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Elijah Kakinya

This is a recording of Kenneth Toovak providing a verbal English summary translation of an interview he conducted in Iñupiaq with Elijah Kakinya in September 1978 in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska. The interview was for UAF researchers Dr. Lewis Shapiro and Ron Metzner on the project Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979). Ron Metzner is there recording Kenneth speaking in English. Unfortunately, the location of the original Iñupiaq tapes is unknown; the UAF Oral History Collection only has these English audio translations and their transcripts. In this interview, Elijah talks about ice conditions and seal hunting at Flaxman Island, working for the trader Jack Smith and making trips between Beechey Point and Barrow, and living between coastal and inland locations. In particular, Elijah discusses the effect of wind on ice movement, ice piling (Ivu), open leads, grounded and anchored ice, and the presence and movement of polar ice.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 97-64-02

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Sep 15, 1978
Narrator(s): Elijah Kakinya, Kenneth Toovak
Interviewer(s): Kenneth Toovak
Transcriber: Karen Brewster
People Present: Ronald Metzner
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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


Westerly winds opening the lead around Flaxman Island

Ice in summer months and fall freeze up

Ice piling (Ivu) and barrier islands

Working for Jack Smith at Beechey Point and polar ice and open leads

Grounded and anchor ice

Mackenzie River as source of polar ice

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KENNETH TOOVAK : I've lived around Herschel Island and some around Flaxman Island. And I do know that the ice opened up from westerly wind. And after the -- after it opened up in winter months and when the wind shift over to east and also it opened from easterly wind.

And after it's opened up from westerly wind, the ice always start to crumbled up out on the edge of the open lead.

The people that live up around east of Barrow, in winter months the people always go out to the open lead to see if they could catch some seals to live on.

But evidently the people never had any kayak to retrieve the seal, whatever they -- when they had a chance to shot a seal, but they use a line with a hook. With a floater on the end of with -- on the hook.

When I begin to understand and know what the people are living, they used to be quite a number of families around Flaxman Island. In 19 --

Yeah, that's the time when I begin to -- Well, knowing what the people are living on. That's the year back 1918.

Uh, there was a good size family of his dad's and brothers and sisters and uncles and whatever.

They used to live around Flaxman Island back in 1918.

When the families -- when my families were living on the coastal area, they have to go out to open leads or hunt seals and if there's unable to be any open lead some of the families usually move to -- up to mountains to live on.

They just go back and forth between the two. Ocean and inland for searching for -- for the food to live on.

But I stated the early part of my talking that -- that westerly wind usually opened the lead and after the -- there's a break before it's gets real froze in when the the wind shift over to north easterly wind it moves and sometimes it opened.

And sometimes it just a moving on the shore ice and floating ice.

And some other time when the wind is blowing from westerly the ice usually crumbled up and formed some pressure ridges way out on edge of the lead.

In the winter months, when the ice is still for quite a number of days or weeks even though the wind is blowing and windy from north easterly, the ice never opened up what so ever.

But after -- but when the wind is blowing from west and opened the lead and that's the time that the people always go out to seal hunt.

Sometimes from westerly wind it opened up and it closes and started -- the ice started to pile up. And crumbled up for a while for sometimes.

And again it opened up. So actually it don't continue open or crumbling.

In some years when the ice goes out in spring, some years the ice never got too visible.

And some years, the ice goes out and come back to visible, and hang around more likely all summer months.

Sometimes when the ice hangs around in summer months, when the ice getting towards fall -- when the weather starts to getting fall the uh -- the uh -- the polar ice -- some of the polar ice grounded off shore.

And that's the time when the people are happy to be out hunting for seals.

And when the polar ice are grounded in fall, that means the ice freezes earlier. And when there's -- there is no ice, it freezes a little later than usual.

Yeah, I lived at Flaxman Island 'til I was just about 20 years old. And my father used to keep us moving one year there and another year -- one year there and another year in different areas.

And finally we got on up to Demarcation Point and lived there for a while when Tom Gordon had a store there as a trading post.

Sometimes in the -- in the -- in the fall when the wind is -- after the ice formed the -- the westerly wind opened up and then it closes.

And it piled up quite a bit of ridges close to the barrier islands all the way up to Herschel Island that I could recall.

Right around -- around Flaxman Island, on the lagoon side, that is behind the barrier islands inward to the inland, afer the ice formed and freezes it never moved or any disturbance that I -- that I would recall in that area.

Uh, before the ice gets any -- any much thicker in fall, the ice usually crumbled up and build kind of bit of ridges along the barrier islands in some places.

But not often. Some years it's flat, but some years it's always some piles of ice.

But I never di -- But I never noticed any ice slide over on barrier islands. Never have any noticed such a thing. Ice slide over the barrier islands.

As I again stated when the -- when the ice crumbled up right along the ocean side of the barrier islands, the highest points that I can figure is approximate 12 to 15 feet high.

That ice crumbled up in -- in the -- in the fall. That is before the ice gets any much thicker.

Later part of the years, I lived around Beechey Point where Jack Smith had his trading post.

Live in that area, and in summer months I used to company and go with Jack Smith on the way to Barrow to pick up supplies. And also return to Beechey after we picked up the supplies.

In some years, between the Beechey and -- and Barrow, on a run going towards Barrow and returning, sometimes the ice always on the visible all summer.

And -- and return in fall, they used to be some ice out at a visible.

When the polar ice hang around not far from -- from barrier islands, the people always say that it's a good chance of catching seals when the ice is close by to shore.

In summer months, when there is a westerly wind, you can see ice from shore. But when the wind is blowing north easterly, the ice always go out.

I don't know how many miles , but you couldn't see any ice from shore when the wind is blowing from north easterly wind.

When the ice freezes and some crumbles in the -- in the fall ice, when it freezes and stay freezes 'til when the months -- 'til up to month of February and March, it always stay that way and stay there far as the shore ice.

And around Flaxman Island, speaking about open leads when the months it a long stretch that you can travel on 'til you get to the open lead or the movements of the ice between the shore ice and the floating ice.

And around in front -- front of Barter Island, the open lead and the movement --

RON METZNER: You were talking about Barter Island.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yeah, in front of Barter Island the ice always much closer speaking about the open lead that is shore ice and floating ice.

When I had family -- I had a good size family when I begin to go with Henry -- I mean with Jack Smith.

I used to go along with Jack Smith pretty well. And go along with him what ever he needs any help or any assistance when he's making a run to Barrow.

These days of 1978 -- these days the older people that have lived in that general area around Beechey Point and Flaxman Island, that who has lived they are getting few that who have lived and understand in that general area.

That's what uh -- uh -- Elijah was stated.

This what I understand when there are some grounded ice that's is definite to hold the freezing ice in fall.

And definite these pieces of ice are grounded and use as the anchor hold for ice.

Uh, speaking about the pieces of ice, polar ice frozen and grounded. That is definite the -- the -- the anchor post for ice that freezes in fall.

And I can also stated that Toovak would say same thing of what I say. That is my father.

Kenneth Toovak speaking that Kakinya stated that my father would tell a person whenever the pieces of froze in and grounded that would be a real definite the anchor post for a shore ice or winter months.

That it's always a safe to do any kind of work as long as there is a anchor post this and there on the shore ice in winter.

And around Herschel Island in some years way back in early years in my time, around Herschel Island when the ice is around close by some of the ships or some of the whalers way back in 1800's or early 1900's, they used to spend winter up around in that general area on account of ice.

I never really have spent in winter months when I started to begin to go with Jack Smith in summer to assist him on the boat runs between Barrow and Beechey.

But in winter I used to move back inland, lived around Colville -- way back around below -- just below Umiat. Down river from Umiat.

And up far as to Anaktuvuk in winter. And then back down to coastline in the spring.

Speaking about a -- pieces of polar ice that I would stated of what the people that lived around -- uh, Mackenzie River, right?

RON METZNER: Mackenzie River.

KENNETH TOOVAK: Yeah, that lived at Mackenzie River when the -- When the river is high in the spring, breaks up, those people that lived around Mackenzie say that the -- the -- the lake ice drift out through river and floated out to ocean.

That means that they claim the ice, what we call polar ice, is from the lakes of Mackenzie.

After the piece of ice has drifted out from the river and didn't melt in summer months, and here comes the winter, on my thinking whether it's right or wrong the ice melt and make addition.

Freezes from the bottom and still fresh water on top.

And the the sun gets warm in summer months and melt part of surf, and I think that's why it gets kind of wavy.

I don't know whether that is right or wrong, but that's the thinking that I could guess of what happened to the piece.

On my early age when I happened to live and stay a bit around Mackenzie area, I used to invite the older people and have a dinner with them. And listen to what they tell are stories. And that's why I learned what the polar ice means.