Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Joe and Celia Beetus, Part 1

Joe and Celia Beetus were interviewed on November 15, 1992 by Wendy Arundale in Fairbanks, Alaska. When we made this tape, Joe and Celia Beetus were visiting Fairbanks for the Athabascan Fiddling Festival. I picked them up downtown on a Sunday afternoon, and we drove to the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Because it was a quiet place to work, we taped sitting around one end of the big conference table in the Institute of Arctic Biology's library, a place where we've taped together before. The tape began with Joe talking about his childhood growing up in the Allakaket area. He talked about several of the places where his family camped, activities that they undertook, and the general outline of their seasonal round. He also talked at the beginning of the tape about how he and Celia had raised their family with everyone going to trapping camp in the winter. This pattern continued until l957 when the school was established in Hughes, and the children were required to attend. Toward the mid-l950s, Joe began hiring Wien Alaska Airlines to fly his family and even some of his dogs to camp. It was the easiest way to get his large family, which by then included eight children, to camp. Joe and Celia both recalled incidents from the time when their kids were growing up, but Joe's contributions also included memories of several of the old-timers from around Hughes, some of whom Steven Attla also remembers. They include Joe Hoagland, Ernie Wingfield, and Les James. Joe also talked some about Wilfred Evans who had a store at Alatna. Joe also commented on how he learned to sing, what singing means, and how many of the "high words," the special vocabulary used in songs and speeches on formal, ceremonial occasions, have been lost, even to people of his generation. Celia talked about her own growing up in the Allakaket area. Her family, like Joe's, spent a lot of time in camp. She talked about various camps where they stayed, some like Tsaalatna, in the Old Man or Kanuti River area. She also talked some about her family's fish camp below Allakaket. She recalls how she and Joe were married by Bishop Bentley in a group ceremony with Martha and Abraham Oldman, and Henry and Sophie Beetus. Such ceremonies were not unusual, for the bishop would make a trip up the river almost every year by boat, holding services, baptizing babies, and marrying couples along the way. Toward the end of the tape, Joe makes a very heartfelt and eloquent statement about what he feels agency employees and park visitors should know about Native people and the land. He points out that subsistence is integral to Native people's way of life. His very basic question, "How would Native people make a living without subsistence?" addresses more than just how would people put food on the table and wood in the stove, although those issues are very basic to his statement as well. He recognizes the need for some regulation, but he also sees the need for a greater understanding of and meaningful involvement of local users. Although legally, parts of the land may belong to the federal government, in cultural and emotional terms it is still Koyukon land and Joe makes a strong case for treating it as such. In concluding the tape, Celia echoes Joe's sentiments and concerns for how their children and grandchildren will make a living if the land and the right to harvest its resources is taken away from them.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-23

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Nov 15, 1992
Narrator(s): Joe Beetus, Celia Beetus
Interviewer(s): Wendy Arundale
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.


1) Joe's background and growing up

2) Places in the Kanuti area traveled and used as a child

3) Celia's background and growing up

4) About having children

5) Some of the best times remembered with kids

6) Joe talks about old timers near Hughes

7) Joe's singing and how he learned

8) Things Joe feels visitors and agency personnel should know about life here

9) Things Celia feels visitors and agency personnel should know about life here

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

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


Section 1: born -- Allakaket\ Hughes -- age fourteen\ Allakaket -- holidays; since 1938\ married -- June, 1938\ children\ trapping -- winters\ summers\ fish camp\ Native Allotment\ Hog River -- Hogatza river, cabin; 1950\ Wien Alaska Airlines\ children -- eight, had to fly to cabin\ dog team -- 'till 1957\ school -- stay in village\ summer -- working at mining camp\ mining\ fall -- moose hunt\ Indian Creek\ Alberta -- school in Fairbanks\ children -- spread around\ Vent, Warner -- married to Alberta\ Attla, Alfred -- married to Helen\ Episcopal school -- Allakaket; never went\ Celia -- 6th grade\ mother -- Ida\ father -- Leon; died year born\ Beetus, Little; stepdad from South Fork\ Maggie -- half-sister\ Tanana\ Beetus, Little -- trapped; hard living\ Old Man River -- trapping\ South Fork -- little village, four houses|

Section 2: trapping -- until Thanksgiving; then again 'till Christmas\ February -- moving out\ Old Man River -- two months\ April -- returned\ game -- mink; fox; caribou-came every year\ Bergman, Billy -- next cabin\ spring -- muskrat\ hauling -- boat\ Kanutna River|

Section 3: born -- Allakaket, 1922\ fish camp\ trapping\ Old Man River\ caribou\ snaring -- rabbits\ sled -- made in tent\ Samson -- youngest brother\ school -- October to January\ school -- March to May\ spring camp -- May\ school -- sixth grade\ teacher\ Kay, Miss Bessie\ Hill, Miss Amelia\ William, Bessie\ Fish Creek\ Old Bettles -- clothes sewn for; six years old\ Allakaket -- school\ Bettles -- white people\ money\ parka -- got cloth for\ Edward, John\ wood cutting\ Koyukuk River\ Sam, Elmer\ Ned, Simon\ wood -- saw\ water -- packing\ trapping\ snaring -- rabbits\ fish camp\ father -- snowshoes\ supplies -- flour, sugar, lard\ camp -- ten miles below Allakaket\ Old Bergman\ Arctic City\ lining -- up river\ marriage -- arranged by uncle\ Oldman, Uncle John\ Bentley, Bishop -- group marriage\ Martha and Abraham\ fish -- net, cutting\ berry-picking\ Hughes -- parents near there\ Beetus, Henry -- many lived in crowded house|

Section 4: house -- first, 1940\ children -- 1940-1960; eleven kids\ pregnancy -- had baby in Allakaket\ Samson -- got sick\ canoe -- Joe made it from Hughes to Allakaket in one and a half days\ teachers -- Hill and Kay helped\ brother -- died next day\ Oldman, Abraham\ daughter -- Helen, born in tent, 50 below, Hog River\ Oldman, Martha\ Hughes -- foot race week after giving birth\ camp -- all kids born in\ fish camp -- twelve mile\ Tanana Hospital -- 1960\ daughter -- Patty\ sister -- Sara|

Section 5: holidays -- get together\ cooking\ foot race\ Walker, June\ Dorothy\ hauling wood\ Walker, June -- seining\ whitefish\ Hughes -- not much to eat\ camp -- good food\ highbush berries\ porcupine\ Dorothy and Jim\ daughter -- June ate tail, wasn't supposed to\ taboo -- daughter will get mad for nothing\ Dorothy -- eats a lot, good worker|

Section 6: mines\ Hoagland, Joe\ Black Creek -- 22 years\ winter -- stay home\ summer -- mining up at camp\ Winfield, Ernie -- hunting; trapping\ Hughes\ food -- garden, bread\ Indian River\ Utopia\ winter -- trap beaver, lynx, fox, marten\ hunting -- moose and caribou\ airplane -- 1950 or so\ Linus, Daniel -- helped haul logs\ inboard\ Old James\ Evans, Wilfred\ Wien Airlines\ Anderson, Andy\ Bettles\ James, Johnny\ Hog River -- spring camp\ river -- traveling; boats\ trapping -- rats\ Hog River -- hard traveling\ Kobuk Portage|

Section 7: old people -- listened to\ men -- made songs in old days\ speech -- use high words\ study -- learn from them\ culture -- got it from old culture\ today -- losing that culture\ school -- white man way\ Indian way\ language\ songs -- hard to make now, not many singers\ women -- make more songs now\ words -- high words lost\ John, Peter -- Minto; knows the old way\ Simon, Edwin -- understood too|

Section 8: subsistence -- how we make living\ land -- culture is based in it\ villages -- use the land to live\ subsistence -- fishing; berry-picking; moose hunting; trapping; timber\ land -- important, raised with it, village to village\ Natives -- how would they make a living without subsistence\ laws -- come from outside\ subsistence -- leave it the way it is\ village -- go out to trap, fish, hunt, need that\ future -- generation to generation\ welfare\ foodstamps\ Tanana Chiefs Conference -- talking for us\ Alaska -- it is our land, it's where our grandma and grandpa come from\ marriage -- subsistence is how we live|

Section 9: children -- they have to make a living after we are gone\ land -- pick berries, cut wood, fishing, trapping\ people -- try to take land from us\ grandchildren|