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Jacob Ahwinona
Jacob Ahwinona
Jacob Ahwinona talks about the Native role in gold mining in Nome.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2007-03-03

Project: Nome Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Feb 3, 1996
Narrator(s): Jacob Ahwinona
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Native ancestors knowing the land and how to survive

Eskimo knowledge of gold

Jacob's grandfather staking a gold claim

Starting the Covenant Church

Real story of finding gold in Nome and respecting people of different races

Importance of sharing and not being greedy

Knowing where the gold is and difference in value placed on gold

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


I'm going to stand up, I got tired of sitting down. My name is Jacob Ahwinona, I'm a full-blooded Eskimo. Now the history of Nome, I'd like to get into that.

You know our forefathers they walked up in this area, the Seward Peninsula area, all over right down to the coast here, they walked, they never used the snow machine, no four-wheeler, or car or anything, they walked during the summer.

They knew every inch of this Seward Peninsula area, right down to the beach, even the water out there; they knew that, 'cause they had to survive.

You ask those old-timers, the Eskimo, they taught me, they got unwritten laws they taught me. Eskimos have unwritten laws, they pass on down generations. My great great grandpa passed them to my grandpa and my grandpa passed them to my dad, and my dad passed them on to me.

So, that's the way it was, which I never forgot it. So like I said, they knew the land, the water, the weather, 'cause they had to survive.

Now the history of Nome; who found the gold up here? I tell you one thing; they never asked the Eskimo that knows the land up here where that gold was.

They're the ones that know where that gold is. They knew, before the white man came. On the history of Nome here, it hurts me to see the advertisement, "Three lucky Swedes found the first gold rush in Nome"- that's all baloney.

Eskimos were the ones; they knew where that gold was before the white man came. But they just didn't know the value of that gold. I'm not saying it just to be saying it, I'm telling you the truth.

My grandpa, he was here in Nome, when the first missionaries came, he saw the first one and said to him, "You come up here for gold, too?"

He said, "No." My grandpa said, "What did you come up here for?" "Oh, I'm here to spread the good word, the gospel." "Oh, you're not interested in gold?"

He said, "No." "Okay, I can still tell you where that gold is, up here." That was before the three Swedes got word of that, see.

"You know where it is? Is there gold?" "Yea, I know where it is." "You want to stake it?" He said, "I never staked claims before, I don't know how."

He said, "I'll stake it for you. You bring me to where the richest spot up Anvil Creek up there, and I'll stake it for you.

" "Will you do it for me?" He said,"Yea, how much you want?" He said, "Nothing." He couldn't believe it. "You mean you don't want anything for that?" "No, I'll help you; I just come here to help you."

"OK, I'll take you up there." So he took him up there. "You see that grass there?" "Yea." He pulled that grass out. "See all that gold? He picked it up.

"See all that gold. See, it's there." Ok, he staked the claim for him, and my grandpa, he had that worked, took over $500,000 in gold, in fine golden nuggets out of that, so the white man jumped him.

Anyhow, that's the history of Nome. That's the truth, not just a hearsay.

So, after he got that gold, the white man said to him, "I want to take you outside and give you an education. You've got all that money, we can put you through school."

So with him, and some others they took a boat-they had no airplane in those days, they took a boat and went out.

Was going to go to school out there. You know, when he got out there they killed him for that gold; they took that gold and beat it on down to South America.

The only thing that ever came back from my grandpa was that suitcase and his clothes.

Anyhow, we did a good thing, though-you know that Covenant Church, that was started by that money he took out there.

That Covenant Church was built out of that money. That was the one good thing that came out of it.

But- you think I'm angry at the white man; heck no. I just feel sorry for them; that doesn't bother me. No.

You know the history of Nome, when they say the three lucky Swedes found that Nome, they strike gold in Nome, that's baloney.

I just wanted to get that thing straightened out. It's the truth, its not baloney. I'm not saying it just to be saying it. I'm telling you the truth, like it is.

I'm calling those people (the three lucky Swedes)- I'm calling them the three crooked Swedes; they took advantage of the Eskimo. You think I hate them for that, no I just feel sorry for them. You know, I was taught respect, from my grandparents and my parents.

You respect your fellow man no matter who it is. You don't look at the color of the skin. If he's a white man, a black man, yellow man, it doesn't make any difference.

You treat him like yourself. If he's hungry you feed him, if he needs help, you help him. Yea, that's the way I was taught. And I still believe it up to now. It is the truth they told me, and I hope I've lived up to it.

You know, there's lots of gold out there yet, they never tear all that gold out. No, we're just starting. Why did I say that?

You know, there's just one thing I never could understand, just one thing: if a white man is so smart, why didn't he go for that mother lode?

That's one thing, that mother lode is right there, right back of us and who knows where it is? I know where it is.

Eskimos know where it is, but Eskimos got unwritten laws, they have confidentiality in their own groups, and families, you don't let out information that's going to be not good for anybody else but the greed.

Most Eskimos are not greedy. We share and share alike. But my teachings are, if a person is greedy, he won't get nowhere.

It's the greed that spoil's his living conditions. But to me, long as I've got something to eat, I'm happy.

It doesn't have to be the gold, heck that gold is nothing. It doesn't bother me a bit. I know it's there, but to me as long as I got something to eat, a roof over my head, I'm warm, I'm happy.

You know, that gold, that ruins people-the one thing that ruins them are the people who want everything for themselves.

It doesn't work out that way. If you're going to get something out like that, you have to share it with everybody, share and share alike. That's the only way it will work. Anybody that comes up here looking for gold-the white man did-they walked right over it, they didn't even know it was there.

They walked right over it, they didn't even know it was there. I can show them where it is. Did I go to school for that? No. Some people are gifted.

You know, the least person you expect to see that can tell you something like that would be someone you wouldn't even least expect them to know about that.

People-they have a different views of life, and this gold, if we get it right, use it right, according to laws, it will be nice, but most of it is used for greediness.

So that's how come miners and all that when they look for gold they walk right over it and they still don't see it.

If I want it, I'll walk out there, I'll look at it-it's right there-why the heck didn't he look there?