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Percy Nusunginya, Part 2

This is the continuation of an interview with Percy Nusunginya on February 25, 2016 by Karen Brewster at the Tuzzy Consortium Library in Barrow, Alaska. Sarah Skin, Oral Historian for the North Slope Borough Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission (IHLC) was also present at the interview. In this second part of a two part interview, Percy talks about different ice types, ice movement, the effect of wind and current, and the difficulty of describing the ice. He also discusses ice safety, and adapting to changing conditions and the future of whaling.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-28_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Feb 25, 2016
Narrator(s): Percy Nusunginya
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Sarah Skin
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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There is no slideshow for this person.

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Adapting to changing conditions, and future of whaling

Cracks in the ice and ice add-ons and determining safety

Complexity of describing ice

Multi-year ice

Ice movement, thickness, and effect of wind and current

Ice grinding, piling, and creating a sheer wall of ice and slush

Slush ice and new ice

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KAREN BREWSTER: I just have one more question. I didn’t want us to run out in the middle.

You keep saying, you know, the ice is thinning and it’s changing. You’re going to keep going whaling? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes! KAREN BREWSTER: Why?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Because -- Like I said, we -- especially me, I’m adaptable. When I see something that it’s going to be useful to me, I get hold of it right now.

Because -- and this ice is getting thinner and thinner. We’re gonna have to adapt to get, you know, more of a fall-whaling type whaling.

Instead of being on the shore, we’ll have to start going out from the shore.

KAREN BREWSTER: But if there’s still some shorefast ice, can you whale from the shorefast ice?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: If the conditions are good and the whales are going through there, yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But will you have to drag your big boats over the ice?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Nowadays, you don’t drag them. You get your fast, hot -- fast, strong snowmachine and have ‘em pull it.

KAREN BREWSTER: But can they pull big boats? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. And you -- Nowadays, you got more manpower. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. Yeah. Your crews are bigger?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: They’re bigger and they’re more --

SARAH SKIN: Their snowmachines are more powerful? KAREN BREWSTER: The snowmachines are more powerful -- PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. They don’t have to feed dogs. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, yeah. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: But then again -- but then again, they run outta gas.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So when you first -- Well, you said you used snowmachines when you first started going out.

Did you ever use dog teams to go out?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Oh, yes. Before the snowmachine, the dog team. That’s why I --

I fed my father’s dog team every day. Seven days a week, 365 days a year, every day.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And when you first went out hunting you went with a dog team?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Dog team. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: That’s when I -- You know, you didn't have to wor -- you let -- The dogs know more about the ice than you do. Okay?

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. So would they stop if there was something --? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. Smart one, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: He’s your best friend, right?

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So a big crack, the dog would stop? The snowmachines don’t stop. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So you -- If you go out and there’s a big crack in the ice, will you still go past it and go whaling?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Well, it better be good on the other side of that crack. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Like I said, if there’s a crack, we can only take -- take the boat and the windbreaker.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And same as that -- is that iiguaq? When it comes in and builds up that -- is that called iiguaq? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Iiguaq.

KAREN BREWSTER: Iiguaq. SARAH SKIN: Oh, iiguaq. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, you go out on that?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Like I said, depending on if the whales are out there and it’s safe.

But nowadays, these boys will just go out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: They don’t know what safe ice is.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how do you decide that iiguaq is safe?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Well, you look at it. If it’s too flat, then you stay the hell away!

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s good to know.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. If it’s too flat, you stay the hell away.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And does the color make a difference?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Oh, yes. But with snow and all, it will have to be late spring before it start to show color.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really? Oh. I thought, like, new ice was grayer, and --

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: It looks gray. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: But when there’s water that is gray underneath -- dark water underneath, it will make that clear ice look dark.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. So, it depends on the clouds and the sun and light? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s -- it’s very complicated.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: It is. Like I said, ice is -- to the white man it’s frozen water.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I know that’s not true. And I know --

I understand how complicated it is and how hard it is to explain it sitting here. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: I understand that. And that in English it’s hard to -- Iñupiaq is more nuanced.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: There’s no -- no words for it in English.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Iñupiaq is so good at the nuances and the detail -- PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: -- of things in the environment. It’s not just ice, but all kinds of things.

So I understand it’s hard to answer some of these questions. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. It’s hard -- hard to explain how we know what we know. Right? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Okay?

KAREN BREWSTER: Ii. I was thinking if there was anything else I was going to ask.

What about multi-year ice? That piqaluyak? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Multi-year ice? KAREN BREWSTER: Ii. Glacier ice.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Piqaluyak? That’s -- Actually, it’s a fresh ice, no saltwater in it, maybe few sprays.

But the problem with that glacier ice, it’s got no elasticity. It breaks like glass. Just hit it, it will break it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you don’t want to camp on that? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Uhh, yes and no.


PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Like I said, if you’re in a very bad situation and try to stay out -- the heavier ice will just crack it up.

KAREN BREWSTER: So if you're camping on it and heavier ice starts to come in -- ?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yeah, you don’t want to be on that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Get the hell out, huh? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: -- on that glacier ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: The newly formed sikuliaq is much stronger than the -- than the glacier ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And then in the old days when that pack ice was so thick coming in, that was really heavy ice. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. Heavy.

KAREN BREWSTER: Really strong. Yeah.

I’ve heard other people talk about the ice, but it moves along the edge of the lead and, like, grinds? It kind of moves along the edge of the ice and grinds it up? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yeah. Grinding.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I find that very interesting.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. That’s agiaq.

KAREN BREWSTER: Agiaq. Okay. And what causes -- I mean, which current or wind?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: It’s mostly from the east current. ‘Cause it cannot -- it cannot crack the ice on the shorefast ice.

But the west current, it don’t grind that much because it can crack -- it can break up the ice and it can pile up.

If it cannot go any further, it will start piling up. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So that grinding --

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: It’s -- it keeps the ice from piling up.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you said east current? What’s the Iñupiaq for east current? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Piruġaġnaq.

KAREN BREWSTER: Piruġaġnaq? Okay.

And then I’ve heard other people talk about how the ice -- sometimes it comes up from underneath the edge? What -- what causes that?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: The fast shore ice is higher than the offshore. KAREN BREWSTER: It’s higher? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: The fast shore ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the tide has pushed it up? Is high water coming? No? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: No. It’s the force. KAREN BREWSTER: The force from the current?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: The force behind whatever is pushing it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s the current coming from beneath? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. It can push that ice under, with no sweat.

KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause I’ve heard people say they stand at the lead and they see the ice coming up from under them.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Oh, aniyauk. KAREN BREWSTER: Aniyak? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Aniyauk. KAREN BREWSTER: Aniyauk. And that’s from the current?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Muġiaq. It's sort of vomit.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s that slushy ice combo? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. The one that comes up from the ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. That’s coming up from underneath? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii, coming up from under the water onto the ice. KAREN BREWSTER: So the ice is vomiting? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. Actually, what it is. For lack of a better word.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah, it's a good -- And then when you see that happening, does that tell you you need to move? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: You just have to watch it.

KAREN BREWSTER: It’s not dangerous? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: It could be. But like I said, you have to watch it. And how thick on the ice you’re staying.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So if you’re on thin ice, it's -- you -- ? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: You just better not stay around.

KAREN BREWSTER: And is that -- that caused by a direction of current? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. KAREN BREWSTER: Which -- PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Any way. It --

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I didn’t know if it was coming from shore. No? Okay.

Another thing I’ve heard people talk about -- maybe it only -- I don’t know if it happens at the lead where you get that kind of wall. The ice builds up and creates like a wall?

I can’t remember the Iñupiaq word for it. I’ve seen it off the beach here a couple of falls ago.

I don’t know if it’s from the spray building up, but it’s a real sharp drop-off.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Up here we don’t normally -- don’t have sharp drop-offs because we don’t -- we don’t have that much of a thick ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe agiukpak? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Agiuppak. That’s the grinding of the fast shore ice and the loose ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So that’s what, and it causes this --

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: That’s -- agiuppak is what that other fast shore ice grounded up by the loose ice out there that’s grinding it. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: And that builds it up. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: And high as -- I’ve heard of how many stories high. KAREN BREWSTER: Really? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Back then. When the ice was -- used to be thick and could not move. So it builds up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. Because I think I’ve seen it just little -- PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. I’ve seen them, you know --

KAREN BREWSTER: Another one I was -- Qaimġuq.


PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii, that’s the loose -- loose -- loose pile, you know -- ice crashed -- traveling in a big --

KAREN BREWSTER: This -- you want me to read what somebody told me? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: A layer of ice created in the fall when there is open water at the shore and waves' spray and the tide freeze to the beach.

First shore ice of the season.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. KAREN BREWSTER: Does that make sense? I don’t know. That’s what I have as a definition. From somebody.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Actually, what you’re describing is just the first snow --snowstorm that makes snow and ice out there, and comes to shore.

And the current will take it anywhere or the wind. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: So it don’t stay.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's -- Yeah, okay. So it’s just that first -- it’s not slush but it’s -- ? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: No, it’s slush.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is it slush? But it’s different than -- PERCY NUSUNGINYA: There's slush, and yet not hard enough.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, but it’s more solid than qinu? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Okay. That helps. Thank you.

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: I don’t know, the qinu and -- they might be about the same. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Qinu is slush ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And then what’s that ice -- grease ice, you know? When it -- In the fall when it’s forming, and you see the -- ? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Slush ice. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s the qinu? PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Qinu. Qinu’s slush ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. ‘Cause I’ve seen it. I -- It was really neat once standing and watching the ocean, and you look out and you think it’s ocean, and then it’s like it starts undulating ‘cause there’s a little bit of ice on there. It’s very cool.

Aarigaa. Thank you for helping with those words. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: Aarigaa. Quyanaqpak. Do you have any more you want to share about how you learned about ice?

PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Well, like I said, it must be in my DNA. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. You just know it. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Ii. Ii, I do.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Aarigaa. Quyanqpak for your time. PERCY NUSUNGINYA: Okay, Karen.