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Ellen Demit, Interview 2, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with Ellen Demit on August 16, 2000 by Don Callaway and Connie Friend in Healy Lake, Alaska for Mendees Cheeg Naltsiin Keey': An Oral History of the People of Healy Lake Village (annotated and edited by Donald G. Callaway and Constance A. Friend, Revised June 2007). Ellen also gave a speech to her relatives on January 19, 2001 where she tells more about her personal and family history at Healy Lake and Big and Little Gerstle. In this second part of the second interview, Ellen talks about things her father did despite his blindness, gardening, preserving and preparing food for the winter, learning cultural lessons, the importance of prayer and respect, and Athabascan words for some of the months.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-105-02-Pt.2

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 16, 2000
Narrator(s): Ellen Demit
Interviewer(s): Don Callaway, Connie Friend
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Things her blind father did, and how Ellen often couldn't believe he was really blind

Having a successful vegetable garden

Preserving foods in a cold root cellar

Learning skills and life lessons from her father

Understanding lessons from her culture as she has gotten older

Importance of prayer

Importance of respect

Athabascan words for months, and importance of education

Moose hunting management policies, and expense of living in a small village

Learning from each other

Subsistence lifestyle

Retrieving moose hide and moose meat to prevent waste

Working hard, and preparing and storing food for the winter

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


ELLEN DEMIT: I goin’ talk about my daddy.

He’s blind man.

He’s the one, he make trail all over with shovel.

Our trail just like road.

At many people make picture at on the road where he make it look like road (part of this extensive trail still exists along the edge of Healy Lake and people who come to visit the village are amazed at the remarkable feat of it being made by a blind man).

Cuttin’ tree, make good trail...

Summer trail,winter trail

Wood trail.

And my daddy, he’s complete blind. He was born, blind.

He got cane.

He got his own sleigh.

He go out wood yard.

Sometime I go with him.

I go ahead of him with stick in his hand.

Sometime I don’t.

And, you know, he go in wood yard.

He hit his stick He hit the wood.

He hit stick, he go there.

He cut little piece,

he gonna smell.

Green wood, he knows green wood. And dry wood,

he goin’ mix dry wood and green wood.

He don’t believe on hitch ‘em up dogs with his neck. (He would pull a sled using a tumpline "with his neck" instead of hitching up a dogteam to haul wood.)

He bring back a load of wood to village.

When he started to cut, saw wood, he split wood. I used to close my eye.

I don’t want to see.

Seems to me he’s goin’ cut his whole hand off.

And I used to watch if he’s sure he’s blind, way he walk.

And I watch all time, but

later on I begin find out he’s really blind.

And the rest of the part:

He tan moose skin.

Her clothes tore, he gotta sewn his own clothes. He don’t tell his wife “Do this, do this.”

He make dry meat.

He cut fish.

Today I’m old I just wonder how he did.

I start a realize

he’s blind.

Back days

to me I just thought maybe he even look.

And one time I asked him a question,

“Why you blind?

Why you don’t see?”

He tell me

Neet'òodļ’ht'êy (Healy Lake Athabascan word for God) send me this world the way I am.

That’s mean,”Good Lord send me in this world to be blind.

Right now, today, I get old. I understand what he mean.

In a Springtime, May

we used to work for our “gardeney” (garden).

And we don’t gets paid to do that.

He put twine round in “gardney”,

all the way around.

He crawl around and he'd haul that twine and he'd just around the “gardeny”.

We dig the ground.

He walk right along with us He dig the ground.

He tell us, “That “gardney” gotta be real clean.”

We clean “gardney” real good before we dig.

But he tell us back days no fertilize like he have right now.

Our fertilize we boil fish head and fish guts

and we spill on a “gardney”.

That’s our fertilize.

Boy, the “gardney's” are so big you don't know what to do with.

And we finish all "gardney" and he told,”Do over again.

Make sure real neat and soft.”

So we do that.

And sometime

he go in the cache

he give us beautiful blanket all of us.

Old time blanket all of us, he give it to us.

We work hard.

He tell us “You sleep on this one.”

Boy, we like it.

We don’t think about we gets pay.

I try the best I can

after I’m realize he’s blind.

The seed,

he tell us,”Cabbage,

one seed each.”

Little bit part from that cabbage to the

little bit part of each other.

He tell us that cabbage leaf goin live, touch to each other and you cabbage not goin’ growing.

If he wants to have big carrots, you gotta plant two carrot seed.

He don’t let us touch little seeds. He wants do herself ‘cause us, we crazy ‘round.

Maybe not even half a line.

We use it so he don’t let us.

And he leave a peas

dry peas overnight.

He plant peas, string beans.

He plant. Whatever he plant, all growing.


When “gardney” started growing

he gave us up there. “You take care,” he told me.

He taught me how to do.

I gotta do it exactly he tell me.

Without make a (mi)stake. And uh he

And right now

I don’t know how he plant seed, but

he plant cabbage, rutabaga, carrots, turnip, potatoes.

We don’t use our potatoes out.

Potatoes, we save it

for next year, for our seed.

And what’s left over we replant it again and we got our vegetable right there.

We eat vegetable all winter.

Inside his house he dig the ground (probably a root cellar).

And uh have all vegetable

and cabbage and everything inside our house,

inside the ground.

Each village he have a deep freeze.

Indian deep freeze.

Our chief he dig

make big hole on the bank.

Big hole.

You go inside, you don’t have a light, either.

You go inside to that ground

if you want your meat fresh.

You gotta hang a whole moose inside the ground.

Just hang there.

Not goin’ be spoil,

not goin’ be even smell.

By the time winter time’s up we got our fresh meat right there.

And my daddy have a

same too.

Everyone of them have a

where he have cold place.

Wild rhubarb

and he’s the one he make trail all over

with by hand, with shovel.

Close to tradin’ post he make just like road.

He’s blind man.

He done so many things.

And he’s special man today

to me

when I talk about it.

Maybe he try to pass on

to her life to me.

At time I ‘m very

don’t ‘tention that much.

I’m respect. I’m young, I’m respect, but

sometime I want play out there just like rest of the kids,.

But he don’t let me play out there.

He don’t let me go to village.

He don’t let me go somebody’s house.

He used to tell me,

“If you go next door, maybe person goin’ cook her last food,

and you come in he goin’ pass this last food to you

and the person not goin’ eat.”

I real believe a that.

Whatever my mother and daddy told me

I just real believe it.

I still use it right now

And I got my own house.

I real believe it.

I used to go out to cut meat.

I stand next to.

I watch.

To be learn.

One whole moose arm (front quarter of a moose) he goin’ cut it.

One pull he put that meat, he cut it.

One whole moose arm

he goin’ cook one piece dry meat.

Just real

I don’t know how he do, but...

And a fish,

He make dry fish.

And take him out pickin’ berries.

He pickin’ berries just like rest of it.

I stay out of his life when he cut wood.

Scare me to death.

Anything what he do

I stay out.

If he do something I like it, I gonna watch all way through

and I learn from him.

He do lotta, anything

good stuff, lotta way, good way, he do.

So today he’s special man.

And he pass on to his grandkids

and pass on all the way down still today.

We did lotta good way

to make us understand

to be learned something

from him.

He taught us

how to make vegetable.

He taught us

not to your meat spoil.

He’s blind man. We used to like his biscuit.

He make biscuit

in top stove.

Blind man cook for you.

Blind man make biscuit in oven for you.

Not to be hungry.

He goin’ cook cranberries with moose grease.

And we eat biscuit and cranberries.

Boy, back days everything taste good.

Take me quite a while

to be understand

to be learn.

Right now I gettin’ old,

gave me lot of strength.

Some in the morning I don’t get up,

“Oh, my mother do this, I have to do.”

And I help myself, “Oh yeah, I can do.”

Why it’s hard for me?

Get up do.

Look forward for to be do.

I really wants try best I can ‘till the end.

`I want pass on to my a culture to my grandkids,

to my a relative

to my friend.

This is I talk about myself.

Pass on what I got.

I have many white people friend.

I have many Christian people friend.

I have many people don’t believe.

They have own their own life.

But I take after my mother and daddy.

I’m not ‘shamed of the pray.

My mother used to pray all time.

The Native pray. Lord’s pray.

I use it at home all time.

Go someplace, someone goin’ protect us.

We left Tok bad weather.

Before night I pray for our trip.

I asked God he goin’ take us to Healy Lake?

Bring us home, safely.

We have to have good life

to protect we don’t get in,

run into something.

Gonna hurt us.

Boat, car.

We have to have a

good life for our friend

safe trip.

You go behind wheel,

you know what you’re doing.

Sometime we run into something.

I pray for my friend, Don.

Go back to Anchorage, safe trip.

I not shame of pray.

I always bless my food. I go to bed I always pray.

I go out, go do something for my live, I always pray.

God protect us.

No matter what we are, we are God’s children.

We’re not different from each other.

We’re not different than white people and white woman.

We’re all the same God’s people.

Got believe it like that.

That’s what keep us going every day, ‘nother day.

‘Nother day, shiny day

Nee’ét saadin’ ąą.

Thats mean, “We have good shiny day today.’

We have to respect for each other.

I have to respect for other people.

I have to respect for young children.

Respect for father and mother.

We can’t let ignore each other, no.

We have to care for each other.

And this village, I sure love to talk about this village.

JoAnn (Polston) is chief’s granddaughter. Lot of respect for her.

Pat (Saylor) is chief’s grandchild.

Ray, Michael, Ben, Cory, Jenny,

Rest of a loved one, that’s all chief’s grandkids in this village.

And we respect for them.

They all try real hard for their live,

little bit o’ job,

prepare the food,

fish, ducks.

Right now I came to

Xtsiik Saa (literally "yellow month")

Can’t understand of Xtsiik Saa, what’s mean Xtsiik Saa.

Xtsiik Saa, right now we’re on the Xtsiik Saa. That’s mean we’re on the August.

Xtsiik Saa stand for “Leaf fall down, everything turn to yellow”.

That’s what it mean, Xtsiik Saa.

And close to Springtime, Łuu saa (literally "ice month").

That’s mean,”Everything freeze a..."

Springtime, close to Springtime, that’s Łuu saa. That’s April.

Saa chox, that’s Christmas month.

My Native word I gonna say, Saa chox.

That’s Christmas month.

Ch’eshaan saa, that’s February, February month.

Ch’eshaan saa, that's eagle.

You have all kind name, Indian way.

All I know, every bit a I know, but

all kind ducks have a Native name, different way.

‘N us Native, we all understand,

but some young people don’t, can't understand.

Don't know what's it mean.

But some Native wants be Nondlêde (White man).

Some go college. “Oh, you think so?

Great. Yes.

College, it’s great.”

White man educated, it’s good.

For me, we have to hold on

my Native educated, white man educated, both way.

Both way, I real strong feel I always tell my grandkids

And right now, everybody goin work for meat.

Ten days season open.

How fast do you go out, you get you meat? Ten days.

How ‘bout these ten days like today the boys workin’ out there, weekend.

How fast the boys and girl n’ gets a moose?

You know why? Just a Fish and Wildlife. (referring to Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Fish and Wildlife watch every each village (Healy Lake is surrounded by state land and there has been conflict over management policies)

I guess he have to do their job too but,

our food, that’s what we grown up with it.

We gotta have our fish, our ducks, our meat and caribou rabbits, grouse.

Whatever on the land, we real goin’ eat.

I don’t know. Sometime I confused ‘bout Fish and Wildlife.

Sometime I can’t understand.

Pick people, sometime people loose their boat and their gun.

Some people don’t have a income. Like this village, people hard to get by.

It’s not like other village.

People don’t have a easy money in this village.

They all work hard for the live.

That’s way we believe it in this village.

And myself, I don’t have much income.

Whatever I work for, I got little bit o’ check.

I’m just like rest of it. I had to pay my bill,

I had to pay bank.

I had to pay my ‘lectricity

and I so thankful I don’t pay my rent.

I got my own house.

I have to pay for my wood, oil, propane.

By time every little bit I got, it’s gone.

Everything costs too much.

So, to me, we have to put it away our food.

Anything whatever we grown up with

we gotta put it away for wintertime.

Long winter

we have to face.

We gotta be ready for that.

Lots way we goin’ do.

All cemeter(y) needs to be cleaned up

someday in the future.

The renew,

all those things,

lotta things to talk about it.

Every each day

something to talk about.

We gotta learn.

Seem like we still growin’ up to be learn.

But mostly I want young children learn.

Us, we know already.

I know already,

but yet I still learn.

I still learn.

Lot way I still learn.

But the word, my mother’s word come out on me before

Na saa tee’ ąą.

Sun’s goin’ down.

The word come out.

I’m pretty sure

I got lot o’ white people, friend.

Teenage boys, teenage girls,

Some mother die, say “Oh, my mother used to tell me like that.

Oh, I learned from my mother.

Oh, I learned from my daddy.”

That’s what I try to pass on.

Our children gotta be learn.

The father still be needs to be grown up to be learn.

And the land,

Fall time we wait for our

our ducks.

On October, real cold

and we go out get our ducks. We clean it.

We leave a guts in there.

We have wash tub all full water.

We put all our ducks there. Freeze it.

We leave it there all winter.

And the fish, you gotta cut it.

You dry really good.

Don’t let fly gets in.

You put it in the cache.

You dry meat gotta go in cache.

Don’t eat it one time, even though it taste good.

You gotta take care you food,

you berries.

One time you goin’ eat real good,

and will take care o’ you half a day.

And young people I want start a real learn.

Real background.

Whoever feel sorry for,

give you little story.

Just stop, listen, you learn something.

That’s what I learn from my mother and daddy, my relatives, my aunt, my a relatives.

I learn from them.

They pass me on to the life to me.

It’s in a my mind all time.

Get up early. Do you thing.

Me, I can’t get up early any more.

I done my part already.

I walk all over.

Fifty mile, twenty mile

I pack my meat.

For woman like me to from village to Cook Hill,

and a big huge valley.

Somebody got moose.

Back days you don’t throw it away moose skin.

You gotta use for mukluk

and moose jacket and mitts, moccasin.

The person kill moose, he’s sick person.

He can’t pack moose skin.

He give up on that moose skin.

And my mother talk about that moose skin all time.

“Gee, it goin’ be waste.”

“Gee, it goin be....”

I gettin’ tired to listen.

I never tell nobody where I goin’ go.

I just grab my pack and little biscuit ‘n I takin’ off.

I go close with that big, huge flats. Swamp.

You don’t have hip boots or nothing.

Use moccasin.

You don’t worry ‘bout you goin’ get sick.

You don’t worry ‘bout you feet wet.

But you gotta carry ‘round extra sock extra moccasin,

in case.

Extra dry clothes you goin’ pack.

That Fall time skin, huge bull moose, moose skin.

I pack. I put it in my pack.

Boy, I just made it to that end of flat,

big valley.

I just go middle swamp.

One place I fell down,

I just laugh for myself. Nobody ‘round out there,

I just laugh. I thought that’s fun.

And I fell down and (indiscernible),

my feet stickin’ out and my pack.

And I can’t get up.

I had to takin’ out n’ my pack.

I pack that moose skin all the way to village.

Drag over there in village to my mother.

My mother don’t know where I’m at.

I never tell nobody where I’m going,

I just takin’ off.

And my mother go out.

“Hey! What you doing?”

I never say nothing.

“Oh, you talk about that skin too much,

I thought I better bring it for you,”I say.

And grab me and hug me. He say,”Shouldn’t do that.”

I say,”It’s okay, I’m young.”

I bring that moose skin.

My mother work on right away.

Take her four days to clean that moose skin.

Big huge bull moose skin.

Another place, winter time.

Way other side big, huge hill somebody got moose.

In the village we hungry.

And with some reason too cold

we can’t go our tradin’ post.

So cold we can’t do nothing and even though somebody go out hunt.

Got moose.

Real fat.

He all bring back ‘nough meat,

good part, but he left some.

Too hard.

Too hard to go back for it.

Say,”That moose gotta be waste.”

But somebody say,”Maybe wolf goin’ eat it, not goin’ be waste.”

What I did, five o’clock in the morn, I get up.

I hitch ‘em up my dog.

I takin’ off.

I climb that hill.

I run into bad trouble.

I never tell my mother I goin’ go.

Nobody know where I went.

I went to other side the big hill.

I loaded that meat left over.

And that big hill overflow.

And you ‘sposed to tie spruce, lotta spruce,

tie to your sleigh. I never did.

I go down middle to

‘n all over my sleigh slide.

My sleigh broke and my dog

all there and there,

and some my dog almost choke to death.

And I lay against to tree.

Almost loose my life right there.

I goin’ be gone right there if I (don’t) know what I’m doing.

This is special word.

You know what you doing.

You been hurtin’ out there.

I always have a extra in my pocket.

My back real hurt.

I can’t do nothing,

but I tie my sled together.

There and there I pick my dog

and I fix harness

and I start a hitch ‘em up.

Boy, I’m very pain.

I can’t even make another step.

I tie myself , my back

and make sure I’m okay.

And I make it to village.

I lay on three month ‘n lay on bed for my back.

That’s what it means, ts’edoghenii.

Don’t run into something you can’t do.

But I’m very strong.

I work just like man. Nothing to it.

And I bring that whole moose in the village.

Everybody can’t believe I did it.

I go through real hard.

I always think though,

“I can't do. I can't do. Why not?”

I always do run into something hard.

But I always win. I always bring back.

That’s what it mean, the life.

Good life.

Every each day,

different life.

Every, each day you gotta work different.

Other time, maybe you prepare you wood.

Other time you goin’ go out pickin’ berries.

Other time you goin’ go out look for Native medicine.

‘Cause goin’ be covered with snow, you not goin’ have medicine.

Gotta’ pick all those medicine

for winter time.

And you gotta get tea out there.

You have to do lotta way on the land.

Summertime our fresh foods are:

rhubarb, wild rhubarb, mushroom, raspberries,

salmonberries, blueberries, cranberries, high bush berries.

We so glad to see summertime, (indiscernible)

But hard to keep blueberries wintertime.

No ‘frigerator.

We have antique, big barrels

we put all full with blueberries

and we put between sugar one bucket. And we put sugar between.

It take, have lot o’ juice.

Back days, I don’t know that much.

Right now I catch blueberries juice.

I make, add up, I boil it,

I add up with water,

I gots my cranberries juice. blueberries juice.

I make it certain way.

Not really English way I do different way.

I make it my own juice.

But back days I don’t know why I never did. We waste lot of blueberries juice.

‘N lot o’ way,

sometime you food spoil on you.

But you gotta keep try, keep learn.

‘Nother day to be learn.