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Susie Williams
Susie Williams

We taped together in the bedroom of Susie's daughter-in-law's home in Fairbanks on November 16, 1992. We have worked together taping information extensively before so this situation was very familiar and comfortable. We began by talking about her family and her life growing up around Allakaket. Among the key people she mentions in addition to her parents and her Uncle, Billy Bergman, is her grandmother, Old Maggie. She also talks about the early days of Allakaket as a village and the founding of the Episcopal Mission. After her father died, Susie and her mother had to work very hard to support the family. She went on to talk about the epidemic of 1925 when many people in Allakaket died. Various sources suggest that between 18 and 24 people passed away that summer. The missionaries sent Edward Bergman to warn people not to come into the village. When they got back to the village from spring camp, they camped outside of town. Susie's mother went to help the sick and grieving, but Susie was pregnant with her daughter Alice who was born that summer, so she stayed in the camp. Susie talked about her life as an adult with her first husband, including a little of how they made a living and his death. Then she talked about moving down to Hughes and later marrying Lavine. Later in the tape she talks in greater detail about how they moved to Hughes living first with her Uncle Alfred Isaac and his wife, Julia. Her comments on living in Hughes include mention of many people who then lived in the Hughes area, both Native people, and white miners and storekeepers like Joe Hoagland, Jack Sackett, and George Light. Susie and Lavine had a winter camp in a nice place about 40 miles below Hughes where they trapped and hunted. Their son, Bill, has a house there now. In commenting about the hunting and trapping they did, Susie remarks that the animals are more dangerous today than they were in earlier times. She refers specifically to recent problems with grizzly bears. She goes on to describe some of the activities of the early missionaries including Hudson Stuck, Miss Hines, and Dr. Burke. Then, responding to a question she talks about potlatches; their history, what happens at one, and why they are held. Her comments on potlatches conclude with a discussion of singing, for Susie is a talented Native singer and composer of songs. The tape concludes with her comments on some of the important lessons life has taught her, and some messages to Park visitors and employees. The life lessons are a confirmation of the values her mother imparted: don't use cross words with friends; don't be mean -- nice people live longer; never lie; treat each other well; and show hospitality to visitors. To Park employees and visitors she emphasizes the need for communication and listening to one another, the importance of sharing information and helping each other with the knowledge we have. She talks about how people help one another if they are to get along. She expresses concern about the Native corporations and the fate of the "afterborns," those born after 1971 who were originally denied the right to hold stock in the Native corporations. At the end of the tape, she observes that there aren't many old people around anymore to transmit the values and lessons people have learned in the past. She reiterates the idea that we are all dependent on one another. To live, we must all take care of ourselves and each other.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-45

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Nov 16, 1992
Narrator(s): Susie Williams
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) Her background and growing up

2) About the epidemic of 1925

3) Her family life as an adult

4) Moving to Hughes

5) Winter camp

6) Missionaries at Allakaket

7) Moving down to Alfred Isaac's house

8) About the meaning of the potlatch

9) What happens at potlatch

10) Singing at potlatch

11) Important lessons from life

12) Message to visitors or park employees

13) Concluding remarks

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, October 25, 1905\ mother\ Ida\ father\ Leon\ father's brother\ Bergman, Billy\ Cutoff\ mother -- Dalby\ Allakaket -- parents moved to\ father's mother\ Old Maggie\ mother's mother\ Maggie -- also named\ Arctic City\ Allakaket -- six miles below, big village\ missionaries -- offered to build mission\ church\ baptism -- first name in the book\ Koyukuk River -- no white people around in old days\ Yukon River -- lots of white people\ school -- Allakaket\ father -- died early; at nine, had to help out so not much school\ mother -- went out hunting\ Allakaket -- grew fast|

Section 2: epidemic -- 1925; half the people died\ distemper -- from two girls playing with dog\ Fourth of July\ Mariah, Grandma\ Ned, Simon\ Old Man River -- spring; birch for snowshoes\ lining -- upriver, below Allakaket\ illness -- got warning not to come in\ Bergman, Edward -- sent by mission to warn\ camp -- set up and waited\ mother -- wanted to help with the sick and grieving\ adults -- went across\ Alice -- daughter was born and husband went over\ summer -- went back to camp; a few kids died\ Nulato -- doctor came up\ illness -- from dry meat\ fish -- didn't come right away; hard\ supplies -- had to come from store|

Section 3: children -- three from first husband\ husband -- first died\ inlaws -- lived with\ grandfather\ fish trap -- setting, taking care\ winter -- kids work on fish traps\ fish trap -- description\ Old Man River -- set trap around August\ fish -- many kinds|

Section 4: Hughes -- moved there in 1942\ parents -- moved before married\ Williams, Susie and Lavine -- 1933\ Williams, Lavine -- adopted by old people\ father -- died young\ Henry, Mathew -- married Lavine's adopted sister\ Beetus, Joe and Celia\ Abraham and Martha\ Matthew\ house -- Hughes\ Old Man Attla\ Annie\ Attla, George\ Chief John and Mary\ Mark, Laura\ William, Uncle\ Sammie and Sophie\ Attla, George and Liza\ Bifelt, Fred and Helen\ Beetus -- Henry and Annie\ Madeline\ daughter\ Lisa\ Bessie\ Sophie\ fun -- very important\ Cutoff -- lots of meat\ animals -- if we handle live animal, it won't come back\ agencies -- wildlife people fool with mink, will go away\ white people\ miners\ Light, George -- store manager\ Hoagland, Joe -- old miner\ Hughes -- school\ trapping -- at camp all winter\ husband -- go to mining camp in summer|

Section 5: Hughes -- forty miles below\ Bill -- house there, nice place\ trapping\ country -- good, many moose; rabbits; marten; dogs\ river -- house on\ river house -- 1950's, good times\ today -- animals are dangerous; grizzly bear\ Allakaket|

Section 6: Stuck, Archdeacon -- good friend\ Fairbanks -- Stuck came from\ winter -- Stuck traveled\ Burke, Dr -- fell in love with woman there\ Natives -- helped missionaries\ Butler, George\ Tobuk, James\ Burke, Dr.\ Hines, Miss\ marriage -- in Allakaket\ school\ Stuck -- brought candy; traveled widely\ Bettles\ Wiseman\ Kobuk River\ Kotzebue\ Nome\ Arctic Village\ Stuck -- had help\ sled -- bought by Stuck; broke|

Section 7: mother\ Julia, Auntie\ Alfred, Uncle\ house -- between Hughes and Allakaket\ hunting -- good down there; invited us\ Isaac, Alfred\ snares -- rabbit\ trapping -- muskrats\ missionaries -- came way out there by dog team\ translate -- for mother\ Thomas, Mr. -- missionary who overnighted there\ Kotzebue\ Episcopal missionary|

Section 8: potlatch -- long history\ people -- gather this way\ father -- died when I was still too small to travel\ today -- easy to move around; money\ airplane\ fur -- used to be good business\ today -- hard times\ mining -- going down too\ potlatch -- not enough to bury dead, still don't forget\ potlatch -- much work; gather; hunt; cook\ people -- relieved by potlatch|

Section 9: social reciprocity -- people who helped at funeral are helped at potlatch\ gifts -- parkies, boots, mitts, jackets\ funeral -- lot of work; cleaning the body, cooking, sewing\ potlatch -- pay them back\ emotions -- release from mourning\ old days -- had potlatch outside\ Kotzebue\ Kobuk River\ Shungnak\ Ambler\ travel -- to coast for supplies\ Kobuk River -- meeting place\ fur -- traded for goods\ fur -- parkies, pants, boots, rope\ rope -- ugruk skin\ ugruk -- skin rope\ fence -- make with it\ potlatch -- outdoors, big fire\ daytime -- singing\ songs\ cloth dance -- make circle with cloth; pass it around; bolts wound together\ boot seal -- canvas; give pieces to people\ rope -- cut up for snow shoes, pass around\ supplies -- make good use of all|

Section 10: songs -- made for the person\ qualities -- of deceased, i.e. good hunter; fast runner; hard worker; kind; helpful\ today -- don't know how to put words in songs\ old times -- people really smart, learned from their elders\ emotions -- be joyful about it, not sad\ people -- talking ill of others is not nice|

Section 11: mother -- lesson: don't ever say cross words to friends; don't be mean\ life -- the nice live long\ truth -- never lie to people\ life -- we all need each other; treat each other good\ visitors -- give them something, give them tea\ sharing|

Section 12: communication -- some want to talk, others don't\ listening -- we tell them what we know\ white people -- they have helped a lot\ knowledge -- they know a lot\ Beetus, Norman\ lesson -- learn, watch, listen\ people -- getting along, helping one another\ afterborns -- want those born after 1971 to get stock\ Native corporations\ amendments\ generations -- they come after us\ provisions -- almost everything is there\ laws -- some are bum, some O.K.|

Section 13: old people -- hardly any around anymore\ values -- have to think of everybody in this world\ dependence -- we lose people all the time; too much\ old ways\ living -- we have to try to make, don't take our lives\ hope -- that people will take care of themselves and each other|