Kenneth (Ken) Frank was interviewed on February 2, 2002 by Bill Schneider and Sidney Stephens in their home in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interivew, Kenneth talks about his observations of climate and environmental change in his home area of Arctic Village and Venetie, Alaska. He talks about changing weather and temperature, changes in snow depth, changes in wildlife, bird and fish populations, seasonal changes, and melting permafrost. He also talks about the importance of listening to elders, teaching the youth, and monitoring environmental change. At the end of the interview, he provides the Gwich'in names for the months of the year, including descriptions for what they mean.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Climate Change
Date of Interview: Feb 2, 2002
Narrator(s): Kenneth Frank
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Sidney Stephens
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Observations on environmental and climate changes.
Other changes that Kenneth observed and the observations of the Elders.
Elders say that time is going faster today than in the old days.
How cold is cold?
Other weather differences beside the change in cold spells.
Changing snow levels.
Changes in the environment, changes in animals, and stories about large animals.
Story about David Salmon and how clear things use to be in the old days.
Using the moon, stars, sun, and northern lights as predictors.
Difference in summers.
Melting permafrost on river banks.
Things that can be done in the classroom with children to look at and monitor the environment.
Names of the months in Gwich'in and the environmental descriptions.
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Bill: Ok today is April 4, 2002, I'm Bill Schneider, Sidney Stephens is here too. We are in our home here in Fairbanks and we have the opportunity to talk today with Ken Frank, and over the years I've had the pleasure of being with Ken on a number of occasions which he shared his knowledge of Gwich'in culture.
And in particular today I'm eager to focus in on questions about your observations and the observations of elders about environmental and climate change that they've seen over the years. So thanks for making this opportunity Ken. I think we'll pick up just by my asking you to share with us some of the observations that you've seen, and feel free to use Gwich'in words when they can best explain concepts or things that people have observed.
Kenneth: Well, some of the stuff that elders are telling me is like even the growth of the tree, the tree are growing where the tree, where there used to be no trees like up on the Brook Range, some area. Like a story, one story is about, there is a story about the last lake up on the Brooks Range, in the early days they fought war around that lake, and that one that, a person went up and just very recently, walk around there. When he came back he said he was telling his mother that and that lake, that last lake that was there. She asked him what it's like over there, he was telling her there was spruce tree there around that lake. Her mother said what do you mean, there's no tree around those area, but now it seem like the tree line are going up, up into the Brook Range. So the climate warmness is warming up. Even the moose are moving up over the Brook Range now. They used to they don't have moose up in those area. But the moose are kinda, like they're moving up as a warming, the vegetation and all that I believe. Even the coast people on the other side are saying that they start seeing quite a few moose on this side of the Brook Range. In the early days you know they don't have moose over that way.
So the moose are kinda like spreading over the Brook Range. It could be because of the climate warm. Even that Venetie area, the tree, it could be right after the ice age. In the early days Venetie area used to be a whole big glacier, up that way, up towards on the west side of Venetie, up through those hills. There's a story about, there's a mountain up there right above Venetie called (the name I was given for this mountain-Vivee nihjireegha'- is not right) is the name of that mountain, it's a sharp mountain lookout, it's a mountain for a lookout hill. It's all out there by itself, it's kind of sharp like.
They could see on the west side, on the east side and south side, and the whole thing will be glacier. So anything that come from the east they could see, anything coming up on the river they'll see it, or anybody coming from the west side they will see that too. So it's a really good place for a lookout for animal or people that are moving.
So that mean it got to be the whole thing is just like a grass area, like tundra, but today you cannot see the whole area anymore because of the tree that grows. If somebody coming from the east you can't see them because the trees are too high.
Sidney: Is it spruce trees that are growing in there or.....?
Kenneth: Just spruce and all willow and stuff like that, the willow are high you cannot see. Like birch, cottonwoods, all those, whole variety of tree. Another, that's one of the story, there's a story behind it, but I could say that, but now you can't do that because of the tree that grow.
Also like down in Ft Yukon area, from that Christian Villages spot, about 40 mile from Ft. Yukon until you hit the mountain, in the early days like during around 1900 from the Christian Village, Christian Village is a foothill of that mountain right there on the south side of Arctic Village. Up on those mountain from there they could look south down toward Ft. Yukon and they see the Yukon River and in fall time they could see caribou on the other side of the Yukon River. The caribou are moving up on the Yukon River, they could see caribou from Christian Village down to on the Yukon. They could see the white stuff so that mean around 1900 so the trees are little smaller so compared to today. Today if you look down all you see is just big trees, I don't think you'll see caribou. The caribou in fall time their fur get white, their neck you know, and their neck are really white. That's when they get fat, that's when they do that. And so you could see in around 1900 they see caribou that far from Christian Village. That's why I know that in the early days that they don't have lotta big trees.
Bill: How about some other indications that things are changing that you've noticed?
Kenneth: Like what kind of stuff?
Bill: Well I think you had mentioned last time we talked, insects that people hadn't seen before.
Kenneth: Oh yeah, I remember like in 1962, right around that area, I remember in our house in the log cabin when we had that gasoline lamp, they call a Coleman gasoline lamp, when they burn that one time in fall time they notice a bunch of flies that are just circling out there like this on the side of, one side of the gasoline lamp and they say they never seen that kind of stuff even in winter time, I think in winter time, yeah.
So that's the first time I know they had a conversation that they never seen that kind of bug before. It was something new in those days I think, you know? Because in the early days people notice things fast too, because they are more observant in lotta stuff.
When they see something new they kinda tell each other right away. You know, they see lotta things, lotta small stuff, they always keep track of.
Another time too they see couple birds that were, that we never see before you know. One time we had a really blue bird that was up there in Arctic Village one time and that elder was saying that, he told me there's a blue bird outside, and he said it's a new bird. So that's very recently.
Bill: I guess one of the indications would be if there's a name in the language for that bird, and if there isn't a name then it might be a new, a new bird.
Kenneth: We don't have name for it, because it's a blue color bird that they seen. Another thing too, one time we seen that magpie, I don't think they maybe very seldom they go that far. There was a magpie flying around couple years ago. Magpie's mainly like from around here in Fairbanks or little south uh? But they don't fly that far north I don't think so. But I see a magpie up there a couple years ago, about five years ago.
Bill: One of the expressions that some elders have talked about in other parts of Alaska is that the world is happening, things are happening faster and as you were talking about seeing changes and observations of elders, do they, is it fair to say that more things are happening, there's more things to observe that are changing, and that that's an example of moving faster, or is it just that things are changing at a normal rate, or hard to say maybe?
Kenneth: You're talking about time uh?
Bill: Yeah, I'm kinda mixing up time with observations and the fact that people observe things. You said that elders are quick to pick up on observations, and I was wondering if more things were changing and so that would give the impression of speed.
Kenneth: Well, the elders are saying that time are going faster now, nowadays.
Bill: And what do they mean by that?
Kenneth: Things are just, I think, as they see it, I think that the way how I see it, I think they're talking about time, it's go by, going by so fast, like summer come, then fall time come, and it just, it's going through quicker than it used to.
But I know in more scientific time we're going at same pace, but I think it could be because of in the early days they don't pay attention to a lot of other stuff, so then in their time, in their own speed of time, but today is a different time than what we're looking at in the early days. So like today we're watching time, and you know we have time, watch and we have clocks and all that so when you're trying to do something you have to do it in 2 hour, and then when you want to do something 2 hour will flip over real quick, you know?
Kenneth: But in the early days you don't worry about 2 hour, when you get to start something you'd be there till you finish it, you know? If it take 4 hour don't matter, if it take a week they still take their time doing it.
So that's why I think their time system even though in the real scientific time the time is going at the same pace, but it's, but the way how they see it, they see it different now. So that's why they're saying that, I don't know, the elders are saying that gee time are going faster they're saying.
But I know for me when I look at it I know the time are going the same pace, but for them they seen it different.
Bill: What about the seasons, fall, spring, winter, summer, breakup, freeze up?
Kenneth: Yeah, those things are really changing. The time, I mean the temperature in the early days were really extreme cold weather in the wintertime, a long period of time too. But nowadays we don't see that anymore. Just every once in a while we see cold weather, you know?
Bill: And we were talking, Ken you and I were talking earlier about exercises that Carolyn might do in the classroom to talk about what cold is, how cold is cold?
Could you talk about some of those things, how you know how cold it is?
Kenneth: I don't know if I can--you could hear the cold weather by your breath too you know. It goes out like this, (makes whooshing sound with breath) you know it's really cold out, you know outside. And the dogs too, they predict cold weather, the dogs they kinda flip over like that and that kinda predict cold weather. And also like when you see the out there for a long time it'd be warm and all of a sudden you see all the tree, and willow, birch, cotton, spruce, they all get frost up, the whole thing would be frost up, in our culture they say they put on their coats, they put on their parka, their coats.
So after that there'll be really extreme cold. They come and then the tree they don't get hurt when the cold come.
Bill: What's the Gwich'in word for that?
Kenneth: We don't, I don't think we have word for that.
Bill: How do you say the trees put on their coats?
Kenneth: Just you know, gweheenk'oo gwitsi'i' dagwa ch'aa nanaa zhik. That mean putting on his parka, his coat.So lotta tree too because then the environment kinda play a role and certain parts so the tree don't get hurt. Sometime the tree if it's bare like that, if it get real cold it'll get scorch. Cold is same thing as fire, it'll burn things if it get real extreme. If you burn wood you know, then it burn. If you got extreme cold weather it'll do that too, it'll burn it. So that's why they put on their coat and they protect themselves from that really cold weather.
Sidney: What about, besides cold and change in cold spells, are there other weather differences? Things like more clouds, more snow, less snow, more wind, different wind directions, all that kind of thing, other changes?
Kenneth: Yeah, in some part of the country like Arctic Village in our culture we name those month by the certain things that's happening in the calendar year. Actually, we have 13 month in our culture, but the western they only have 12. Because we do it by the full moon, every full moon is certain part of the month we have for that season.
And February is supposed to be, they call Veegwaadhat, it pass over, but another thing too they call it ahtr'aii zhrii, wind month, in the early days the wind always come long time ago I remember. But today it don't really do that. That wind is good for animal too like moose. When moose sometimes they be in one area for long time and then like other wolf or something like that, they know it. They know the moose is in that area. And then by losing their ground when the wind come and then they take off and make a big loop you know like 5 mile loop. They just run around like that and they get back in different area away from the place where they're at so they lose their spot. The moose are very smart animal, so that's why when the wind, that's why in February it does that, the wind come and moose usually relocate themself. But today we don't see no wind even in February.
So the wind, even in that wind change, and the cold weather too, it start to get, it got really warm. Even in '60 we had lotta cold weather in '60, but very recently up in around '70 it start, weather just kinda like all of a sudden it'd be warm one winter next year it'll be cold next winter and then just go like flip flop. But very recently these last couple years, about 3 or 4 years it's just...... since about '88 is the only time we had cold weather. 1988 we went up to like 75 below one winter. That was in '88. And then after that it just kinda have little wave like, that's just about all. We don't even see cold weather, we don't even wear parka anymore in the winter.
Bill: Could we go back to that wind example and the moose? Were you saying that the wind was important so that the moose could escape the wolves coming at them?
Kenneth: Wolf and men yeah, so they relocate themself. If the moose is one place then people will know. When the wind come too people use that to hunt, and the wolf does that the same thing too. When there's wind they go hunt too. And even men.
So like moose for over time they know that too, so they relocate themselves so if you try and look for them there you won't find them.
Bill: So moose have been affected by the lack of wind during that month.
Kenneth: Well, we haven't seen very wind weather anymore for Venetie and Arctic Village, especially in February, February, ah'traii zhrii. Ah'traii zhrii mean wind month.
Sidney: What about snow? What about snow levels, are they changing, when it comes and how much, is that any different?
Kenneth: Well the snow kinda seem like it's staying the same height but very recently last 5 years, like last year, this year we didn't get any snow until December, after December. So usually we get all our snow, start in October and we usually get all our snow by November and first part of December. But now it's kind of stretching out like all over December before we get our snow, it seem that way. I never seen, you know couple times we had rain in December, so those things are really hardship for animal. When rain come in December because like caribou and moose, they depend on plants, you know, the things that they eat. Even rabbit you know, they depend on, rabbit depend on snow to survive. If the rain come then the whole thing get ice crystal and the rabbit can't survive. Even ptarmigan, ptarmigan . Snow is a really good insulation thing for animals, even moose, caribou. It is easier for them to survive in the powder snow because that's their insulation for the cold weather.
Sidney: How about freeze-up and break-up?
Kenneth: Sometime the breakups are kinda stay at the same pace, you know the breakup? But the weather sometimes is really funny like if it stay warm all winter long then we have a long spring. It don't get warm real fast. If it's, so if it stay cold in the winter time then we have an early summer, the summer come early, but if it's really warm winter then we have a late spring.
Bill: You were talking earlier about how people have noticed change and in the old old stories there's stories about change, changes in environment, changes in animals. Would you talk about some of that?
Kenneth: Like, give me example?
Bill: Like apparently there's a Gwich'in name for big animal, bigger than bear and bigger than moose.
Kenneth: Is that environment?
Bill: You were saying that there was signs of big animals in the environment, in the, that are part of the oral tradition.
Kenneth: Yeah, in the early traditional story and up to my grandparents and even my to uncles. There's a story like one of my uncle, Nathaniel, he shot like a water animal, they call like a water buffalo. It looked like a moose but it really, but his skin is all rubber. They come out on the lakes and my uncle said one time he shot that one but the animal got away. Even though he shot it real close, he shot it four times he said. He say he look at real good. The horns look much like a moose horn but it really look different he said. And he said the skin look like rubber skin, it's not a fur.
Bill: How about dinosaur and Pleistocene type animals? Are there stories about those?
Kenneth: I think that's why they got their story with seen a large animal. Just very recently we have story like that. Even with our grandparents age, you know those people that are, they tell us different story. They say even that one elder said that one night he heard a big kinda like thunder, ice breaking, all that crashing and next morning he say when he woke up he was just scare and when he went outside he see the whole creek was all broken up and he said that he know that that animal went up that river and he don't want to go up that river and look for that animal. He told that kind of story.
And my grandfather tell lotta story like that. Lotta animal that come from lakes. They always tell us not to go to certain lakes too. Yeah, we have some lake, one lake that got a fish with a human head on it. They always tell us that in the past our people don't go to that lake, even go around that lake. And if, even when you're on the shore of that lake, if you see that fish it'll kill you.
Just by seeing it and then it'll, you won't live. And so when they go around that lake they usually just detour up on top of a mountain and they never go by that lake.
Bill: Which lake is that?
Kenneth: Someplace up in Arctic Village area. They call that lake dzeeluk they call it. Dzeeluk. Dzeeluk mean...I think it's probably much like a mermaid maybe. It sound like it, with a human head on it.
Bill: Is that what that term means?
Kenneth: Dzeeluk, yeah.
Kenneth: Pretty much, dzeeluk mean more like a mermaid type you know, with a human head and a fish.
Bill: You had mentioned Chandalar Lake too as a lake where they had big fish, or big creatures.
Kenneth: Yeah, Chandalar Lake we call it Chehtj'ee van, you know my grandfather call it chehtj''ee van. Chehtj''ee mean you know bottom lake or something, chehtl'ee, that's what it mean. But chehtj''ee van is more of that ddhah territory. My great grandfather is ddhah Gwich'in and that's his home. And even today there's historic sites up there. My great grandfather's people were dwell in that area, and that's a good fish lake too. And Chehtj'ee van is some, there's a big fish in there too, in that Chehtj'ee van. I don't call it Chandalar Lake, I call it Chehtj'ee van. And those are his recent name. And that other lake, they call that Little Squaw Lake they call it? That one we call it vivee chiriinlit, that one is the one that that person was trying to made a raft and he was trying to go across it and then when he got in the middle it just went like that and that big fish swallow it. That's why they call it vivee chiriinlit, it mean something sunk uh? Yeah, chiriinlit.
Bill: This is a good time maybe for you to tell that story about David Salmon, and how things used to be, how clear things used to be in the old days.
Kenneth: Yeah, David was telling me on that Salmon Village, he was telling me up on the Salmon Village, it's up on the Black River, the headwater of that Black River, way, there's a name but...Way over that way there's another mountain range way over that way. I forgot the name of that mountain, White Mountain or something like that?
Sidney: Could be, yeah.
Kenneth: Yeah. It's on the east side of that Salmon Village, way at the mouth of that river. Right around there when they get up on the side of that mountain that's when they, him and his father, William Salmon is his father, and when he's look, when they're way over there they could see the whole valley up toward the west, the whole Yukon Flat. And then they could see the mountain way over there, they say that we call it ddhah dzak we call it. On the west side of Venetie there's that ddhah dzak, that's a sharp, couple sharp mountain all by itself uh? They could see that and right around that is where he said, David said William said, ah, my friend, my friend Johnny is living over there he said, you know? Yeah, he said he live like a big chief he said, rich man he said. Khaikwaii mean kinda rich. It mean like, you know today people use the term as a chief, khaikwaii mean chief. But in the early days khaikwaii mean more like a wealthy person. That's what it mean, and David said that his father, my friend Johnny is living up in that area, he live like a wealthy man up there, he said. And people respect each other territory you know, honoring each other and respect each other and all that. And then he could see the Christian Village over there, he told him, Chief Christian he told him. And then he talk about those person. David said just sitting up there he tell stories you know, that William Salmon. He talk about person over there at Ft. Yukon and Birch Creek. And David said he look at just like a picture you know, he look in those area. And that's how he know those country, by his father's telling him those little things you know? But today if you're out there you can't see much of that land because it's too much all foggy, it's not really clear anymore. Now today lotta things are just blue, you know that blue shaded color, yeah? And in the early days it's very clear because there's no environmental damage air. And he's saying that at night when he look at all the stars, and all the stars show he said. Almost every one of them in the universe. But today you could only see just those bright star that's up there. In the early days they used to tell lotta story about those star. So you could see the change in that kind of stuff, that kind of environmental especially in the atmosphere. He's kinda concerned about the atmosphere and that direction.
Bill: So did David tell you that story?
Kenneth: Yeah, uh huh.
Bill: Yeah, that's really a nice story in terms of the way in which he put that.
Kenneth: Uh huh.
Bill: You had talked too about the moon and how you could use the moon as a predictor. And the stars. Do you want to talk about that?
Kenneth: Yeah, I could. In the early days they used to have ceremony with the moon, the stuff like that. But there's the story was the little boy went into the moon, and that little boy he said in the hardship of the people. He said in the future I will give your generation, in the future generation, I'll give them sign for everything, you know for like weather, hardship, starvation, war, those things you know like that. So that's why even today that if you look at the sun and the moon, it'll give you sign. It'll either be warm or either be cold. It'll either be cold in the morning or cold at night or wind will come, it'll tell you everything. If it's gonna snow, even it's gonna be cold, it'll tell you. So in the early days like those grandparents always watch that, they say. They always tell us, they said, grandchild, you know, I think it's gonna be cold, get lotta wood. So we always get lotta wood before that, we don't know what's going on but we get wood. And then sure enough the cold weather come. They watch that you know, they say, they know those sign.
Bill: Do you know some of those signs?
Kenneth: Just little bit when it's, like it does lot of different kind of color around the sun, and it'll show, it'll either be like snow or rain or something like that you know, or be wind. But like sometimes around that moon they got that ring around that moon. Sometimes it's different color too, but I don't know, I can't judge that. But couple elders know that. They know, see, if it have that ring around it like that that could mean it's gonna snow. Another said I found out, around a ring when there's more little abrasion like that around it then it mean another thing too.
Bill: Are those signs still working?
Kenneth: Well, I never noticed the signs do the same thing like that, if it's gonna snow it have that ring around it and if it's gonna be windy, cold too, it's gonna get cold. Sometimes you watch a, they call a sundog eh? Us, we call it vehghyuu gwaak'a'. Vehghyuu gwaak'a' mean there's a fire in front of it, and on the back side or something. In English they call it sundog eh? But as we call a fire, vehghyuu gwaak'a' mean the sun is having a fire so he wanna keep himself warm uh? So that mean it's gonna be cold. And then sometimes they have that fire on the back, or sometimes on both side. I'm getting a little confused on that one, either some of the sundog, it could mean that's it's gonna be wind too. But I'm kinda little confused on that one, I haven't put it together. I got my notes some of the answer I still got on my notes but I need to refresh my memory. Yeah, see a sun sometimes it, they call it ni¸¸'yaa digweelchaa, all tangle up. Sometimes the sun will have like 7,8 sun dog around there. Those are really, only time it does that is for hardship for the people. It does that for war or starvation or something will happen within the family of someone that sees that. So when it tangle up like that sometime you'll see 2 ring, one ring like that around the sun and then another ring on top of that. And then on top of that you'll see a curve like that on top. They call that a horn. And sometimes around there the sundog will be here and up there, up there, I think about 7 or 8 sundog all tangle up. That's, in our culture that's the only thing that the people don't like to see. That's a very, see the little boy is telling that something is gonna happen. That's why he's showing us these sign. Another thing, the northern light too. The northern light will tell you when it's gonna be very cold. It act up a lot when it's gonna get cold. It come alive. Also it, sometimes the northern light will just become just totally red. Another sign for that is a war. It's a bloodshed, you'll see lotta blood. And we had that this winter you know, you could see, all you could see is lotta bloodshed in the world. And see the little boy is showing us these little sign you know. Something like this is for the Gwich'in peoples that believe you know. You have to believe it to, because it is telling you to survive. If you don't believe this then how can you survive? So you gotta be ready for those things, you know? And another that, and the northern light too, another 2 thing he does is that one he make a tipi, make a tipi, zheh gwach'ok they call it. And also he make a round house, skin hut house. One is for, both of them is for survival, both for starvation and stuff like that. So the northern light will show us where's there's food and it make, it'll make a doorway, by watching. It'll open up a doorway, it'll have that tipi and it'll open up a doorway for you. And then our people will go in that direction for survival. They use that long time ago for survival. So those are the, so a lot of it, they use northern light and the moon, and the sun. So they get prepare for that before something like that happen. And animal too, like in fall time? Animal like ground squirrel all of a sudden will just hibernate early and the winter will come early. That way it'll tell you early, that he get ready for things, you know?
Bill: And again, those signs you think are still, still work?
Kenneth: Oh yeah, oh yeah. They use that for calendar. Lotta times if something, if they see animal does something for a certain sign, then with that sign they get themself ready for those other things real early you know? When the ground squirrel start acting up and then they have to get ready early. So they just can't wait you know, for certain things. And they could even know like middle of summer, the middle of summer when the mosquito tell them that the middle of summer. Lotta old people, they know that the time is, even that one day, they watch that mosquito. The mosquito does something, I don't know. It tell, they say ___ they say, mean changing over. The mosquito is telling us that we're in the bottom of the, they watch that, those little things.
spells, in the winter so much. How about, do summers seem to be about the same as they've usually been?
Kenneth: Well, sometimes these last couple years it's warm all fall time. So it seem like it take longer before we start having all the snow. In fall time it's getting longer?
Sidney: Here, the last couple of summers have been not as warm, and lots of rain in July, which is early. Are you noticing any of those kinds of changes up there? Mostly irregularities, differences from the usual for there.
Kenneth: Yeah, I think it's kinda wavy like, you know? Every year is little different.
Sidney: How about, another one is there's a lot of talk with the warming that permafrost is melting and people are seeing erosion in places that they wouldn't expect or that they haven't before.
Kenneth: Yeah, I think we have lot of that in our area too because we're losing lotta lakes. Lakes are start caving in because all the, I think the permafrost is start melting and the lakes couldn't hold it, couldn't hold, so they just, that ground just break. In Arctic Village area so far we lost quite a few lakes that way. They just break through and they just go down to the river and all those lakes become dry. We lost quite a few lakes with lotta good fishing, because in the historical time, just very recently, there was a really good fishing spot, all those lakes, those lakes over there. Even that one lake, we call it _____ we call it. ______ mean those young whitefish, that's the name of that lake and every spring, boy, lotta good fish come from that lake. That lake is just dry, totally dry now, there's no water in it, it cave in. There's one by Arctic Village, that one lake, it cave in too. And you know Arctic Village is just, lotta those place are permafrost. I think they're, I think the permafrost are warming, you know they're breaking their ice so the lakes are breaking through. That's what I see in that one.
Sidney: Have the elders commented at all on any of that stuff, on those kinds of changes, as being unseen before, or real unusual?
Kenneth: Well, they know it's getting warmer you know. Seem to me like lotta those fish too I see, I don't know what that does but I see lotta those fish they have, their skin are start having some, you know, like abrasion on them? I start seeing it on top, especially on top. I never really seen that in my younger days, but I start seeing that kind when I was getting older and I was kinda wondering about that. But I don't know if I, if they exist long.
Bill: With this melting of permafrost in the lakes, is there some melting of permafrost on the riverbanks too?
Kenneth: Yeah, I think the river got, yeah, lotta those glacier there, they're melting too, you know? Like certain area there used to be big ice there? My uncle say that was big ice in that area, but he said recently when I told him that place where he told me there's a big ice right there, when I see it it's just a little ice that was out there, that's it. He said, he told me that long time, about 1930 area, he said right in that area, he said used to be big ice up in those big, the whole place, and the caribou was always going there in the summer, you know? Because the mosquito don't bother them when they're on the ice. But now when I was up there like maybe 10 years ago, just a little patch of ice that are there. And I told him that's how big that ice is. But he said, long time ago that ice is bigger he told me. So you could see that, you know, pretty much that ice is getting smaller. Even that Red Sheep Creek, right behind there, there used to be big ice up there he told me--James? That that ice is getting smaller too right there. It's just from here to like you know, twice as far that car over there.
Bill: Maybe a couple hundred yards.
Kenneth: Yeah. That how wide it is. He said it used to be right to under that mountain, he said. That whole thing will be big ice uh, glacier ice? But now it's, I told him it's getting smaller.
Sidney: Are they, are people concerned about these changes at home?
Kenneth: You mean right now, or what? Which people?
Sidney: Your, the people in Arctic Village, community in general.
Kenneth: They don't really concern about that. I don't think they're concern about the weather, I think they're more concern with their priorities I think. They don't really, they don't really watch a event any more very much because they're too much into seeing the...they don't see much of their environment direction anymore. They're more seeing the political stuff, you know? They're just too much into that Western stuff.
Bill: What sort of things could be done in the classroom with kids to look at and monitor environment?
Kenneth: To start to be able to, what they need to concentrate for the winter, what they need to survive with, you know? They, like for instance they got these berries, they have a berry, berries, they call that _____, I don't know how they call it in English but it's a red berry about this big, it's red. Sometime they grow with a little cluster like that. We call that _______.
Sidney: Low to the ground?
Sidney: And leaves shaped kind of like that?
Kenneth: Kinda round like.
Sidney: Maybe dogwood.
Kenneth: But anyway that berry is very important for our people. When that one ripe, right there, that berry tell them that the sheep is very good for, to hunt, it's good on fat and meat. That berry, they tell them that sheep is ready so they watch that berry. They get fish off until they watch that berry, and they watch that berry ripe. Right there they go up in the mountain, they stay up there for sheep. And then when they stay up there for sheep, they're waiting for the caribou to come back. When the caribou are coming then they come back to the caribou country and then they get their caribou.
Sidney: Actually, it's not dogwood.
Kenneth: So that's why that certain things you have to, for our kids to be like in school you know, they should observe ground squirrel. Ground squirrel will tell us lotta things. And even mosquito, if we know that the time when the summer change right there. That mosquito will tell them that you know. That we're in the bottom of it, we're going back up for fall. That's when they start getting ready, and then, and the caribou calf are small. That's when it's good for clothes, you know, parka and pants. That's when they do those things and then the caribou come and they make lotta dry meat and they dry everything. And by the fall time come and then they get ready, get some fish, and then winter come. And then the winter solstice on the middle of winter, they watch the sun to see how far it go down. They know where the lowest it go down, they know where it is. And then that's a solstice, you know? And then it start coming back up, they know that. They watch that. To certain height it get and they know they went for the winter. And then in spring they could survive whole summer and fall. But only time they're afraid of is that one, that lowest, the middle of winter is the hardest time in our country. Get really cold, and food-wise, you know? The cold is, you gotta have food to survive. But when it get warm you don't need lotta food to survive. You could survive with little. But they watch that sun to see how far it go down to certain height, and they're just joy that one day. Everybody will be happy because they get to that certain height. They know they went through the hardship. December, we call that ch'atsal they call it. It mean time of hardship, long night time, cold weather, that's what it mean.
Sidney: It must have been particularly in the old, you know before, with those long cold spells, that must have been really something to get through them. Those long cold spells. Kenneth, are you part of the Arctic borderlands ecological monitoring project up there?
Kenneth: No. Arctic borderlands?
Sidney: Arctic borderlands. Old Crow, McPherson, and I'm not sure where else. The project started there, where people, someone in the community does surveys of folks about, a lot about caribou but also fish and berries and things every year. Documenting it and putting it up on the Internet. And I know _______Peter said that Arctic Village just joined into that, fairly recently, the last year. That's not you though huh?
Kenneth: No, I never heard of him.
Bill: I wanted to kinda make sure that we got some suggestions down for kids that they could be involved in, so they could be involved in documenting yearly cycles and how that fits with what you just described in terms of the descriptions of each of the months. Did we get the names of the months down?
Sidney: Huh uh.
Bill: Maybe we should go through the names of each of the months and the environmental description of that so that we could then have the kids monitor that type of thing.
Kenneth: Mm hmm.
Bill: So let's go through them, if we could, as the last thing maybe go through the months so then we call it quits.
Kenneth: Yeah, all through those month they, in different area they call it different, different month, so I think mainly I'll tell from Venetie and Arctic Village I think. But Ft. Yukon, theirs is little different, from Chalkytsik too. Because they're in different environment uh? Different area? We call January, we call it ch'anjaa. Ch'anjaa mean, some people say is oldest month, but ch'anjaa mean too is, it mean, ____zhrii they call it. ___ mean like wedging out meat, like there's two meat frozen together, you put wedge in between it uh?
Bill: Oh, wedge.
Sidney: Oh, huh!
Kenneth: You hit it and it break apart, so like those hind legs, in January all those muscle are just puzzled together. If you got certain wedge, wedge you call it?
Bill and Sidney: Uh huh.
Kenneth: In between it, if you hit it it'll pop out piece by piece. And that's the name of that month. And February we call it veegwaadhat. Veegwaadhat mean pass over month. And then...
Sidney: And also wind month huh?
Kenneth: Ahtr'aii zhrii, wind month. And then March, we call it ch'izhin zhrii, golden eagle month. And then April, we call it ch'itreii zhrii, Ch'itreii mean the one that, one of the hawk months. The hawk is that, I think it's probably three-legged hawk or something, rough-legged hawk.
Sidney: And why would those months be named after those birds? Is it that...
Kenneth: That's when they come back.
Sidney: It is?
Kenneth: Uh huh.
Kenneth: That's when ch'izhin, ch'izhin, that's when they breed I think. Do they breed there?
Sidney: Doesn't that, that just seems early to me, but I don't know anything about when they....
Kenneth: Yeah, they come around about that time. Ch'izhin. And then May, we call it gwiluu zhrii. Gwiluu mean like at night, the snow melt during the day and at night they get cold and freeze over, get hard, that's mean gwiluu. Gwiluu zhrii. Long time ago they go out in their (rat camp??), they travel, going gwiluu they say. They could, you know, travel on top of frozen ice. And then June they call vananch'ii ghoo, mean month when duck eggs lay, lay eggs. July, they call that vananeets'anch'anzhii. Vananeets'anch'anzhii mean that the ducks they grow new feather. And then August, we call it di'ilii. Di'ilii mean I guess that caribou and moose, they have velvet on their horn. And then September is moose month, dinjik zhrii they call it. October is vadzaih zhrii, caribou month. November is divii zhrii, sheep month. December is ch'atsal, they call it. Ch'atsal mean it's a hard month, hardship, food are scarce and night is long, that's what it mean.
Sidney: So for September and October and November, moose, caribou and sheep, is that, are those the hunting months?
Kenneth: That's when they mating uh?
Kenneth: Moose, they mate in September, vadzaih is October, sheep is November. So that's why, that's how that month is put together like that. By...
Bill: Well, that's pretty interesting, I think that's something that the kids could pick up on and look at.
Kenneth: Mm hmm.
Bill: Then monitor.
Sidney: I've actually written, I wrote a curriculum for southeast along this line, and they had, their months of course pertain to their area. But the idea was the same, and they also had 13 originally too.
Kenneth: That, you know that, how they call that, that snipe? Snipe? That one bird that goes up in the sky, goes woo-woo-woo. When you hear that it's the first summer they say, in spring. When they hear that, I think it's the first summer I think, first day of summer. Summer start, they say. And then by watching the mosquito they know the bottom part of the summer, changing over, they watch the mosquito.
Bill: And what's the mosquito do when it changes?
Kenneth: I have no idea. I'll ask David one of these days.
Sidney: And what about spring? What's the sign for spring? Is there one?
Kenneth: I don't know. I know that that one part like in March or April one of the days get, just one day, just get warm real quick, you know? Really warm. That's when that bear, they turn over. They change over, you know? They sleep on one side long time? They get up and they turn over. Yeah, that's why it get warm they say. And then in fall time too, in fall they watch that crane. Crane, they go up like that on top of that community, fly around like that. When they're doing that there all that swallow, they go fly up in the air and they all flock with that crane. You know, they hitchhike uh? They get in their fur. After they all load up and then they start flying, that's how, when that crane does that, and then the swallow will be gone just that one day.
Sidney: Oh, so the swallow leaves, do the crane leave?
Kenneth: Uh huh, yeah.
Sidney: They both do, wow, how cool that is!
Kenneth: So the swallow kinda hitchhike I think, uh huh.
Sidney: Oh, I love this stuff!
Kenneth: Just like loading up a 747. Gotta get that seat uh? In spring too, when there's the caribou in our country they're waiting for the snow to get slushy uh? They get slushy and then the caribou start moving up to coastal plain. They wait for that slushy snow. Over something like 1, 2 days the caribou will be gone.
Bill: Why are they waiting for slushy snow?
Kenneth: I guess it's easy to travel, I guess.
Sidney: Seems like it was slick and icy. But see Ken, I think these would be really cool for kids to concentrate on. You know they could really be watching every season for markers that are important in the community. And really tuning their eyes and their senses to pay attention.
Sidney: And that would be, because like in our project we've got one of the signs of spring is green-up, you know, the leaves popping out and so there's this whole little measurement protocol that you do to pay attention to when they pop, you know. But, if when the leaves pop out isn't very important, or isn't the most important sign in Venetie, I mean in Arctic Village, then watching for whatever would be, that would be very cool, for kids to watch for the thing that makes sense there, you know?
Kenneth: Yeah, another thing, one time that James told me. One day he said. ..
Bill: James Gilbert?
Kenneth: Yeah, he told me "did you notice anything?" He said that. I didn't get it, I look around and I told him no. "All the crows are gone," he said. So I look around and there's no crow. He said, "The caribou are coming," he said. And the crow, when the caribou are coming the crow go over there I guess. So that one day all that crow will be gone. But when the caribou are coming, the wolf are killing the caribou too, you know? So that's where they'll be at uh?
Sidney: Oh, I see.
Kenneth: So I could notice he's watching all these things around him, you know? So that could be another thing to watch for is crows, really big. Long time ago they use crow for hunting too, you know? When the crow go like this and his packsack is heavy they say. Tr'ee khwaa yahchik. When he turn over like this, and tr'ee khwaa yahchik mean when it's, his packsack....
Bill: Do that once more.
Kenneth: When he fly like that all of a sudden he go like this, he flip over like, that mean his packsack is heavy, tr'ee khwaa yahchik. That mean it's good time to hunt that day you know, because crow is predicting that someone is gonna to kill animal. Someone's packsack is heavy uh? And so they, sometimes when they hunt for moose too, you know, moose is very hard to locate in the bushes because he'll hear you. You don't want him to hear you so you be kinda sneaking up around there sometime. Sometime the crow are watch you too, you know they're watching. So sometime you'll be watching the crow, wondering where that moose is and that crow will fly and all of a sudden you'll look down there uh? Like that? He's telling you the moose is right there. When you see something alive, you see that. A lot of people use crow for hunting. To locate where the moose is. And crow is very good helper for, it even tell you when it's gonna wind uh? When they start scratching each other, that mean the wind is coming. They know. They scratch each other. They call that deetrya' nih¸oodrii they call it, and it's gonna be windy. Crow is very helpful to our culture. Got lotta funny story for crow. And then the, that camp robber they call it uh? He, him too, they use him for that sound, that tk tk tk tk he make, it sound like a tanning moose skin, so he's prophesying moose kill or animal kill. We watch for these little sign and people go hunt. My grandmother used to do that all the time, he always know that when someone is going to kill an animal. He always say those things, then right there my cousin always go hunt. He'd listen to grandma all the time. My grandma will say yeah, he seen it in vision, she seen vision. "I see this," she said. My cousin will know that she's prophesying, I mean she's predicting an animal kill.
Bill: Is this your grandma Sarah?
Kenneth: Uh huh.
Bill: Sarah _____
Kenneth: Couple time my cousin, that's how he kill moose. He wouldn't go out for nothing until my grandma say something. Clear the way.
Bill: Now this has been real good, there's lots of good information here. And I think that what we want to do is try to get teachers to start using some of this material. Maybe even an opportunity to do some more recording with Dan and, Dan Frank and others.
Kenneth: Yeah, other people got lotta things like these. Lotta stuff.
Bill: So maybe we can draw on you to help us make some of those contacts.
Bill: That will be good.