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Samuel Kunaknana

Samuel Kunaknana was interviewed in July 1978 by Kenneth Toovak and Ron Metzner in Barrow, Alaska for a project related to potential oil development of the Alaskan continental shelf. The original interview was in Inupiaq. The interview was translated into English in 1979 by Molly Pederson and appears in the Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979). The original recording is missing, so only the original transcript without audio appears below. In this interview, Samuel talks about sea ice conditions on the northern Beaufort Sea coast, in particular around Cross Island and the mouth of the Colville River. He discusses how the wind influences the ice and how and where pressure ridges are formed, as well as talking about whaling around Cross Island.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 97-64-01_SIDE A

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Jul 1, 1978
Narrator(s): Samuel Kunaknana
Interviewer(s): Ronald Metzner
Transcriber: Molly Pederson
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
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I'll tell what I know about the ice even though we didn't live on the coast all the time — but I've lived here for many years. The ice in front of Colville piles up and forms pressure ridges when it freezes in the fall, like it does in Barrow. As it thickens it piles up until it completely freezes. There is always some ice on the ocean side of the islands (sandbars) although they are pretty far out, even in August. The ice never sits still and when we check the current from the ice it's always moving. In the winter time the ice goes out when the wind is from the west on the ocean side of the barrier islands. When the weather is bad, the ice piles up in pressure ridges in the ocean. The ice is never smooth. When the wind is strong from the west the ice can break up fast all over the place and go out. No matter how thick the ice is, even in the dead of winter, it will break up and there would appear big bodies of open water. The ice starts rotting in May, there and it is hard to hunt. Sometimes it would be so rough from piling that it would be hard to go out and hunt. The ridges were too rough to get over. No matter how thick the ice may be it can break up and pile up fast. In the summer time, the ocean is deep on the ocean side of the islands. I know it is deep because ships used to travel right alongside the islands, and the ships never let ice stop them. . The ships were built strong so they could push through the summer ice. I've heard of people who are interested in drilling oil in the ocean and I don't go along with that because of the animals. There are many different kinds of fish down there. Also different kinds of birds. When the old squaw ducks are there there are so many birds in a group on the water they can look like a big piece of land. There are also different kinds of whales. The first time I learned of whale hunting was when this crew from Barrow caught a whale at Cross Island in the fall. I was just a boy then. We all know that the ice is especially dangerous, if they are going to drill for oil out there. When the ice starts moving, nothing can hold it. I worked for the Navy when they first came up to look for oil. The only thing that worried them was to make the drill stand straight. They never tried to make it safe from moving ice. If they are going to drill it has to be fixed and safe because the moving ice is strong. I don't think a drilling rig can withstand the moving ice. After they strike oil and the ice starts moving there probably won't be any more animals either, they would either die off or they wouldn't be able to come through anymore. We have lived on those animals, and that is why we oppose any offshore drilling. Nothing stops the ice when it starts moving. Take, for example,that big Canadian ship the ice carried around -- a small drill certainly wouldn't stand it. No matter how thick it might be it will break and pile up. No matter how thick it might be it will break and pile up, and no matter how thick it gets it is never guaranteed stable. It just depends on the weather. The ice goes completely out after July 4, around the Colville. That's when the Patterson (Capt. Pederson's ship) used to come up here in July. There is always new ice when it freezes because none of the ocean ice floes come in; the winds blow mostly along the coast. I'm just talking about what I know about the ocean here. There are different kinds of fish out there, salmon, white fish, flounders, different kinds of birds, seals, polar bears, bearded seals. That is why we oppose the oil drillings around here. This spring the elders talked about how they wouldn't like to see oil rigs in the ocean. Unless that oil rig is put in safe and with strong supports, the moving ice would think nothing of it. If we agreed to let them drill offshore we would go against the people's wishes who live along the coast, and the elders don't want to see any animals interfered with. They mentioned again and again how the ice can take anything with it, no matter how strong it might be. . The Colville River ice goes out the first part of June. It floods badly before it goes out. It usually goes out before June 10, but the flooding can be very bad. Last spring (1977) it flooded so much it was like an ocean there. We don't have a lot of money like these white people and oil companies. We have to do what they want. If they drill and strike oil they won't give anything to us. They are only doing it for themselves. There is never any ice in between the mainland and the islands once the ice goes out in the spring, because the lagoon ice rots early on the landward side of the islands. I've never lived near Cape Halkett and Barter Island so I don't know about the ice there. My wife has lived around Cross Island and west so she can talk about the ice there. As I said before, the ice around here in the Colville area never has old ice coming in when it starts freezing. When it freezes, first year ice is all there is because the wind is always parallel with the coast and there is no wind from the north to bring in ice from the ocean to the bays. It is all new first year ice when it freezes. When the wind is from the north, ice comes along with it and gets on the outer islands. In the summertime, this occurs only when the wind is from the north. Sometimes old ice comes in , but not enough to stay long. The ice is never still when the wind is from the west anytime of the year no matter how thick the ice is it can pile up. When the wind is from the west it can go out. When the wind is from the west the ice can also pile up . In the spring, the ice starts rotting before June on the ocean side of the islands. It also rots early in the bays although the ice doesn't go until around July but it's too rotten to travel on between the islands and land. The ocean side of the islands is really deep. The "Patterson" used to anchor right alongside the islands. It's taking a long time to fill up this tape. People around here know about the ice and how it moves. They trapped foxes on the ice and sometimes lost their traps when the leads opened up. .