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Alfred and Mildred Jonathan
Alfred and Mildred Johnathan

Alfred and Mildred Jonathan were interviewed on December 11, 2013 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at their home in Tanacross, Alaska. Mildred had to leave for work, so the first half hour of the interview is focused on her. Alfred continues to be interviewed alone, and continues on tape ORAL HISTORY 2013-14-04, PT.2. In this first part of a two part interview, Mildred talks about growing up in a traditional subsistence household where she learned to sew, hunt and trap at a young age. She also talks about teaching the young people, her work at the culture camp, and the importance of passing along this knowledge. Alfred talks about growing up in a large family and living with his grandmother, living off the land by hunting, trapping, and fishing, and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's impact on hunting and land use. He also discusses the importance of Native values and identity, and his personal struggle with alcohol.

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Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-04, PT.1

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Dec 11, 2013
Narrator(s): Alfred Jonathan, Mildred Jonathan
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Barbara Cellarius
Videographer: Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
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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Mildred's family background

Growing up in Old Tanacross and Mansfield and going hunting with her father

Knowing the old ways and traditions

Making her first pair of mukluks

Store and garden in Old Tanacross

Respect and listening to elders

Berry picking and gathering roots

Summer culture camp

Mildred's father's subsistence hunting and trapping area

Fish and fishing

Effect of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on sheep hunting

Changes in Tanacross

Alfred's family background and growing up

Native values, respect and spiritual beliefs

Traditional subsistence use area

Getting along with, listening to, and helping people

Behavior and activities as a youth

Respect for animals and reciprocity

Negative effects of alcohol and benefits of being sober

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LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. So I'll just say hello, Mildred and Alfred Jonathan. Thank you so much and we’re in Tanacross today.

Barbara Cellarius and I’m Leslie McCartney and it's December the 11th (2013). BARABARA CELLARIUS: Yes

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And Mildred, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about your family.

So you tell us whatever you’d like about maybe your parents and who they were and where they were born and where they traveled.

MILDRED JONATHAN: My parents are Kenneth and Ellen Thomas. My dad was born in Mansfield and so was my mom.

My dad became a mother and dad for five of his brothers and sisters at the age of 12 'cause my grandparents died two days -- or two hours apart.

And he did a good job of raising his sisters and brothers.

My mom -- I could remember lived a subsistence life in Mansfield and my grandmother. I, too, lived a subsist -- subsistence life.

And using moccasin mukluks I have nothing to do with them stuff.

I make them, but I wouldn’t wear them. Why? Because I was grown -- raised in that thing.

Not -- I’m saying I’m too good for it or anything. If you were in my shoes, you would feel the same way.

I don’t wear any kind of beadwork. I don’t wear any kind of beaded gloves.

Why? Because I was raised in it. Part of it I guess.

And you would never get me to go back to outdoor bathroom ever again.

My mom is from Mansfield. Her name is Ellen Thomas -- Ellen Joseph Thomas and she had 12 children and out of the 12 there's 10 of us.

The oldest one -- I have three kids and two grandkids. My grandchildren are my pride and joy. They’re my life.

I will do anything to protect and I'll teach them what I know about subsistence, language.

I’m working with the language part right now. But, I’m here to share with you what little I know.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: So did you grow up in Mansfield or in Tanacross?


BARABARA CELLARIUS: How old were you when you came to Tanacross?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Oh, I was born there.



BARABARA CELLARIUS: Old Tanacross. So across the river. ALFRED JONATHAN: Yep. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. Yep.

ALFRED JONATHAN: 1947, she was born.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And did your father have a trapline, Mildred? MILDRED JONATHAN: Yes.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And whereabouts -- do you where -- did you go out on the traplines with him at all or --

MILDRED JONATHAN: No, I pretty much went out duck hunting and muskrat and moose with my dad. Caribou, yeah.

He wanted me to be a boy, I guess, and I was a girl. He treated me like a boy.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: Did your brothers go trapping with your dad?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Not -- not really.


MILDRED JONATHAN: A little bit. They didn’t go out moose -- cutting up moose or bringing in moose or nothing. I don’t think they took life seriously. I mean nobody did. Nobody bothered to learn anything back in my days.

I took the time and now I feel like important person because people are asking me about stuff and things that they should know themselves, but --

BARABARA CELLARIUS: What are some of the things that they ask you about?

MILDRED JONATHAN: How they're related and the -- you know, Native people had laws. BARABARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Um -- stuff like the laws, relation, the value of dancing, the value of the drum, beading, tanning skin, stuff like that.

People should just know that right along with me, but nobody took the time.

Right now I'm just working with three other girls -- little girls and I’m trying to work with them to show them how to make gloves.

And hopefully it'll go more than that. Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But your mother taught you more of those skills?

MILDRED JONATHAN: At seven years old I make my own slippers. My -- I started off with mukluks. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: And um which was a mistake. A big, big, big mistake 'cause the band was like this wide, that long, and every mistake you made she tears it off. So, I can’t make two or three stitches. I have to be right on the button.

Almost gave up because she tore it apart too many times, but then you have to look at that way, too, because when you're trying to hurry, you don’t want to -- you don’t want to be -- you don’t want to be hurry.

You don’t want to -- I mean you have to do it with pride, with joy, but by God I tell you when I got that mukluks done, put it together, and proudly I walkt up to my grandpa.

Grandpa, I make my mukluks. He took my foot and looked at it. I don’t have to worry about you. You'll make it in life, he told me.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: So the mukluks were with moose hide?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you have to learn how to tan the hides, too, Mildred?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. My mother and my aunt both tanned. Yep.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And they'd be using the brains and using the rotten wood and --


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Does anybody tan skins now?



MILDRED JONATHAN: They -- they just make it easy -- so easy just to buy, you know, just nothing.

There’s no such thing as store back in my days. You can’t get a hold of a pair of shoes or anything easy.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Sears Roebuck. MILDRED JONATHAN: Nowadays you can just go and find shoes.

New pair of shoes on the streets. Uh-huh.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: Was there any kind of store in Tanacross when you were young -- a trading post?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Later on in life.

ALFRED JONATHAN: There was Native store.

MILDRED JONATHAN: They pretty much sold groceries.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: We were in Tetlin last night and they were talking about the big gardens that they used to have there. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did Tanacross ever have big gardens?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Oh, yeah. Everybody -- ALFRED JONATHAN: Everybody had.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah, this was part of growing up that we knew what we had to do. I had to plant garden, dig garden, go and get the fish, stuff that my mom and grandma was teaching me -- just --

it was just for my own sake -- my own good. And all that time I thought they were using me for slavery. No, it was part of growing.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So the fish were the fertilizer?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. That and eating.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: What -- Do you remember what kind of fish?



MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. They had pikes, too, but pikes was just for eating. BARABARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: So even your parents had big gardens when they were growing up?


BARABARA CELLARIUS: So was it a family garden or was there was a big garden that everybody in the community worked on?

MILDRED JONATHAN: No, it was their -- ALFRED JONATHAN: They got their own. MILDRED JONATHAN: Their own garden.

BARABARA CELLARIUS: Everybody had their own.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Back of the house. In front of the house, wherever -- wherever it's plantable. Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: They got three rows of house. BARABARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: All garden in between the three. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: And them grandmas and they really protect it, too, cause young kids steal it.

MILDRED JONATHAN: We weren’t allowed to play -- we weren’t allowed to play in the garden or --

I mean people nowadays just they don’t care and they don’t respect or what -- what it was but even in the fish camp, you know. When fish is running -- BARABARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: You have to be very quiet. Fish will hear you. You’ll scare the fish away.

And we respected that because, you know, we don’t want to lose any fish for my grandma and grandpa and my family, you know. So when you’re told something, you take it seriously. BARABARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: And do as you’re told. You don’t just say come in or else I’ll ground you, you know.

You just -- you’re told and if you do it, you know that you won’t get in trouble not by whipping you or anything. You just weren’t allowed to do other things that other kids do, you know.

So we had to obey the law. Obey my grandma and grandpa. When you’re told not to play out there we weren’t allowed to go swim in the fish water, and we weren’t allowed to make any noise and have to respect that.

When you’re told something it's for a reason. It's not for anything. It's for a reason.

ALFRED JONATHAN: A lot of it is just discipline. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: But it is respect and discipline.

MILDRED JONATHAN: But right now if you tell a kid that, he'll tell you to go jump in the river, you know. It’s -- they don’t have any --

ALFRED JONATHAN: It’s really -- MILDRED JONATHAN: Pride and joy in anything that they do.

You know, like when you go to a camp you’re supposed to be very quiet. You know, you’re in the woods. You’re not in New York City.

You’re always afraid that ani -- you know, animal will come and be on the look out at all time because you never know it's gonna up -- bear, moose, anything.

Um -- and I notice kids nowadays when you tell them to do something, they don’t do it. They get mad or they know -- they know it all.

I know, you know. I don’t care for those words and I just lose interest. There's really no interest in sewing, you know.

When a person goes some place to do something for free, my God, like making a hat, you know, I want to teach these people how to sew, but when you get the word out nobody shows up.

Same thing in tanning.

But when you invite white people, sure they'll be there. You know, it's hard to get Natives to do something.

And then when it's time for them to do something they’ll use this word excuse nobody ever taught us.

To me I don’t want to use any kind of language, but to me it's just all a lie because I was here. I offered it. You didn’t show up. You didn’t come, you know. So there.

Yeah, I was raised in the Native way back when there was even no aspirin. You know, when we were -- we were hardly sick.

Of course, there’s no doctors or nothing. I gave birth to my children at home. So there was really no doctors to run to.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what was the change then, Mildred, what changed?

Is it schools, was it -- what made it change from the children not to respecting, do you know?


MILDRED JONATHAN: Nintendo games, alcohol, drugs, free hand down, free this and that, I think cause you don’t --

I mean if you’re getting this for nothing, you don’t have to do nothing why bother to do this, you know. That’s what I think.

Yeah, back when we were growing up we had no TV, no radio or nothing. It's just -- we were told to go to sleep at nine o’clock we better be in bed by nine, you know.

There's nothing about that, but if you tell a kid to go to school -- I mean go to bed at nine they’ll go to asleep at 12 o’clock.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: When you were younger, did you go berry picking with your --


MILDRED JONATHAN: Roots, edible roots and roots for baskets and stuff. Went all over. Mushrooms.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you get those they call them Indian potatoes?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: And what’s the word does the -- what’s your word for them?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you have a word for -- ?

ALFRED JONATHAN: Tsaath. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Tsaath. The Ahtna word is very close. ALFRED JONATHAN: Yeah. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.



ALFRED JONATHAN: Nice full stash.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do people still go out and collect them in the summertime -- berries and -- ?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: How about the roots? Do you still collect roots? MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And what kind of roots did you use to make baskets?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Not used to -- what kind of use?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: What kind of roots do you use -- MILDRED JONATHAN: Roots do you use. BARBARA CELLARIUS:To make baskets?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah. Spruce roots. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Spruce roots, okay. MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah. Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you go up north towards Mansfield or south or just around the village?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Around the village -- Mansfield, on the river, wherever.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: But mostly around here. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Between here and Mansfield. ALFRED JONATHAN: You got to find it around them lakes. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.


ALFRED JONATHAN: That's where you find it. You can’t find dry spot. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: There you have to soak it if you try to find a dry spot. You have to wet it.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: And then take off the first little bit of it? MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Just use the inner part?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. A lot of work. A lot of work to it, but -- oh, it’s good money. There's money out there on the land. You just got to find it.

ALFRED JONATHAN: I think the purpose of the camp -- summer camp -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: To keep that -- hang onto those stuff. We're slowly going away. Slowly --

MILDRED JONATHAN: It's not going away. It's dying.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Too fast -- too fast them young one that match.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That's like a summer cultural camp that you run?

ALFRED JONATHAN: Yeah. Most of it is in there. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Is it up at Mansfield? ALFRED JONATHAN: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. ALFRED JONATHAN: They have two weeks. Sometimes 10 days.

Now it's shorter, cause like she say, you talk to some of them kids. They’re like -- you’re better off talk to a stump. They're not interested.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So did you work and teach in the cultural camps, Mildred? MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

ALFRED JONATHAN: We kind of mix it up with some white people that can handle them kids.

So we try anything. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Anything that can work.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when did the cultural camps start up there?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Usually in June.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Um, but maybe like 10 years ago started or like -- ? (Phone ringing)

ALFRED JONATHAN: Oh, a long time.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Long time. Um. (Phone ringing)

BARBARA CELLARIUS: I wanted to ask your -- when you went hunting with your dad. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you again -- were you going up towards Mansfield?

Where did you go hunting with your dad?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Mansfield, Big Hill, Wolf Lake, up on the river.

What the heck’s name of that lake now?



LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you want a marker, Mildred, to mark it down where you used to go?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Mansfield Village, yeah. Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you said Wolf Lake. Is this Big Hill? MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Mark it down, maybe?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So, okay, Mansfield Village. You said Wolf Lake. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Up on that hill.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Fairplay Mountain is here. Taylor Highway.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: That’s up further, I think.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. Through here.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: That -- yeah, that’s Mount Fairplay. Also, up along here? MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. I dont' --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did your family hunt sheep or goats in the mountains at all, Mildred?


MILDRED JONATHAN: We pretty much the caribou, muskrat, moose, fish and stuff like that.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they did a lot of trapping and ratting?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Are there still rats in the lakes or has that changed?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Ah, I think it's slowed down a little bit. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah, I remember we used to bring in 500 muskrat.


MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah, but we didn’t keep it for ourself either. We shared it with the village. Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So has there been change in animals then over the years from when you were younger through now?

MILDRED JONATHAN: I think so, yeah.




MILDRED JONATHAN: Like the pikes. You can’t get them. They used to have eating pikes in May in that Fish Creek. We can’t get them any more.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, wow. MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah, they would be --


MILDRED JONATHAN: -- four or five foot.


MILDRED JONATHAN: And they used to get em with dogs -- dog -- dog pack -- walking, you know. They’d walk up there and get it and then bring it back and share it with the villages.

We didn’t have freezers or anything back in the day.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: With the pike, did you preserve any of it or mostly eat it fresh?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Eat it fresh. You can’t preserve -- you probably can, but I don’t like --


LESLIE McCARTNEY: The whitefish -- you can dry whitefish -- MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- nice.

MILDRED JONATHAN: So I remember either eat it fresh or dry.


MILDRED JONATHAN: There’s no putting away

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you ever get any salmon?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-uh. Once in a blue moon somebody would catch salmon, but it'd be all gone. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So the pike today are smaller and just fewer?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: We get salmon, but it has to be from Copper area. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Copper. Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Chistochina area.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do people share it with you?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. ALFRED JONATHAN: Relative go down and then they get some fish.


MILDRED JONATHAN: We have to give them some fish, too, in order to like -- yeah.

ALFRED JONATHAN: We kind of trade.


Even that one changed. You use the wheel (fish wheel) down there or ask people. Some give and some change.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. ALFRED JONATHAN: There's a difference.

So that's why I asked about finding a little spot where you can fish.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. ALFRED JONATHAN: But it didn’t work out too good.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: No -- it’s -- we can’t reserve places.


MILDRED JONATHAN: No, I was thinking of going down to that guy’s place. What’s -- what’s his name? ALFRED JONATHAN: Angus.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Angus Dewitt. He had a place down there and I was gonna see if they could let the village have that place -- not have but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, but use the wheel?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Yeah, use our own wheel. I mean build wheel here and take it down.

And then take it out when we need to, you know, that way everybody in the village would get --

ALFRED JONATHAN: He's got a niece, I think. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.


MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. That way we don’t have to go all the way down to Copper Center cause it's pretty spendy.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, it’s a long way.

MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. BARBARA CELLARIUS: And from what I’ve heard in the past Angus’ wheel -- that area fished good.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: So when they established the park down there, did that interrupt any of your subsistence or did it affect your village at all or anything?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: You know when they made the park -- When they --


LESLIE McCARTNEY: When they made the St. Elias -- Wrangell St. Elias Park, did that -- did that cause any problems for your village or for you at all?

MILDRED JONATHAN: I think -- I think so because people -- his dad used to trap down Seventeen Mile around that corner around there.


MILDRED JONATHAN: You don’t see any fur or anything down that way like you used to. People used to go sheep hunting and stuff. Now you got to go all the way out.

Like my nephew gets a plane and fly out in order to bring home something. Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: I think there's only one, two sheep hunters nowadays. Not too many.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: In the village?

ALFRED JONATHAN: Back when her dad and my dad and them were younger, like in 30’s and 40’s. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: That's when there was a lot of sheep hunters. But nowadays just a few. Not very many.

Too much that you got to have that permit. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Go in and you got to have -- it's not really open. You have to fly out or you can hunt right up here, but --

LBARBARA CELLARIUS: When you say you were -- you were pointing some place nearby. Is that over by Tok?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: That you -- that people would hunt sheep? Where would people hunt sheep?

MILDRED JONATHAN: Up on the range. ALFRED JONATHAN: Right back here that’s toward -- MILDRED JONATHAN: Alaska Range.


MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh. ALFRED JONATHAN: Tok Cutoff -- so came out -- yeah.


ALFRED JONATHAN: They hunt all over. All the way down to Sheep Creek, Yard Creek, and down Mentasta area.



LESLIE McCARTNEY: Mildred, you must have seen a lot of changes then in Tanacross over your life?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can we talk about what changes you’ve seen that you haven’t talked about yet?

MILDRED JONATHAN: I told you part of it already. Really nothing much I can do because, you know, they are other people’s kids. You can’t really force anybody to do anything so --

I’m kind of uncomfortable going to culture camps and stuff like that because I don’t -- I see no interest in it no where.

People take -- they don’t take pride in what they do. They don’t do it or to learn. They don’t do it to keep.

There's just nothing and I worry about kids nowadays. I worry about their survival cause none of them is going to pick it up.

They don’t take the time, you know. I know, cause I grew up with girls and boys my age right now will come and ask me about something.

And the most want to say why didn’t you take the time like I did, but I never said it that way. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: For anybody to learn anything and for anybody that wants to learn they need to stop what they’re doing and get into -- when somebody's cutting fish or cutting meat.

When somebody's putting boots together or somebody’s tanning moose skin stop what you’re doing and take the time to visit so you can learn. That’s how I learned.

Nobody taught me how to make moccasins. It's just sitting down with my aunt and helping with the babiche and helping with the moose skin and stuff like that, you know.

You ask any kid about tanning, they wouldn’t even know where to start. And it's sad because, you know, like I wanted to.

I wanted to teach, but I gotta say it's hard to get people together and you can’t say , "Get over here and sit down and learn," because they're other people’s kids. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

MILDRED JONATHAN: So -- I’m at the borderline of quitting -- shutting down. So with that I'm going to leave you guys and --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Thank you, Mildred. MILDRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You've got to go to work. Thank you. I’ll just turn this off for a minute. ALFRED JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So, yeah, we’re back with Alfred. Mildred had to go to work.

So, Alfred, can you tell us a little bit about -- first of all, when you were born and then a bit about your family and your parents and your grandparents.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Okay. I was born in 1943 in Old Tanacross Village. My mom and dad had, gosh about over 12 -- 12 kids cause most of them back then over there have 10 to 14. or some of them had more. More kids -- they had big family -- large family.

And today I look back and say I honor those people, my mom, my dad. Gosh, how can they raise that large family and here I only have three. Only have three kids.

I grew up in that old village and it was BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school. Just school and I didn’t really take it -- really didn’t take it.

I wasn’t interested in learning anything. Just get away from home and go to school.

And we grew up kind of rough, just tough -- rough -- tough and hard. That’s how we grew up.

We -- today I look at it and I said -- I think most of it is good. It's even though right now I have TV and you don’t have to dress up and stuff like that, but when I was younger you have to dress up. You have to cause that wood's going to run out.

You got to help -- daily -- every day people work. You got to have wood. You got to have -- you got to have this. Nobody stay home.

Once everybody wake up everybody out the door. Nobody home, just the mom. And that's how we grew up. It's not very much stuff -- just few -- few -- I like it.

I like the -- when I was growing up I think I like it -- I like the growing up cause it's like pretty darn close to Tom Sawyer and them style like you don’t care what you wear.


ALFRED JONATHAN: You can -- jeans, old shirt, old T-shirt.

And then when we were younger, we smoke cigarettes, so we spend most of our time in woods and other places, like take a smoke and stuff like that.

But it's -- I think I was fifth -- middle out of my family. I think I was the fifth one that's born.


ALFRED JONATHAN: So in workshop I always hear that your family the oldest one, the youngest one, the mom and dad will pay attention to more.

And the middle people -- middle kids, like me, pretty much on your own -- pretty much survive. I think that's why I survive.

I think I pretty much -- I was lucky. I think I was lucky. And then I went out from my mom and my dad’s and them I think 16 years old I went to live with my grandma.

I was -- I’m done with that family, so I move out because I don’t want.

That’s one part where white people and Native people have to understand it. That's part of growing up. It's part of lesson. I don’t want to hear no more of this crying and arguing and this kind of thing. I’m going to move on.

So I move and I don’t want to listen to no more of that stuff and I think I can handle my -- take care of myself.

So I stayed with my grandma. I’m more comfortable with my grandma. She -- she --

we get along. I make tea. I make -- I like what she eat that old-fashioned stuff. Bannock, fry meat, fish and the salmon, dry salmon --

all of them subsistence, old -- you don’t have to eat too much just the right stuff you eat and that's what I want. That's how I like it.

And my grandma, she -- every grandma is important I think in kid’s life (phone ringing). They have to -- I got in -- I got into alcohol.

After that I got into alcohol and I drank about six years alcohol -- six -- almost killed me, but I was lucky to -- to somehow I quit.

I quit and Mildred’s mom, Ellen. I don’t think you know her, but she's a very kind woman. She's very -- anybody can like her. She's very -- she's a hard work -- worker.

She's one of them that had a bunch of kids, too, and she -- she's good hearted lady.

She get along with people -- get along with elders. She help out a lot of elders like that.

But I think back when I was a kid to pretty much getting into that modern stuff. Same time we changed, too, us -- we changed -- pretty soon like -- like what I say.

You leave your family behind and then you advance and I advanced. I went ahead, and then I said my family is right there but I got to on -- on my own.

Then some -- some of them kids they stick with their family all their life. They’re the ones that's trouble.

That they -- they -- their mom and dad have to watch over them like pretty much all their life. The mom and dad -- that’s why when -- that’s why when our grandma or grandpa or dad’s or mom when they’re gone, they say they worry.

When they're ready to go, they say they worry about certain one. And say I'm going to worry about this one you watch them for me, that they leave their last word. But they say for you, I can see you take care of yourself, so I’m not worry about you.

You take care of your family, like that and that’s how it was. That’s how Native are. They worry about their -- so a lot of them I -- not much you can help them out with, but you can talk to them that’s about it.

But you can just -- I think it’s important people that say -- like a family, all Native -- even white people that knows us -- people that get along with us we all need to -- we’re on this earth just a short while.

We need to get along. We need to understand each other. And some of them they -- they don’t like to listen to one another cause -- cause some of them they -- when they make speech or when they talk it's pretty much about just themself.

It’s -- it’s not -- the message is not going out to people to use it. I think it is what they're saying.

But they -- when they make speech pretty much just themself. They want to make -- they want to be known. They want to be -- so I --

when they make speech I really listen to it. I want to see what's the point in the -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: See what they're trying to says or they're saying it different, but some are good speakers, some are not.

Like that Obama. He's got that talent of catching people’s ear and then he knows how to -- he knows how to talk.

And that’s what Native people need -- they need to listen -- listen -- listen.

Like Mildred say, when you’re in the woods, woods we don’t own it (phone ringing). It -- Native people it's a mystery anyway in the woods.

You’re just a visitor. You go in there you respect -- respect -- you make too much noise -- too much like bone hit just going into unknown. You don’t know the country, then you get in trouble.

Always be on the alert. Always be -- be -- like from safety to taking care of yourself and take care of the land like that. You have to get in there and treat it right.

We still believe in that bush people and bush unknown. That’s why I said unknown. And we call that in this area Gu~u~. Spirit. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: We don’t know what it is, but it's out there. It's not everybody see it. No every -- certain people --

certain people they contact with. And it’s hard to explain that stuff, cause even that one all the Native will say don’t talk about it.

And they said you talk about it you scare and some people -- some men they don’t want nobody tell them that they're scared -- they’re afraid. They have pride.

They have -- they -- he can bother me all he want he don’t hurt me and just that kind of stuff.

There's a lot of stories about those kind of strange stuff. If you tell it and then people will say you’re a little crazy and it's not that way.

Native believe -- they believe it's out there, but one day, some day or I don’t think they’ll ever make a contact with it, but it's there.

And then growing up in that old village, before my time I think back in 30’s and before -- my mom was younger at that time in 20’s and 30’s. I think there was about 300, 300 people used to live over there. I think, but estimate. Pretty good size.

Some live in Tanacross and some live in Mansfield, so it's kinda like back and forth. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: And then some -- some they -- they use big area for trapping and hunting and stuff.

It's just they’re all over -- all over the place. I think sometime they even when they camp this way towards Seventeen Mile, Tetlin people they got trail coming from Tetlin.


ALFRED JONATHAN: They got old trail that coming from Tetlin. Some family come and when there's holiday they come over.

And then when there's a funeral, it's just back and forth there, so it's like highway trail. So it's really highway.


ALFRED JONATHAN: And then right now I walk -- I can walk five miles, but back then, heck, they can walk I think 15 miles one day.

Them, that time. It’s -- so there's a lot of change. I don’t know how to put it in words, but they can cover 15 miles and I can cover five miles or eight miles a day.

But it has to be done. I think back then they were stronger. Their food was better.

And us today our food is no good -- all store bought -- too much junk food, but I try to balance it off with --

I got whitefish going right now, so I got moose meat, dry fish, berries.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you still go out hunting at all now -- ? ALFRED JONATHAN: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- do you. Every -- every season?

ALFRED JONATHAN: Every -- pretty much every-- every year.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. And fishing too then?

ALFRED JONATHAN: Yeah. And then pretty much I’m involved in everything that what’s going on in the village.

Emergency, death, potlatch. Just I try to get that motivation. Keep that motivated. Keep them just a little group -- few people.

Once you’re in there and then you’re part of it, people want to work with you.

People want to come in and make things -- keep things going. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: Celebrating Christmases is big -- big celebration. It's -- we celebrate that that’s Christ’s birthday. We believe it that way, and then everything goes with that.

We celebrate feasts like family. Just everybody like I say everybody has to -- it’s important if you tell us our Nativ, our neighbors the Bible say love your neighbor.

And you sometime your neighbor end up to be not very good, so you won’t get along, but in that Bible is no wonder it say love your neighbor and sometime you have good neighbors, sometime you don’t, but I think I like people.

I like people. I like interesting people. I -- cause I always enjoy visit when they're interesting. I like to hear something a little different. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

ALFRED JONATHAN: And something, and then even -- even if I heard it, I let them tell it.

See how they say it. See if it's a little different. See if they add stuff to it to -- but I don’t tell them at the end I heard this thing.

I just kinda hear it off. Let them enjoy telling it.

But when I was younger I smoked. I -- that's funny how we grew up. I was 10 years old I think, 10 or 11 years old, we start smoking.

And then there's -- our generation was big about 16 I think, 16 or -- same age when you have a large 16 and you have a lot of stuff going.

You got a lot of -- lot of -- some are not too smart -- some are -- some are there just to be with you and there's always like me I’m always want to crook it -- me and other say we’re only a little bit on this side. Like we can do this, we can do that, we can get away with this, we can -- that kind of stuff.

All based on stealing, smoking and then you -- you pick up funny way you pick it up.

Even in school if white person got suit hanging there and then you got a bunch of coins or change, you'll find out well you sharpen your pencil and then you stick your hand in there get two dollars with quarters or something like that. You get that scale. You get that scale you’re good with it.

You become good with that stuff and then pretty soon you try yourself in store and then you -- you’re whole -- like play around and then you grab something and without saying anything your buddy will be standing over there you throw that thing over there -- candy bar or something and then you get away with it.

And it's that kind of thing -- that’s how we grew up just stealing.

Sometime you have Pilot Bread crackers in your back pocket -- two, three Pilot Bread.

We go home to home -- house to house and then sometime we visit grandma or grandpa -- we -- they tell us come in in our language, most of them really use their language.

They say come in and then we say oh, we’re here for work. They want water -- pack water or saw wood or bring wood in or make tea or something like that.

So we visit. They want company. They pay us fifty cents, quarter, fifty cents sometime, sometime dollar. Not very many, just fifty cent.

Then that fifty cents can buy twenty cents worth or a can of pop then they can buy five candy bars for twenty-five cents that time back in 50’s.

So twenty-five cents can get you one candy -- one pop and one cand. So we’re happy with that. But at the end when we go out -- outside this we say cheap son-of-a-gun.

Pay us twenty-five cents, but kids what you talk about it goes by and then he kept going cause I don’t what they call it when you grew up -- grown up is you interact with a lot of stuff. It comes to you and it goes by. It comes to you go by. That’s how we grew up. Just comes and go.

To me it’s exciting life -- teenagers. Exciting. And it's everything from swimming, smoking, drinking, lot of playing around.

A lot of playing around just even we played around with squirrel.

Tree to tree that squirrel jump. Small trees, we all day will run that squirrel down till that squirrel just barely hanging onto that tree and that squirrel just all pooped out.

Two, three hours and then that squirrel can’t even -- we let him go.

That’s how -- I don’t know you get kicks out of -- it's just fun.

But if older ones see us at that time, they’ll get after us. Said don’t treat them animals that way, but kids are kids back then.

And I believe I think it’s important somebody always older one that somebody come by say treat those animals right -- treat those stuff right.

If you treat something right, you in long run you have a good life. You have good -- good, you know, you got to balance it off. If you don’t care for nothing, then at the end you pay at the end of the line. You pay for what you did wrong. That kind of teaching -- they teach that. That’s why they skin moose their eye -- even their eye you -- you take it out and then me I take it out -- I take them eyes out and you don’t let them little kids or kids see animal their eye because Native people they -- they -- them animals got some kind of thing that they --

it takes their spirit. So that one is a hard to understand, but that’s how they -- Native -- even in wolf -- wolf.

That, of course, wolf they survive. They go in pack. They survive and they -- they know -- they know how -- they know how to survive.

They know how to kill. They know how to -- And they carry that some kind of medicine -- their own.

They got strong -- strong that -- Native people believe they got strong medicine. I don’t know how they call it, but that's -- that wolf that’s how -- that’s why sometimes they’re hard to catch. They’re wise.

They got talent. They -- they’re a lot wiser.

But I sobered up for gee almost 40 years . 35 years I sobered up and then others sobered up. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

8ALFRED JONATHAN: And a lot -- a lot of us sobered up. Alcohol was big life that got in the wrong -- wrong.

So I don’t really -- I don’t really recommend that alcohol for younger kids. That one and cigarette and other kind of stuff, they're addicted.

Once you get into it, it's hard to get out of it.

But I was lucky that I think I want to live and that’s a big thing he’ll turn your life around. You want to live or you want to die.

You come to that point where you're going to live or die, then you ask God to give you this chance. I want to live. I want to make a difference -- see what I can do.

See what -- what’s ahead of me. I don’t know ahead of me, but I can work towards something -- make something happen.

A little difference in how I live the other way. I want to be a little more involved -- a little more.

I think I can be part of something I told myself. I think I can be part of something and I think I -- I think I can grow.

And at first I kind of stayed away, but later on I got involved and sober is a good life -- being sober, but alcohol is -- it’s -- it’s no good.

No good for nobody. It's no good for Native. It's no good for white people. It's no good for nobody.

If you -- some people say oh, yeah, we -- we drink wine at dinner. It’s all right.

You can have a glass of wine with dinner, but when you use stuff if you overdo it then you abuse. You do too much.

I worked with an alcohol counselor almost twenty years, nineteen years, and then I seen a lot of change.

A lot of people that take their life with alcohol and they -- kind of sad. It is pretty sad. I want to help them and not only me.

A lot of people want to help -- help each other, and that’s how not only this -- in this village.

There’s even in different other village got the same kind of problem, but I like it when --

if family member is in trouble with alcohol, one -- only one or two will step forward --

Sone or two will step forward try to save that woman or man or whoever the person is and always stay close with them and try to save them from -- and sometime they succeed -- sometime it happen and if it wasn’t for them -- if they'll let it go, it’s gone. So sometime it works both ways.