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Sarah Kunaknana

Sarah 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 The interview was translated into English in 1979 by Molly Pederson and appears in the Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979).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 Inupiaq recording and English transcript appear separately below. Due to lack of a new transcript with timecodes, they are not synced for simultaneous listening and searching. In this interview, Sarah talks about sea ice conditions on the northern Beaufort Sea coast, in particular between Beechey Point and Flaxman Island and around Cross Island. She discusses how the wind influences the ice and tells the story about her brother getting lost on the sea ice. She also talks about living a subsistence lifestyle where they moved around the countryside following the game animals, and about whaling around Cross Island.

Digital Asset Information

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

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Jul 1, 1978
Narrator(s): Sarah Kunaknana
Interviewer(s): Ronald Metzner, Kenneth Toovak
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 am going to talk about ice conditions from Beechey Point to Flaxman Island. I was born in Barrow in 1921. My parents took us with some people to Cross Island, when I was 2 or 3 months old. . I grew up around Cross Island and around where Prudhoe Bay is now. I'm the only one left in the family who lived on that island My parents and their crew caught a whale at Cross Island that fall. My father had whaling gear, and that is why he brought the people to Cross Island, to hunt whale. He had not always lived in Barrow, but he settled us at Prudhoe Bay. My earliest memories are of Prudhoe Bay. My father traveled a lot but finally they settled in the Prudhoe area. . The ice around here looks sturdy, but the wind doesn't think its sturdy when it blows from the west. The lead opens up right alongside Cross Island on the ocean side because it is very deep there. And when it is an east wind, the ice piles up along the coast. There is nothing to stop the ice seaward of the islands. But the water between the islands and the land is shallow, from Beechey Point to Flaxman Island. There are islands all the way from Beechey Point to Flaxman Island. I have traveled between Barrow and Prudhoe Bay many times by boat and dog team with my parents, so I know the area. There are many kinds of animals here. When we wintered at Cross Island, there were all kinds of animals there. In the fall, we fish in the ocean. In the winter and spring there are seals to hunt. . In June and July when the ice is rotting in the little bays along the coast we start seining for fish (iqalukpik). After just seining one or two times there would be so many fish we would have a hard time putting them all away. And now the white people want to drill for oil out there. We lived on the animals we caught there during the winter, or we traded at the stores at Beechey Point. Besides trading at the store we traded with the ship "Patterson" (Capt. Pederson's ship). . Our houses are still standing at Cross Island and Prudhoe Bay. . If we knew that they were going to strike oil, we would have stayed there and lived high! Our house in Prudhoe is there just standing . I sure hate to see them drill around Cross Island where our winter house is. Another reason I'm against it is that all the animals, fish and seals, come up to Colville River from the ocean and we use them for food. The fish never come from inland they come from the ocean. All kinds of animals do that, even seals. They used to call Flaxman Island Qikiqtaq in Eskimo. The cost of oil isn't any cheaper even though the oil is from our land. We have a hard time paying for the heating oil to keep us warm even though the oil comes from our land. I mix my words up all right but you'll understand what I mean. We lived in Prudhoe Bay 15 years. When she lived at Prudhoe Bay she was about 14 and they got another whale (about 1935). They used a wooden boat with an inboard motor. She talks about the whale and how their share which they brought home made two boatloads and they also got bearded seal at that time. . We used to live on all these animals but now we can't hunt at Prudhoe Bay anymore because of oil development. Nobody can hunt there anymore. Not much more to say, I'm just repeating what my parents said. . The map they showed at the hearings (regarding the lease sale in May 1978 at Nuiqsut) is where all the animals live that they used to live on. When she saw those maps she felt against the leasing because she grew up there and lived off the land there. She followed her brothers when they hunted seals and bearded seals. She was the youngest and followed. When they hunted bearded seals it never took long to fill their boat. They also got lots of fish whenever they put their nets out in summer time. Because she likes eating animals from the ocean she doesn't agree with drilling in the ocean. She talks about the oil companies always coming back and asking to drill even though they keep telling them no. . My parents took us to winter just on this side of Flaxman Island. The map they showed us of the planned oil leases is where I have lived. One winter, in 1934, when the wind was real stormy from the west, my brother was lost out on the ice when the west wind opened the lead. The wind can change real fast and the wind controls the ice. My brother froze to death out on the ice after the west winds had opened up the leads. He was with several people but they all came back. The ice broke up all around them except where they were. They believe they were saved because they remembered God and prayed. My brother Joseph died in December 1934. The other people with him came towards land through the forming pressure ridges. When the ice starts moving there's nothing you can do about it. . Henry Nashanik knows about that. I was about 15 years old then. We didn't want to spend another winter alone there. . . Just before July 4, we went to hunt for caribou at Umiat. We stayed there and hunted caribou for several days, drying meat. There was just us, the children, up there; our folks were still at "Anaqtuuppaa" . While we were up there was when Mark found oil. There weren't any white people at Umiat at that time. He was walking along a little creek when he found it. He put it in a can which he found and brought it home and when we smelled it, it smelled really strong like either gas or fuel oil. When we tried to light it, it burned. He'd dipped it out of a puddle. It was where they drilled and discovered oil later. Another brother, David, put a marker up on a little knoll beside it. He stood up a boulder and wrote his name on it. I don't know if it's still there. . The next winter they went back inland. They went to Nirilik (distributary of the Colville). They also moved to Fish Creek and spent the winter there. They traveled so they could live on the fish at that time. They lived wherever they could catch fish. They moved again (not clear where) and built a house which is still used to this day by people who go fishing in that area. Then they moved to "Putuu" (which was on the Colville, upstream from the present village of Nuiqsut) and lived there for five winters. They stayed there until the Colville area was empty of people (the last group of people moved away from there sometime in the '40's). They have a celler there that they still use. They fixed it up when they moved back to the Colville area in 1973 when Nuiqsut was established. When they moved back in 1973 she went to see the place where they had lived and it was like it was someone else's story. There were no houses, only growing grass, and it was like people had never lived there. Their house would have still been standing, but somebody had torn it apart and moved it somewhere else. . . . "We weren't used to staying up late, unlike kids of today who stay up all hours and never go to sleep." . Even though we don't know each other it must be true that everybody's related somehow or other. Boy, I'm taking a long time to finish this tape. You'll probably laugh at everything I've said not making any sense. Times have changed so much and we have to move with those changes, but we can't do it by ourselves. We must remember we need the help of God. The changes are so many and hard to understand and the forces behind them so powerful and beyond our control that we have to rely on God.