what the response -- what -- what the spring/fall crew was and what their responsibilities were?

BRAD ANGASAN: The -- I refer -- I refer to that group as the beach gang, you know, the local beach gang. 'Cause that's what it was. It was just a --

You know, at that particular time, I -- I worked with -- I had the privilege of working with David Hodgton (sp?) who just was an incredible laborer. Incredibly talented, incredibly smart.

You know, worked -- I -- I mean, his sense of -- the -- the amount of pride that he put forth in his work was incredible. It was almost militant.

And he expected the same outta everybody that worked with him and if you didn't, you weren't workin' with him.

So, it challenged everybody in that -- in that small group, in that core group. You know, to try to live up to his standards. Nobody ever could.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: And David's job, I remember it was the crane driver, right? BRAD ANGASAN: He was -- he was the big forklift driver. The Crowley driver. They called it the Crowley forklift. And he op -- he operated the -- the old -- the old yellow crane.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Right. And I would imagine -- I mean, it's his job to pull those -- you know, put the boats in the water and pull 'em out.

And that would be a -- I would imagine one of the most primary responsibilities the cannery would have, holding the -- the livelihoods of the fishermen, and being responsible for that -- that process would -- is pretty extraordinary.

BRAD ANGASAN: You know, Katie, it wasn't just that, it was like, you know, when -- when -- when we pump life back into the -- into the cannery.

When the barges would show up, and we would offload the barges, those Conex. I remember -- Gosh, it mighta been my last year, but David offloaded like a hundred and fifty Conex containers in a really short amount of time.

And, it just freaked everybody out because, you know, you shouldn't have been able to do that, and he did it with a -- with an old forklift.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: Yeah. There was a tremendous amount of choreography required -- BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah. KATIE RINGSMUTH: -- for the process. Everybody had to know what their job was, and their role. And everybody had to contribute. BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah exactly.

And, you know just, really, to be part of that lifestyle then was something that young men like myself really prided themselves on. And I'm -- I'm very fortunate to have been able to experience that.

KATIE RINGSMUTH: So, let's talk a little bit about the laundry. BRAD ANGASAN: Hm-mm. KATIE RINGSMUTH: And what do you remember about the laundry? BRAD ANGASAN: Well -- Excuse me, can I grab a tissue? Here. KATIE RINGSMUTH: Ok. Yeah, let's go -- Let's just take a break. You want to? BRAD ANGASAN: Yeah.