Caleb Pungowiyi was interviewed on December 2, 2001 by Bill Schneider with Sidney Stephens and Karen Brewster at Schneider's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. Willa Schneider was also present listening in during part of the interview. In this interview, Caleb talks about his growing up in Savoonga, Alaska on St. Lawrence Island, learning traditional skills and knowledge from elders, and the importance of passing that on to the younger generations. He also discusses his observations of environmental and climate variability, how people in coastal regions of northern Alaska are impacted by and adapting to that change, and the importance of integrating traditional knowledge and western science.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Climate Change
Date of Interview: Dec 2, 2001
Narrator(s): Caleb Pungowiyi
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster, Sidney Stephens
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Introduction, background, and how he was influenced as a young person.
Growing up in the clan.
Learning to be independent and having a spiritual connection to the land.
Elders (uncles) that had an influence on him.
Going to school and the two teachers that had an influence on him.
Are young people following your path today?
How have the Inupiaq people learned to deal with climatic variability?
Stories of two winters and other hardships.
Yearly cycle, how people see the seasons change, and what indicators they look for.
Lumping months together in term of seasons and activities sometimes occur earlier due to the climate change.
Advice to educators and how they can incorporate the knowledge into the classroom.
Places of significant cultural value.
Weather and its effect on life and lots of people saying things aren't predictable.
Advice for scientists and other people who want to learn local knowledge and how they might phrase their questions to the Elders to get that knowledge.
Compatibility of scientific and Native observations and knowledge.
Species of birds that were nested on St. Lawrence Island that were not previously recorded because someone for Western society did not go there to document them.
Recording of data: written versus oral.
Some people say the time is coming when Western technology and the world is no longer able to support the standard of living and lifestyle and people will need to turn to traditional knowledge.
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Bill: Today is December 2nd, 2001. I’m Bill Schneider. We have Sidney Stephens here and Karen Brewster and Willa Schneider. And we have the pleasure this afternoon of talking with Caleb Pungowiyi and who has been observing climate change and been a spokesperson for those types of variabilities in Alaska, and particularly in the Northwest. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Caleb: Well, thanks for the invitation. Maybe I should make a little correction and -- Bill: Sure. Caleb: -- in terms of a spokesman. That the people in our region or people in the community did not select me. I’ve been more kind of selected by the academia to be a spokesman because of my ability to communicate my observations. And, you know, I am not necessarily an expert on anything like that, but rather somebody who is able to communicate these observations. Bill: Thank you. I think that’s an important clarification. If you would, tell us a little bit about your background, your parents and grandparents, and how they influenced you. Caleb: Well, I was born just before the start of World War I -- or II. World War II, Yeah. II. Right after the bombing of the -- right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And grew up in a very small community, Savoonga. My parents -- my grandfather had died when my father was 16 years old, so I never got to see my grand -- grandfather. And our community, we have a clan system where families and relatives are set up in a -- in a clan system. We’re -- our group is a (CLAN NAME). We come from the Russian side over to St. Lawrence Island, a fairly large group of (CLAN NAME) there at Savoonga. And so the society that I grew up in was the clan. The (CLAN NAME); the (CLAN NAME), which is on the south side of St. Lawrence Island; (CLAN NAME) which was on the east side of the island; the (CLAN NAME), which are considered the beach people. And so this system separates who you are, but yet, at the same time, connects you to other, you know, members in the community who are related to you, either through marriage or through the clan system. And we didn’t have any electricity or, you know, varying. Sometimes I think -- when I think back to those years, and also my -- my grandparents, that they jumped from the Stone Age to the Modern Age in -- in a period of less than 100 years.
And the -- the change was so dramatic and it -- you know, two days don’t even effects our -- our ways, to some extent. But very family-oriented unit, you know, we’re connected to families, where the uncles help raise the young men in terms of hunting and learning different values. And also it was set up in such a way so that by being taught by uncle, you are disciplined, whereas if you’re taught by a father, he may, you know, kind of give some leeway to some of the things that you do wrong. But whereas with uncle, he’s there to, you know, teach you the right way and discipline you at the same time. So -- but as a child, I was given to my grandmother to be raised by her because she was alone. And our system also allowed the grandparents to raise grandchildren as their own, not in the traditional or the Western system of adoptions or, you know, legal titles or those kind of things, but rather, you know, having a child being raised through -- through grandparents and having the grandparent raising that child as their own child. And that’s the way I was raised was through my grandmother. And yet, we stayed with my family. You know, we -- we lived in the same house that my brother and sisters in the same community -- you know, house setting. And in some way, perhaps knew that they were my siblings, but rather, you know, yet I was separate. You know, so it was kind of a unique situation like that. And my grandmother taught me my values, things that I perhaps saw through her eyes than I would have in -- probably would have been different if I had been raised with my parents. She would tell me stories, nighttime stories, Eskimo stories, some which I remember today, which I -- I tell to my -- my grandchildren. And so those things are, you know, things that have great, great influence. My spirituality, my value system, and also things that I relate to my grandchildren. So. I went to went to high school away from the community. I went to a boarding school at Sitka. I went to junior college there. I never went -- I graduated from college, but I was telling your wife earlier that by doing that, by going away to school, it -- it expanded my view of not just my own community, but, you know, being table to see the world as a whole and different things that are occurring in different parts of the world.
But I missed my grandmother passing away, that I had left her to learn a greater -- I call it meaning of life, but at the same time, I -- I missed the things that she would have probably taught me, you know, through my teenage years. And in some ways, I think both of those have made me who I am today by going away, by becoming independent, learning the Western ways, and yet having a connection to the old ways, have a connection not only in terms of the teaching, but spiritual, you know, spiritual connection to the land and to the natural environment. Bill: You used an expression this morning that your grandmother taught you. Would you repeat that again about the grasses. Caleb: My -- you know, we still connect -- or collect these greens in the summertime when they first start coming out. They are tender, and the ladies go out into the tundra to pick the leaves and store it for the wintertime. And my grandmother used to do that. And I would accompany her to help haul the greens back to the community. And we would take breaks and sit down, and I remember one time that she told me in our language (INUPIAQ WORDS.) It was a way of saying that listen to the grass, or listen to the whispers of the grass, they will tell you of ages long past. And for somebody who is young, you know, you don’t really understand what that -- that means. But it was to make you open your ears, and you wonder why. What does listening to the grass have to do with anything, you know, the rustle of the grass. But yet it was a way of opening your ears so that you hear the sounds that you would not normally listen to. Like even today, for example, you -- you have got the living out here in the wilderness setting, trees around you, but if you don’t open your ears to hear the sounds out there, you miss it. You know. You miss maybe the squirrels, the trees snapping in the cold, or the wind rustling the leaves. Because we’re so used to going through a fast-paced world, we don’t take time to listen to the whispers in the grass. And I think we need to take time to do that sometimes, to listen to the whispers in the grass because if we don’t listen, we don’t learn. We don’t acquire knowledge that we otherwise would. And to me, that’s probably one of the things that I hope I’ll pass on to my children and grandchildren, to listen to the whispers of the grass.
Bill: Were there some other Elders that influenced you as you were growing up that you’d like to mention? I know there’s probably lots. Caleb: I had mentioned earlier about being raise -- or being taught by uncles. That’s fine. Bill: That’s a cat we’re hearing here. Caleb: Continue? Bill: Yeah. You can continue. We’re taming the cat. Caleb: In our tradition about being taught how to hunt and do things by uncles, one that influenced me -- well, actually two uncles. One was -- one that was not a true uncle but married to my aunt, Jimmy Tooley. He’s still alive, he’s in his 90s, the oldest living person in Savoonga. I was assigned to his hunting boat as a young man, or a young boy. And even though I did not participate in the -- the hunting of or the killing of any species, I sat way in the back end of the skin boat right in front of Jimmy, like a gopher or somebody who, you know, did the menial work. But it was a way of -- of being taught patience, being taught discipline, and then observing how the older crew members were hunting walrus or seals and, you know. They told me to stay out of the way, you know, do not get in the way when they are butchering animals or harvesting these animals but, they would teach you, you know, what was going on. And our way of teaching is more of hands-on teaching. We don’t, you know, do the written teaching or the doing the classroom, but rather observing firsthand and then anticipating firsthand how things are done. And then my other uncle was Donald. Donald was younger than my -- my father. And he was not a good -- a great hunter or a good hunter like some of the other people, but he had knowledge that was more in terms of a community involvement. He -- he was the mayor of the community, he ran different things within the community. And -- and from him, I learned, I guess you’d call it work ethics, that you needed to be responsible, that you needed to go to work on time, be honest and respect others. So those are the two people that probably influenced me in terms of my childhood days. Bill: And what’s Donald’s last name? Caleb: Pungowiyi. Bill: Pungowiyi. Okay.
Caleb: But I should also -- also add that when I was going to school there were probably two teachers that, to my -- and to today, I feel, had influence in who I am. One was Dr. Ray Charles. He used to be here in the University. And he, perhaps, encouraged me to know that I was intelligent. Okay. That I could learn, that I could do things, and I could -- you know, more than any other teacher, he was the one that encouraged me and gave me this reinforcement or kind of thumbs-up thing that I was -- you know, that I could -- that I wasn’t dumb, that I could learn, you know, the Western ways of adding and subtracting and, you know, English. The other one was Russell McGloughlin. Russell was more of somebody who taught me skill -- other skills. He -- he started the Boy Scouts there at Savoonga. And, you know, it seemed irrelevant that they would have Boy Scouts, you know, back in the ‘50s, but we learned how to tie knots, we learned how to make fires out in the cold. And we helped old ladies across the street even though we didn’t have any streets. But, you know, again, it was a system of, you know, how you become who you are. You know, so you remember those kind of things. And to me, those two teachers had a lot of influence on me. Last but not least, the one that also, perhaps, made me go into high school was our missionary, Alice -- Alice Green. Most of the kids in our class after eighth grade would, you know, stop going to school, or even before. It was a way of how -- how things were in the community. But Alice Green saw an opportunity for us to go out to high school. And she worked to get me accepted at Sheldon Jackson, which was a Presbyterian school. And so that, you know, in essence, was my next step that I went through to become educated, to learn, you know, more about the -- the Western society or, you know, the educational part of my background. So in -- in a lot of ways, those people made -- make me who I am today.
Bill: So are there -- are there young people who are seeing what you’re doing in the way of translating information and knowledge and are -- are following in -- in your path? Caleb: No. Unfortunately, I think that I do more presentations to academia and conferences than I do to young people. I wish that I could have that opportunity to connect with the young people. I think that’s something that we see as a need, yet we don’t take the -- the steps to do that. I don’t even know whether it’s part of the system that we currently operate under or my own lack of volunteering to share that information. It could -- you know, it could be both ways. But -- unfortunately. But there are -- you know, I think sometimes we think to discredit young people about not learning or not listening when, in fact, they are. When I think back to my younger days that I’m sure that my uncle and my dad thought it went in one ear and out the other, and didn’t, you know, learn anything, but yet as you get older, you recall those things and you learn -- you know, you remember those teachings, and therefore, it’s not something that just goes, you know, in one ear and out the other. So that -- that’s the way I look at things, is that even though I -- you know, when I talk to my sons or my daughters and grandkids on something that it may seem that they are not following what I am saying, that it is a seed that’s in there that it will come to fruition later on, you know, down the years.
Bill: How have Inupiaq people learned to deal with climatic variability? Caleb: I think as people who occupied or live in a very cold -- cold area, where our society adapted to the cold environment by the systems that we developed, the harpoons, the kayaks and the igloos, the clothing were all adaptations to a cold climate. As long as a change was slow, we could adapt to the change. If the change was abrupt, extremely cold weather one year or unusual summer or things that affected the gathering of resources, that those years caused hardship. Okay. Or -- or years that were plenty were times for celebration and, you know, enjoyment. And so our -- our life adapted to the changes that occur as long as we’re able to, you know, adapt to them. But if the change is abrupt, if -- for example, now, you know, we’re going through this when we see the warming trend, as long as the resources are there for us to harvest and utilize, the effect is not so dramatic or severe or causing hard -- hardship. But if -- you know, starvation causes greater change than anything else. If the seals or the birds, you know, starved and, you know, crashed, then the effect would be immediate because they are not there -- there for the harvesting. So those kind of changes have more effect than you do in terms of temperature changes because you can dress or undress, you know, in terms of a changing to the weather environment. But the physical changes probably have more effect on the -- changes in the resource have greater effect in the way you live. Bill: But there have been some historical changes. Caleb: Yes, there has been some historical changes. There’s some stories about things that, you know, cause tremendous hardship. Very little stories on years of plenty or, you know, although there are some. But the years of extreme hardship or starvation are things that you hear about from our legends and traditions. And it was either winters that were extremely cold or ice conditions that prevented them from harvesting the animals.
Caleb: In one where there’s a story about what you call the year of two winters in which the summer never came, seemed to come. But it stayed around and caused, you know, for -- like the summer never came. It was ice and other conditions later on. And caused extreme hardship and starvation. But, you know, the people did not blame that on the weather, but they blamed it on the hunters who may have -- what do you call that -- tortured an animal. And therefore, nature was getting back to the community or to the -- as a way of saying that you should not torture my -- you know, my creations because if you do that, I’m going to make life very difficult for you. And so we went through a period of starvation because these two men tortured a walrus. Bill: So there is a story about that? Caleb: There is a story about that, yes. Uh-hum. Bill: How about recent? Caleb: Not too much in what we call modern history, you know, since the non-Native came into our -- I guess you call it life. But rather some of the things that happened were not because of weather, but rather because of overharvesting. You know, the whales and the walrus and other species that were being used to commercial purposes that were overharvested, which in turn caused hardship to local communities. So, you know, those were not weather related, but rather exportation of resources that caused hardship.
Bill: Would you take us through a yearly cycle and indicate to us how people see the seasons changing, what sort of indicators they look for, and maybe some comments on those indicators, if you can. And I know that it’s different for the islands and the coast. Caleb: Right. I think it’s very different. And also we go by what you call moons, I guess you call it, or months. In our way we have names for months that occur as to what events may occur in that particular month that signifies a change. Okay. Example. February is in the months when the seals, ugruks, spring seals, spring seals start having -- what do you call that -- the fetus -- Bill: Uh-hum. Caleb: -- in the -- in the females. That’s when the fetus start being formed. And the month is -- February is for when the fetus are formed in the seals. April is when they give birth to the -- to the -- to the young. That’s the name of the month for April, or the moon is when. May is when the river starts getting water in the streams. The name of the month, that’s, you know, when river starts forming in the -- in the streams. But that May also -- Bill: All right. So you’re saying May? Caleb: It’s also when the migratory birds return. Bill: Yeah. Caleb: They come back to the land, they start occupying their nesting areas and related to when we go hunting. June is when the greens starts forming, when the plants start, you know, turning green. And so that’s when the women will go out and gather green leaves for the sour dock or rosebuds or whatever, willows something, willow -- willow leaves. Gather that. July is the month of fish, where we can catch different kinds of fish. August is the times to pick berries, time to gather different things for the fall time. Putting away food for -- for the winter. September is when the -- the ice start forming on the ponds and rivers. That’s, you know, the name of the month for it, that’s when the things start cooling off and you see the ground turning brown and, you know, the season that change to the fall months. August -- or October, in our language is called the month of crossing, where you start crossing the rivers and the lakes because they are frozen. They are supposed to be frozen so that, you know, when you’re travelling, they’re able to -- you’re able to cross them where the ice is thick enough to be able to cross. But that’s also changed nowadays where because of later fall, you can hardly cross the streams anymore in -- in October. November is when the light, the daylights are getting short. That’s when the sun sets -- the sun -- the light and the sun are lower. December is what we call when the sunset -- the sun kind of sits on the horizon, we call (INUPIAQ WORD), means that the sun has sat down and decided to stay there until January when he starts coming up again. So. And those basically tell the activities that occur in those months. Okay. That the conditions in those months, you know, dictate how -- what you do, whether you’re picking greens, picking berries, or fishing or drying fish or hunting for marine mammals. You know, those months dictate how -- how -- what you’re doing during those months.
Bill: Do you want to follow up on that question, Sid? Sidney : Do you -- well, I guess it’s -- traditionally, was -- did you think in terms of seasons? Were there -- did you lump months together in terms of seasons the way we do? Caleb: To some extent. (INUPIAQ WORD) is summer, (INUPIAQ WORD) is fall, (INUPIAQ WORD) is winter, (INUPIAQ WORD) is spring. So in that sense, we have, you know, the four seasons. Okay. But we also have what we call the transitional periods between those particular areas. And that’s why the names of the months play into that where you have these transitional periods between those seasons of summer, fall, winter, and spring. Sidney : I -- I had another question. And it’s so -- so besides the month of crossing, the name of that month no longer seems to apply, as well as it -- as it did. Are there -- are there other months whose names seem to be a little bit off now as a result of changes, that you can think of? Caleb: Well, not as much as that particular month. May might be the one that probably has the greatest change, as well, where sometimes the -- the streams breaking up might occur in late April, or in some cases where the month is designated with the coming back of the birds, the birds might be coming back earlier than, you know, they were in that particular month. We know that some of the birds are showing up, you know, a couple weeks ahead of what they used to before. One interesting observation that one of the Elders told me at Savoonga was the connection between when the snow bird’s -- the snow bunting’s eggs hatched versus when the murres laid their eggs; that to their observations that when the snow bird’s eggs hatched, that would be when the murres would lay their eggs. And in 1996, he observed that the snow birds hatched, you know, really early. And he was going, I wonder if the murres will lay their eggs as early as, you know, how the snow birds hatch. And sure enough, the murres laid their eggs, you know, right on schedule, you know, with the snow birds. And not so much when, you know, they would do traditionally lay their eggs. So you know these kind of changes, you know, do connect, you know, with some of the things that they observed is happening. So their observations are very keen, and we may not think that they, you know, record these kind of things mentally, but they do. You know, they -- they are out there, you know, observing the world that’s around them when changes are occurring.
Bill: I guess just as a follow-up to that, that must lead to some advice to educators as to how -- how they could incorporate that knowledge into the classroom. Caleb: I guess one thing that as far as educators are concerned is that sometimes we need to break out of the box, you know, of how we teach and look at things and look at the -- the system that may enhance or expand our knowledge to -- to that so that we don’t just look at, you know, what we’re traditionally taught, but rather be able to look at other things. I was reading a Bible verse last night in Proverbs that said, look into the ways of the ant, you sluggard, and be wise. And here, you know, is a Bible verse that’s telling a -- telling that, you know, one would think why ants, because -- but yet when you look at an ant, you know they have a very structured life. They have their tunnels and their homes and they have workers and, you know, they gather food. And -- and the Bible verse, you know, if we want to be wise, then we should look at, you know, ants. And I think that, to me, is a way of us, you know, that we should open our eyes to things that we may think is immaterial, and yet will have a greater meaning to our life than if we didn’t.
Bill: I wanted to ask you about places. In the talk this morning, you talked about the place where they observed the north wind. Caleb: Uh-hum. Bill: Could you retell that story and maybe if there are other places that -- that serve similar functions. That may be hard to do. Caleb: Well -- right. Well, one thing that I think is unfortunate for us as Alaska Natives is that because of our own Christianity, our own beliefs, faith, and then also because of the way we’re taught in the classroom that we’re forget -- forgetting things that were culturally important to us. Places of significant cultural value. And this place that I mentioned this morning called (INUPIAQ WORDS), a place they call the north wind. For, you know, why -- why have a place to call the north wind or what significance does this have to, you know, your people. But for us, north wind played a very important role as far as our way of life because it brought in fall time, the ice, and the seals and the walrus and other food because we’re preparing for the winter, for the long, cold winter. But also, that it was a way that the community could maintain its connection with nature. That we’re so -- we’re so dependent on nature that we must appease nature to support our life. The other places of significant value on the island that have meaning to, you know, maybe not to us anymore today because, you know, we’re more into education and bingo and TV than we are to the old, you know, traditional cultures. We used to have places where we pray to the sea mammals. Places that the hunters would make sacrifices and pray to the spirits of the sea mammals so that the coming season would be abundant to the hunters. We don’t do that anymore. We don’t even recognize those prayer sites anymore. Places where we have a colony -- colonies of birds, we have large colonies of birds. We also have those places where you used to net, you know, net the birds. We don’t do that anymore. We don’t even try to protect these resources. You know, we’ve forgotten what they used to mean to our culture. And yet we’ve, you know, forgotten, and that’s unfortunate.
Sidney: One thing that I’ve heard different peoples talk about has to do with the weather and -- and its effects on life and the way that you talked about this morning. And it seems lots of people seem to be saying things aren’t predictable. Do you have any comments on that? Caleb: Yes. My aunt, Aunt Mabel Tooley, when I interviewed her back in 1996, I was doing a project with Fish & Wildlife Service in terms of gathering local observations of weather changes and also observations on changing in the local environment there on St. Lawrence Island, mentioned that -- that they used to be able to tell the weather through the stars, through the clouds. And, you know, their own general observations, be able to predict at least three days in advance, you know, what -- what the weather would be like because the hunting depended on it, travel depended upon it, and therefore, safety. You know, it was something that they are very conscious about. And then she said (INUPIAQ WORDS). The earth is very fast now. Meaning that, you know, in her observations that the weather systems were so fast now that you can’t, you know, predict the weather anymore. And that -- and they used to be able to tell weather by looking at the stars and whether they were twinkling or not, you know, how fast they are twinkling that they could predict what it was going to be like several days from then. And also be able to tell time. We could tell time through the stars, by the position of the stars, whether it’s going to be daybreak or, you know, what time it is in the evening. And those are things that are no longer taught. Well, we don’t -- I don’t know how to tell time, you know, like how she would have been able to tell time through the stars. And yet we’ve lost that.
Karen: My question has to do with advice for scientists or other people wanting to learn more local knowledge and how they might phrase their questions to an Elder to get the knowledge. You’re very good at expressing what you know and what you’ve learned and what you’ve seen, but a 90-year-old Elder might not respond to a question phrased by a Westerner in the same way. And if you have thought about that, any advice that you might have. Caleb: The way to prompt a response from the Elder would be to give examples. Give examples of, you know, what may be happening now or what may have happened before or, you know, in the past. And the mind will start working for these Elders in terms of memory of what they’ve observed or what they have seen, and then they will be able, you know, to respond to a question. A lot of times when you ask an Elder or somebody, you know, what -- you know, what do you think is going to happen today, or what -- what do you think about how the weather is affecting your life, they might think of whether they were successful or not during that particular period of time. If it was yesterday or, you know, this last -- past spring, they relate to that past spring. But if you phrase a question to -- so that it -- it -- give an example of something that might be happen -- have happened 20 years down the road, their memory will relate to that particular question and respond to how they have been affected, you know, in that particular situation. You have to prompt an answer because a lot of times the Elders will not voluntarily give an answer, or sometimes be contradict, in fact, what you’re trying to bring forth. So that sometimes you have to prompt an answer that will bring about the response that you’re seeking.
Sidney: In that -- in that Krupnik article that’s in the marine mammal report, towards the end he talked about the need for scientists to open -- I don’t remember his exact words, but it was basically to open their mind and try to think about the very rich and systematic detail of observations that -- that native people have to share. You know, that -- that they should be opening their mind to that. He also suggested that native people should somehow be trying to come this way, by somehow trying to organize their information in a way that might be more accessible to scientists. What do you think about that? Caleb: I think that’s a very good point. Something that even I myself fail to do in terms of even though I am -- I am more educated than some of the other Elders, that documenting something, you know, because the world is so dependent on written, written documentation, that. Example, I guess I would say is that what my Elders know and what I know sometimes is not the truth unless it’s validated by somebody with a degree or a non-Native who comes and observes and says, okay, this is the truth, I found it, and, you know, here it is. And unfortunately, that -- that’s the way things are because we don’t write them down or we don’t share this knowledge in a way that accept by the academia that it’s not the truth until it is validated by somebody with a degree. An example I’ll use would be, again, going back to St. Lawrence Island when we were doing this bird project, that the local people had known, you know, that certain species of birds nested and laid eggs there and, you know, known it for years. But it wasn’t on any document that said these birds did, in fact, lay eggs and nested on the island until a biologist from Fish & Wildlife Service came and documented and reported and said that, yeah, this is the truth. You know. This is. So if we, as a Native people, want to be part of that, we need to start, you know, doing some of these documentations.
Bill: We are following up on that example from St. Lawrence Island. Caleb: Oh, okay. About certain species of birds that nested on the island that were not previously recorded because somebody from the Western society had not gone there to, you know, document them as being there. And my -- you know, I was saying that we need to, as Native people, if we are aware of, you know, certain findings or observations that we need to take time to record these things so that there is validation that, you know, things that we talk about are, I guess you’d call it, scientifically supportable.
Sidney: Do you think the recording of those kinds of data would have any negative impacts or be detrimental in any way to -- I mean, I just -- I really respect the -- the carrying of knowledge in your head and the notion that there are these incredible computer Rolodexes in people’s minds. And I think that’s an incredible skill and it’s -- it’s an incredible mental ability. And so do you think there’s any downside to being -- becoming a native number cruncher, when it comes to how many birds there are? Caleb: Probably. You know, the Oral History program that you’re involved with is a project that records how people remember and, you know, can pass on this knowledge to others orally, not necessarily in a written document because in some ways, you lose this connection when you have it on paper. You don’t have the -- the spiritual connection or the face-to-face connection that you would have when somebody’s telling you in person or relating an experience to you that you cannot capture on a written paper. So in the way you do lose, you know, that when you have something just on paper versus something that’s, you know, done and, you know, in an oral fashion. And also, for those of us who are not educated, we’re not used to putting things in writing. It’s difficult to do that. It’s difficult to really put down on paper what you have in your mind. I have that difficulty. I have. When I try to write things down, I lose my train of thought, I lose my -- you know, what I really want to say. And sometimes I think I said everything that I want to say in that paper, and then I go back and realize that my real message is not in there. That somewhere in the translation from mind to the paper, it -- it’s lost. So. And I don’t know what we can do to correct those kind of things. It’s -- you’re right, it’s something -- there is something that gets lost in terms of trying to put something on paper versus communicating something that, you know, deep and personal to you. You know, those kind of things you can’t put on paper.
Bill: It seems to me the things you’ve been talking about are -- are really important everywhere in the world, and that the message that you’re giving us is that we all need to pay attention to what the grasses are telling us wherever we go. And that this may be a message coming from the Native community at this point, but something that applies to everybody for the sake of everybody. Caleb: I don’t know what else to say. Bill: Yeah. I did have -- did have one final question. Kenny Toovak and some of the other people on the North Slope have talked about the time coming when the Western technology world is no longer able to support the standard of living and the life-style, and that people will need to -- will need to return to -- to traditional knowledge. Are you getting similar-type observations from the Northwest? Caleb: I think there is a desire to maintain being able to support your -- yourself off the land; that if you lose that, if you don’t teach that to the younger generation, then if the time comes when you are no longer able to support yourself -- self in the Western way of living, that you’re caught in a no-man’s world. That you’re not in -- in caught in both worlds. If you are not taught to be with nature, to survive from the land, that if a time comes when you have no choice but to survive from the land, then -- then you’re lost. One of the things that I think is known, and I guess Elena will probably tell you that, as human beings, we’re -- I guess we call ourselves top predators and we think that we’re the most important species in the world, but in fact, if we were to disappear from the earth, that earth would do quite well without us. But if we did away with some of the species that they are dependent upon, insects or micro -- microorganisms and others, if those collapse, then the whole world will collapse. So we -- I think we sometimes need to really look at what we are and who we are and perhaps change our way of thinking of how important we are to this world, and really see ourselves in that -- you know, in that view. Bill: Thank you very much. I hope we can continue this dialogue. Caleb: Uh-hum. Sidney: Thanks.