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Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Etta Ekolook

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Etta Ekolook


"We have always walked all over the area between the Qalġusiḷik and Savviuġvik Rivers, whether in the summer or winter, looking for fish, game and caribou for our daily survival. When we first went to Tigvaġiaq Island, Asiakutaq, Qalliñiq’s mother and Putuliagayuk were living there. Our main camp was located at Ekolook Inaat (about 4 miles west of Tigvaġiaq Island). There is a grave of Kalayouk that is located near Kisium Inaat, about ½ mile away. Our old sod houses were located on the main shoreline on the western side of the Savviuġvik River and were about halfway between Qalġusiḷik and Savviuġvik Rivers; there may have eroded away. The neighboring places were Kakianaaq Inaat at Siŋiġruaq, Kisium Inaat, Qalliñiq Inaat and Sinatuuq’s Inaat, all along the shore. There used to be some old remains, bones near Nuvugapak, at the west channel.
At Ekolook Inaat, near the location of the old sod houses, are the graves of our family: my husband, Ekolook, my oldest son and my two small daughters. Two graves (very old) are located at the other end of Tigvaġiaq Island, at Point Lookout. The very old grave is that of a daughter of Herbert Leavitt.
Located on a ridge at the southern end of Tigvaġiaq are some old sod houses, one of ours and the other of Kakianaaq. We also have our old cellars located near the western edge of the Island. During the summer months, we would camp at Pole Island, a barrier island located directly across the Tigvaġiaq Island. Another place we camped was McClure Island. In fact, all of those barrier islands were used for camping in the summer months but we would always return to the mainland for the winter months. We used the surrounding waters of Tigvaġiaq Island for fishing for iqalusaaq, aanaakłiq and qaataq (three types of whitefish). Usually, we put up nets as soon as river breakup. We hunted seals from the barrier islands. Sulukpaugaq (grayling) are very abundant in the summer months. During the winter months, sometimes we fished from the Siiqsiññiq, located along the Savvuiġvik River, by seining, around October and November. The aaqhaaliq (old squaw ducks) moult in this area but not as much as on the other barrier islands with different duck species. We do get nigliñġaq (geese) occasionally as they pass by from the other islands. There is some nesting of birds near those freshwater lakes were we used to gather eggs. Most of those lakes are fresh water and our water supply. We usually know it is fresh water if the lake has a gravel bottom.
People heading further east form Niġliq used to stop here at Tigvaġiaq to trade for whatever was available, whatever was needed for the winter months. When people gathered for trading, they would line up there umiaqs while people on shore lined up and then they would come ashore all at once. We looked forward to this trading event.
The ice inside the barrier islands is smooth and remains so until it thaws out in the spring time. But the ice seaward of the barrier islands moves and is part of the ocean ice and sometimes piles up. The channel is deep enough for our umiaqs to pass through the deeper river channel. As I have known it, Tigvaġiaq used to be right in front of Nuvugagruak. The north end of the island is high ground while the south and east ends are low.
I remember when Reverend Roy Ahmaogak and Reverend Klerekoper visited us while we were at Tigvaġiaq. They were on their way to Ikpigauraq. They baptized my children. At that time, the Agiaks from Kaktovik and Qalliñiq’s parents were at Savvakvik.
We lived in this area till the time we left for Utqiaġvik (Barrow) around 1954. Everyone else had left just before spring breakup. My parents had died from the flu that was going around during that time, so I left for Utqiaġvik with Anupkana, my uncle. We left with Panigeo and Annugruk; we were all relatives. We traveled through the barrier islands -- McClure Island, then Napaqsralik, Napaqsraligauraq (Reindeer Island), then on to Beechy Point were we some people, through Tapqaturuaq Island and we stopped over and visited Kisik and Tookak, who were summer camping there.
When Jennie Ahkivgak went for a visit to Qalġusiḷik recently, she still noted our old stone tent supports still intact. This was at Qalġusiḷik, on top of a high ridge that we had always used for a camping stopover place. We have traveled in this area extensively. All of my children were born in a different place in the general area. My daughter, Mary, was born in 1943 while we were traveling up the Savviuġvik River and my other daughter, Maria, was born at Napaqsralik in 1934. I did not wish to leave the area that I knew so well but most of the people had gone and my parents were gone so I went to Utqiaġvik.
            Second Interview

KATHY: When/where were you born?

ETTA: My birthplace is Nuvuk in 1902, Sept. 14. They set my birthdate for September. I didn’t know the day so Annie Brower set the day for the 14th.

GARY: Was that before or after the measles epidemic?

ETTA: Probably. I was born in September, in the fall.

KATHY: Who were your grandparents and where were they from?

ETTA: I do not know my grandparents. I also don’t know my natural father who I am named after, which is Uyaluuraq, but I remember my mother. She lived in a small house. Her name is Ataŋana; my natural mother, not my adoptive mother. I remember her vaguely.

KATHY: When did you first gravel into the Beaufort Sea area?

ETTA: When my adoptive mother died, my uncle made me move to his place. I would have preferred to stay with my older brothers. My uncle, Anupkana, brought me east in 1920, to Isuk (Cape Halkett). My adoptive mother died in 1919, and in 1920 we stayed at Isuk. We spent a winter here, after we went to Utqiaġvik (Barrow) and returned. We started going east in 1921 and settled at Flaxman Island, where Panningona and his family stayed. Panningona is Anupkana’s son.

KATHY: Could you tell us about the trading events at Tigvaġiaq Island?

ETTA: I don’t know. I don’t remember any trading events at Tigvaġiaq but I remember when they had a trading event here in Utqiaġvik. Those people who say they are younger than me know more than I do. There was a trading event next to where your house was once located. This is when the Wainwright people came for the event.

KATHY: What people were staying at Tigvaġiaq Island when you stayed there?

ETTA: We spent two years at Tigvaġiaq. In the spring we would go hunt at Pole Island, and then return again to Tigvaġiaq. After fishing at Tigvaġiaq in the summer, we would return to our place (Ekolook Inaat). There were people at Tigvaġiaq. We would stay there with Kakianaaq and his family. Also, Ologak’s family stayed at Tigvaġiaq for a while. Also there were Kakianaaq, his daughter, Qalliñiq, and her mother, Asiaqutaq, and Qiḷġiuraq and his family. There would be a lot of people sometimes at Tigvaġiaq. There are cellars there including ours and Kakianaaq’s. This is where we spent our winters. There are also sod houses. But Kakianaaq and his family would go home to Siŋiġruaq, they went to Tigvaġiaq to fish in the summer. Siŋiġruaq is Kakianaaq’s place. They went to Tigvaġiaq to hunt in the summer, also fish. They did not spend any winters at Tigvagiaq because they had their own settlement at Siŋiġruaq. But we did spend at least two winters at Tigvaġiaq. We then built a house on the mainland, where we did our trapping. Then in the summer, we went to Tigvaġiaq. We spent several years in that area, until most of our children were born, from Aviḷḷuq (Jennie) on down.

KATHY: Do you remember when Reverend Roy Ahmaogak and Reverend Klerekoper came to Tigvaġiaq Island?

ETTA: They did go there, but it was when we went to Foggy Island, in the spring. They came by dogteam. Reverend Klerekoper baptized my children, from Jennie to Maria at Tigvaġiaq. We took Maria and Mary to Utqiaġvik to have them baptized. We met Ahmaogak and Klerekoper at Foggy Island.

KATHY: Do you know of Taaqpak?

ETTA: While we were further east, we were told that Taaqpak and his family were at Pole Island. Taaqpak and his family had a house a little ways from Beechy Point. We did not stay with them.

KATHY: Do you remember anyone using bow/arrow, stone knives or spears?

ETTA: No. I don’t know those. I wasn’t born in the 1800’s. I think that is when they used those.

KATHY: When you gathered duck eggs, how did you prepare them?

ETTA: We seldom gathered eggs. When we would get a few eggs, we boiled them. When we beached at Tigvaġiaq, there would be Arctic Tern eggs which the children gathered and fried for food. We did not use them for anything else. We just ate them.

KATHY: What kinds of plants did you gather while staying in the area?

ETTA: When we left Tigvaġiaq backpacking, on the mainland, we ate masu (edible roots) and salmon berries. Eating plants is very good.

KATHY: Do you know the Iñupiat names and meaning of those names for these places?

ETTA: Flaxman Island - they call it Qikiqtaq, it is also called Sirraq, where Mary Sirraq Akootchook was born. And to the west of Flaxman Island is Agliġuaġruk (Brownlow Point), and to the southwest of Flaxman Island are hills, called Ikpigauraq. Southwest of Ikpigauraq is Savaġvik, and then Tigvaġiaq. But I don’t know the Iñupiat name for Foggy Island. Pole Island - the name has been Pole Island for as I know. There is a pole there that was put up by Leffingwell. McClure Islands - same. Napaqsralik - this is where Maria was born.

KATHY: Who was staying at Napaqsralik when your daughter Maria was born in 1934?

ETTA: Ullaaq and his family, Ikpik and his family, and others, Suvałiq, Aalaak, who is Suvałiq’s father. These people occasionally stayed there at Napaqsralik. I don’t know some of the people because I didn’t live in this area. We did not live around this area, only at Tigvaġiaq. From Tigvaġiaq, we went on the mainland backpacking and hunting.

KATHY: What is the Iñupiat name for Beechey Point?

ETTA: Same, I don’t know the Iñupiat name. I also did not live around this area. But we did go spend Christmases at Beechey Point. (Pointing on the map) This is Beechey Point? Around this area is where Taaqpak and his family stayed. Also Ullaaq. They do have names for these places but I don’t know them because I haven’t lived in this area.

KATHY: Here is Tigvaġiaq.

ETTA: This where we lived. We also had a house on the mainland. This is where my husband and sons are buried, on the east side of the house. Also by Tigvaġiaq is where Kakianaaq and his family stayed. The place name where Kakianaaq stayed is Siŋiġruaq. I do not know the place name for our site. Also, Qoġġannaq (Koganak) and his family stayed near Qalġusiḷik. What is the English name for this river, Qalġusiḷik?

KATHY: That’s the name it has on this map, Qalġusiḷik.

ETTA: Yes, that’s the name. Around here is a big mound that they call Qalġusiḷik. It’s a rather large hill. We climbed up this hill several times. Those people before us who traveled back and forth to Kivaliñiq used this mound as a way of predicting the weather. When the top of the hill formed a qayaq, person, or anything, it would become very windy.

KATHY: What is the Iñupiat name for Bullen Point?

ETTA: Savaġvik. The land east of Tigvaġiaq is Savaġvik.

KATHY: What about Point Thompson? Have you been in this area?

ETTA: I have traveled it, but I don’t know the English names. Is this by Flaxman Island? I don’t know the Iñupiat name for it. There is a place they call Ikpikpauraq near Flaxman Island. We also went to Flaxman Island from Tigvaġiaq by dogteam to spend several Christmases. Also we traveled to Beechey Point by dogteam to spend Christmas. We would leave Tigvaġiaq around the 22nd of December and camp each night until we reached Flaxman Island. We started off early for our Christmas trips to Flaxman Island and Beechey Point. I would never be lost in that area if I once again traveled it by dogteam. But I have bad eyesight now. While we were at Tigvaġiaq, your father, when he was a reindeer herder for Taaqpak, came to see us. We were next door neighbors with Qisiḷaaq and his family then.

KATHY: What kind of shelter did you use while staying at Pole Island during the summers?

ETTA: We used a tent; this was in the springtime. We did not have a house but Taaqpak and his family once did. Then later in June, we would return to Tigvaġiaq. We had no way of spending the summer on Pole Island because we did not have a boat, so we went to Tigvaġiaq. We would stay at Tigvaġiaq while the men went to Pole Island to hunt for seals. Pole Island is the place where we hunted for seals. We hunted for seals on those islands in order to get oil. At that time, we did not live near a trading post. The only food we had was what we hunted.

KATHY: When traveling to Utqiaġvik in 1954, do you remember seeing anyone at Napaqsralik, Napaqsraligauraq (Reindeer Island) or Beechey Point?

ETTA: There were people in those places, but during that time when they had the flu, they all started returning to Utqiaġvik, including Saavġaq and his family, and Panningona and his family. But there were people at Kuukpik. After the flu, and my husband and don had died, we spent a winter near Beechey Point and then started for Utqiaġvik. I think we went to Utqiaġvik with Sagvayuang (Abraham Stine) who was traveling with a boat with an engine.

KATHY: Where is Qalliñiq Inaat?

ETTA: They had a house east of Tigvaġiaq, with Asiaqutaq, who is one of her parents. When Kakianaaq died, she also went into Utqiaġvik. It was at the time when most of her relatives were gone in that area, in the east. They were on the mainland. We could see their house from our place.

KATHY: Where is Nuvugagruaq on the map?

ETTA: It is on the mouth of Savviuġvik River. We call it Nuvugagruak. This is where we occasionally camped and put a tent on our way to the mainland to go backpacking. Our fishing area is called Siiqsiññiq. We went to good hunting areas, and we also lived on those good hunting areas. And after we hunted in that area, we went home to our site where we spent our winters. This is the way we lived there. We also did trapping.

KATHY: When the men were busy hunting, how did you spend your time?

ETTA: We stayed at home, gathering wood and hauling ice. We took care of ourselves. But it was very seldom when we did this because we were constantly traveling by dogteam. When we traveled in winter, we bordered our tent with snow and it provided very good heat. Our shelters were not entirely snow. While we were in the east, we did not stay at once place. We were traveling constantly by dogteam, following the best hunting areas each season.

KATHY: I don’t have any more questions but if you would like to add anything else, you’re welcome to do so.

ETTA: While we were at Tigvaġiaq, during the big flu, my husband and son were very sick. We could see Kisik’s place and smoke was coming from their chimney. We also didn’t have any visitors at that time. After my husband and son died, we had their bodies outside our house without caskets for more than a month. Then from the east, Akootchook’s sons, starting from Beechey Point, traveled, stopping each time to make caskets for more than a month. When they finally reached us, they buried my husband and son, who died at the same time, my oldest son and his father. After they made caskets for them, we headed directly north because we knew that when the Sagvaġniqtuuq River breaks, it travels far out on the sea ice. In order to bypass this breakage, we headed directly north to go where there were people. We then camped at McClure Island. We traveled through ice where there was no sign of land. We could not see any sign of land when we started traveling through those islands, me and my children. While we were traveling, ptarmigans would sometimes land in front of us even where there was no sign of land. Aŋaqin would shoot some of these. When we left Napaqsralik, we did not find Napaqsraligauraq, so we camped for the night on the ice. When we woke up the next morning and were just leaving, we found we had made camp just missing Napaqsraligauraq. We didn’t see it because of an ice pressure ridge. After we spent a night at Napaqsraligauraq, there was another island, the one east of Beechey Point. We finally sighted land when we reached the end of this island. And then we went to Beechey Point where we finally saw people. We traveled this distance with only four dogs, but we had two sleds. We pushed one sled and the dogs pulled the other. The runners were very smooth. When the weather got windy, we put up the sails up and started traveling. We tried to live any way we could in that are.

Comments on pictures taken by Leffingwell at Flaxman Island, 1910

ETTA: When Leffingwell was at Flaxman Island, there were other people who were here way before us that they used to talk about. Flaxman Island had a lot of graves, including white men who froze to death and Iñupiat who froze to death. Flaxman Island can get very windy. It was here when Tuuġł̣ak, wife of Saavġaq, grandfather and children were staying home. She was picking up some oil from one of their caches when she got lost and almost froze. The grandfather froze to death when we went out to look for her. There were people at Flaxman Island at one time but when we went there, they had vacated it. There must have been people there way before us. These people in the picture are living in tents. This one here is cache. Leffingwell had a house there when we first reached Flaxman Island. We used the house on my first trip to Flaxman Island with Anupkana and his family and Panningona. Leffingwell had vacated the house. Flaxman Island is fairly large. Leffingwell’s house is not there anymore, but Anupkana’s house is said to be still standing. It is partly made with sod. It will still be standing; there is no way it can be eroded away. It will be standing unless people do something with it, like damaging it." (pg. 109-111)