Clarence Alexander was interviewed on July 11, 2009 by Bill Schneider and Sidney Stephens in Fort Yukon, Alaska. In this interview, Clarence talks about his observations of environmental change that he has seen during his lifetime of hunting, trapping and fishing in the Fort Yukon area and his experiences traveling on the land. Specifically, Clarence discusses permafrost melting, drying of lakes, changes in the wind, snow and rainfall, unpredicability of the weather, changes in freeze-up and break-up, changes in wildlife and bird populations, salmon management, and the effects of fire.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Stakeholders and Climate Change
Date of Interview: Jul 11, 2009
Narrator(s): Clarence Alexander
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Sidney Stephens
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Water Quality of Lakes
Impact of Lakes Drying
Change in Wind
Unpredictability of the Weather
Effect of Changing Wind on Subsistence
Freeze-up and Break-up
Living With Nature
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CLARENCE ALEXANDER: -- being teach -- being taught a leadership role. I have never trapped.
I have never trapped in my life except for shooting muskrat. I -- that's the way it was with me growing up.
It didn't -- they made sure that I was involved in a preparation for just like people being prepared for college at univer -- at high school level, they have three categories, you know, like look at general education and college preparation with high school.
Kind of same kind of a thing going on as we were growing up, but it was always I was involved -- I was never involved in trapping because they won't allow us.
And they knew ahead of time that. How they know, I don't know, but they knew that certain people were picked out to be in the leadership role, and they were mentored in that capacity.
And I'm just filling in for -- the way I understand things is that when I've been -- what I've been learning as time goes is that our elders were always there mentoring.
They talk about life as it is. I always thought that how -- how smooth things were running in our clan.
There is no fights going on, everybody, all the -- everybody's well behaved, well trained, being trained.
And -- and the setting was just beautiful. You don't hear people arguing with one another. There is time for stories to be told, and that's when everybody sits around and totally listening, you never say a word.
I didn't say nothing until I was 40 years old, if you really want to know, because I had -- that's just the way that teaching goes.
When I turned 40, I decided that -- that one morning I woke up and I view the world for what it really is.
Some people say I see 50 years in time. And what I've started 30 years ago is being accomplished today, putting in infrastructure in Fort Yukon, 30 -- 19 -- I started back in '69, 1970,
putting a face in order so that our youth that are coming up would have an opportunity to live the life-style that we knew as -- as I grew up, what I know.
So we -- we started teaching our young people about who we are. That's going back in wintertime, they take them out winter survival, falltime survival, summer survival schools, which are taking place.
And my youngest one happened to be the -- the one of the students that have participate, his friends and all others that participate are the ones that are teaching the traditional values now because what we've taught them is what they are teaching the younger ones.
I don't go there anymore because we have young people doing it.
We have let the people, young people in their thirties actually take over our community.
So it makes them more productive, more energetic, more involved in the things that are going on, and they are happy because they know who they are.
They don't have to fight that anymore, whether they got blue eyes, yellow hair and black hair and brown eyes, they are still Indians because the setting they were brought up in is what they are.
It's not Fairbanks or Anchorage, that doesn't make our community members. One of the things that they disown us is starting with anyway.
We're in the way of what they call progress. We are not in the way of progress.
We are involved in the progress of development in a sustainable way, and yet we have other factors that are entering our world.
And as we start seeing that, when I was in grade school, and there was the haze that we see over the horizon, back in 19 -- early '50s,
we see a brown haze over there, we couldn't understand what it was, but you don't see it above you but you can see it at a distant.
Our elders are saying that's pollution. We don't understand pollution.
We don't understand toxic materials. We didn't understand anything that was harmful that comes from the world of highly intelligent people.
The White society. That pretty much they are -- they are mostly immune to what they have and we're not immune to it.
So whatever this -- whatever toxic material or disease or whatever they bring, we -- we're crashed, we -- people die from it.
So assuming that all these things are happening without pointing fingers, we decided to start initiating --
maybe we thought it was clean water because we -- we see animals with sores on them, fish the same way, and the birds, all carrying some toxic material.
You can actually see it when you're -- then you have to burn these things because you don't want it to spread it.
So going back in time, you know, I've been hitchhiking from Alexander Village up here from Twenty Mile ever since I was about 4 or 5 years old.
Things have changed. We used to have a -- we used to travel.
Every person had dog team. My -- my family had two set of dog team; my mother had one, my father had one.
We just go cross-country, and we carry our own -- we carry our own -- this is way of life. Every person had a paddle.
We knew the conditions of our water. We never got sick. And all of a sudden we keep hearing about fallout around here.
And we keep having caribou examined, and notice that they are -- the blood is changing. The marrow is changing.
People are hollering about it, but they fall on deaf ears when it comes to science explanation for what's going on.
But those years we travel the country, it was a lot of meadows, a lot of wet meadows where the moose hang out, you actually see them.
Those same areas are not productive anymore because the changes taking place, the growth, the vegetation is increasing.
It's more of a jungle out there than -- it's harder to travel through the woods anymore because of the vegetation that's growing fast, especially willows.
I don't know about them. We have people come around here looking for evasive plants, but I don't know what they are talking about either.
But you know, our grandparents, they talk quite a bit about the earth changing to warmth.
Well, they call -- they talk -- they don't say heat, they don't know how to say heat, so they say fire.
They have no way of explaining the heat, so they say fire. Fire is going to take over.
Well, I've been thinking about that ever since I was a little kid, and the only thing I see a lot of that's coming into all the -- our regions is a lot of by-products of oil products that are coming into our community
that's tons and tons of plastics that are being dumped at -- in the garbage.
Hey, 1950, we didn't even have a disposable place to put anything because there wasn't anything to dispose of.
Everything was recyclable. Everything was usable. They make things so that it was usable, it was not made so that you can garbage it and create bad raven or whatever.
Animals go there, too, because they are -- they like to be in the garbage.
Now we have, I don't know, they spread the stuff. But there is a hell -- hell hole.
And there are -- there is more -- there is more fruit plants coming into the region, but all these lakes that are drying up are starting to grow grass area, like plants.
There's a lot of fruit out there. I don't know where it's coming from but that's from the dry -- the lakes are drying up and that's where they are going. And at that same time, willows.
My -- my whole life is surrounded by water. There is nothing that I can do without water. Everything is water.
There is not one moment that I go by that I have to have clean water. And so -- so it goes for everything else.
If we pollute our water out here, those birds take it back from where they got it up here, and those ones down there are bringing it up here.
Sometimes you get a bird and you actually see the whole thing just black. The meat is black, it's purplish, they are totally contaminated.
That's when I thought about H5N1, or something. It's kind of a disease that birds carry.
But anyway, I -- I just made a trip and almost died. I went down to the Lower 48 and I inhaled some of their beautiful air, water, and clean land that I walk on down there, and it almost killed me.
Why? Because the whole damn place is polluted. It took me 10 days to uncover -- recover from my trip, I almost died from it.
I refused to go down there, but I made a commitment to be in a leadership role, so that's the route that I'm going.
But there are -- the more I observe the weather patterns that are changing for the last 20 years, I see that our -- our -- we're pretty cold here, but some of the weather we used to have is moving west.
Quite a bit of it.
We're -- the wind that we used to get is going down that way now, more so than this way. And we're getting less snow.
Hell, it's lucky we got a foot of snow this winter.
As a young person, when I was a kid, we would have big drift piles of snow, and that's why we -- I call the place down here Snowdrift because we had snowdrifts back then, we don't have snowdrifts now.
Big snowdrifts. Something you can camp in. You know. You can't do that now.
Our animals, some of our animals are moving south. If you really want to know how bad it is, you can go to Emmonak and ask them how many beaver has entered your country in the last 20 some odd years; last year I went down there to check it out, they told me a million.
A million beaver.
And our lakes are drying out around here so they are disappearing. Down there it's very lucrative country.
With good willows, no trees, a lot of bog, a lot of little waterways, but what is it going to do?
We still are protecting ours up here, beaver enter, boom, you know. Down there, they don't want to eat beaver.
They don't want to make out -- well, shoot the sucker, 50 bucks.
I mean, you can only shoot it for a dollar and you can make 200 bucks if you make beaver hat, beaver mitten or something like that.
And we'll even send you a team down there, and that's a change of weather taking place and that's what's happening. Everything's relocating.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Could you say more about the wind, the directions?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah. I know the wind direction is changing because every winter it used to be from the north here. And it's -- it's not -- it's not taking place anymore.
I'm telling you, I -- but because as a young person, we don't have no TV, we might have radio but we don't listen to weather because we just finally, like, 20, 30 years ago, we brought in thermometer.
Biggest mistake we made. Okay? Now people look at the thermometer, "Oh, it's that cold out there so I can't go out there today".
Years ago the thermometer didn't exist. Oh, a little cool out there, I think I'll just wear a little -- a little more fur on.
And nobody worried about fur -- I mean, from cold because I'm telling you, first thing I started when I was a kid I was wearing caribou clothing.
And I was toasty. And that's why I'm here today because of being in good health.
The healthy living that my parents done for us, my whole family is not sick, we've never been sick.
It's because we got brought up in a natural way, as natural as it can be with the world that we're living in with some supplement from the outside world.
We weren't even allowed to touch salt, sugar, and tea and stuff like that because it's toxic for our body.
And you try to tell that to people out in the world, they will -- they will fight you to the death, tooth and nail to say this much is okay, this much is not okay in our water. Okay?
Nothing is okay in our water unless it's pure, standard water. We cannot say this much of this will be it's okay for us.
That's the kind of argument we will get into with the mining industry, the oil development, any kind of development that it's okay to release some of this into your water.
No. We do not want. So that's why we're gathering up in Whitehorse to make standard for ourself, a standard for our water that we say this is the standard, not what you imagine is safe.
No. You can surely say it's, ah, we'll fix your teeth, they think chloride and fluoride and all this good stuff. Nobody used to have any bad teeth around here until the products from the outside world started coming in.
That's what's causing all that stuff, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: When you were talking about the wind changing, what's the impact of that?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: You can't go moose hunting if you go out there and there's no wind. Okay?
BILL SCHNEIDER: No but, you said that it's changing. It used to be north wind and now it's -- is it east-west wind?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: It's -- yeah. It's -- it's a north wind we call it. I don't know which way it blows but it's a north wind.
That's just the way we talk. North wind. Whether it's coming this way or whether it's coming this way, as long as it's not coming this way, from the south, it's north.
That -- that -- sure, just like this summer, lots people are noticing more -- are more whirlwinds. More and more and more.
That's the heat and cold area getting together, but you notice that right here in Fort Yukon. Like this summer, quite a few, little twisters, but they create a lot of sand and throw a ball of dirt and everything else in the air, you know.
And like same thing that happened down in the Lower 48 on a bigger scale, they call it a hurricane.
Here it's just little twisters, you know. Sure.
I'm talking about the weather, the wind that used to come our way and head down -- down Whitehorse and down that way and it hit the USA from the backside.
Well, it doesn't hit it from the backside anymore, it's hitting it from Washington, Oregon, California. It's hitting it from the side now. That didn't exist before.
Right now you notice in the last 10 years or so that we have quite an impact on Flor...California, Oregon, and Washington. And a little bit of BC.
Because I checked them all out. I went there. And I just tell the people in those areas, and they said, yeah, this is having -- it's just one of those things.
They say -- well, I tell them, it's going to be happening every year with intensity. It's going to go up until it'll take care of itself. You know.
We're watching it, doing everything we can to -- end something. I went to Portland, Oregon, and told them that their weather is changing. Sure, it's changing.
Tell them they are getting bombarded by this northern pattern that's changing and that the one that used to come down Yukon Flats and take all that cold weather out and take it down to the Lower 48, now we're getting cold weather in Washington.
So that's my observation. I mean, it's --
BILL SCHNEIDER: What's the impact of that wind change for people here?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Still in this, it's no good for us. Okay? We have to have wind.
We -- the wind guides the animals, it change direction, they -- safety precaution. Animals use it for -- for their own livelihood.
If the wind change from the north, their -- their location is identified by other animals.
They move south, is relocating. When south wind. There's always wind that helps maintain a balance between the wolf hunters, wolf hunting, moose, and so it balances out by keeping the animals and for the protection of not being smelled or being located where they are.
Because we hunt by the wind. We hunt only when it's windy. Why? Because you can sneak up on the moose.
Otherwise, we also know that the moose -- the movement of moose, when it's windy, just the day before when the wind, the wind is going to blow, they would move.
And their trails would cover up next day by the wind that blew over and you won't even know that they actually moved.
The way we know it is we constantly travel these places where the moose go across country, we constantly travel those trail, and they go across, I know where that sucker is. Okay.
I can put on my snowshoe. And I go out there and I'll walk into it. But it also, it protects itself by backtracking it -- not backtracking, but it walks straight out and curls around and it watches on its own trail.
Now, if you follow it, you'll never get to see that moose. So what we do is we go off to the side about 100 yards or so, and the trail parallel, we walk parallel to it and you'll walk right into it.
I mean, a moose hunting technique with the wind. Yeah. And everybody uses it. Every -- all animals that disappear to it's going to be windy.
I mean, there's no movement up by some animals, like other animals don't move because it don't get windy. But for the protection, they don't move.
But for the others, they have to move for their own protection. It does bring in the cold air. And people enjoy it, you know. They know whether it's -- its useful.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Can you talk about the impact of fires on permafrost? Impact of fires on permafrost.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Fire. Oh, hey, there is -- our river can only handle so much carbon. Okay? Our river is saturated with carbon.
And I don't know if that's safe for human beings, but all I know is that there's a lot of material that is falling out that is going into the -- that has been frozen, the tundra that's melting and it's getting into the water.
There's cyanide, there's other stuff that just naturally exists in the earth that's getting into the water.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You were talking about permafrost melting earlier, and your first quarter that you earned. Could you tell that story?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Sure. Well, you know, back in time we had all the amenities, I think they call it, you know, you guys have coffee shops, and we had theater, we have pool halls, we have bakery, we had two, three stores, we had a couple, I'll call cafes.
And in order to go to a movie, I -- I needed to earn a quarter. So I went to Mr. Dan Frank, and I asked him for a job, and he took me out and he said, here.
You dig a hole right here. Well, little I did -- little did I know of permafrost, okay?
I'm just walking along there, having a good time growing up, okay, up to that point anyway, I didn't realize the ground was frozen.
I'm living this close to the riverbank at the time, too, because my grandfather's house is pretty close to the riverbank, but it wasn't sloughing in, it was not sloughing in.
And the ground was so frozen solid that the birds did not grow holes in it. Okay? Like the swallows.
Now I got 200 visitors down there or more that are digging holes in front of my house.
At the same time the earth -- the earth is thawing out from the top down, so on the side coming this way, from the riverbank, the sun is shining on it, that frozen tundra now turns into a dry sand.
And so it just sloughs into the river. And which is un -- not noticeable, but it's -- it's happening. And that's what I'm talking about.
A lot of carbon is going into the river, and among other kind of chemicals that are exist -- that the river have time to digest.
But now it's fluctuated with so much of it and we don't know what's happening, but we're monitoring the water now. So -- to keep track of what's happening.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you started digging that hole for Dan Frank?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Oh, absolutely, I started digging that hole. Little did I know, I went maybe -- I -- I don't remember, but I think I might have went about a foot and a half or so.
And it was completely frozen solid. You cannot even use an axe because you use axe, you have to do little chips at a time.
So I gave up on that because I ain't going to sit there and chip it, you know, this is a long ways to go.
And that old man, he had me almost like a cane to measure with, you know, when you reach this point right here on the top, you're done, you get your quarter, he told me.
Well, hey, little did I realize that it's going to take me ten or two weeks to complete my project, but after two weeks, I got my quarter, but I never asked for a -- I never have gone to another person to ask for a job since then.
And I have to know the specifications of what kind of work I'm getting myself into before I do that. Which his father was my teacher, too, as a teacher in the business, a different world. Johnny Frank.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. So did you ever -- did you ever hire a kid to do that yourself?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yes, I did. I actually -- my son had a visitor from Seattle area, and he come up to me one day, they wanted to earn at least 20 bucks, both of them.
So I went out and I was -- thought I was going to do the same trick, you know. I was -- I was going to do the same thing, but I actually made it a bigger hole. You know, bigger, maybe more like 6 by 6, you know.
But they dug it up right away, which surprised the hell out of me because they dug out 7 foot of earth and that's where they hit the permafrost.
If I'd have known that, I would have gave them an 8 footer. And so -- but the following day, they come back again, wanted to know if there was any other work to do.
Yes, sir, you can put it back now. Yeah. So that's what I thought. So after that they never come back and asked me for work.
They went to places where they have constructions or other places, they -- they don't want me pulling stuff like that on them. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So that says something about permafrost, huh?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. That's -- that's -- that's permafrost. So as the earth go by, as a young -- like go back to a time when talk to Dan Frank about digging that hole, the same time, an old man passed away, we went to the graveyard, and it took us three days to dig that graveyard out.
It was frozen solid. We have -- a pick is no good. We have to use axe, we chopped three days, they burned fire, they put wood in there and they burn it and hoping that they would thaw out a little bit, and it was every day, keep burning it,
keep burning it in order to reach a level that -- the distance they want.
But it -- it was -- they had -- now, you go down there, it's just like powder. That's the difference between 40 years ago and today.
Now you can just dig it out with a shovel, where they used to have to chop it out.
And break up those dirt that were kind of semi-frozen, you know, it's cold but it can -- if you could break it up, it will come out. Now you just dig it up.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Boy, this guy's going to heaven, they say, meaning that the dirt is all soft to dig. That's a -- I don't know whether it hard or solid or soft, you're going there, I don't care when.
BILL SCHNEIDER: When you think about the yearly cycle of activities, how has that been impacted by climate variability, climate change?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: I think there's an impact on our animals. They have been there for centuries, and they have been following the same patterns, and all of a sudden that pattern is changing on them.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: They also have to adapt. They are adapting. I've seen a spot for a long time here that -- because I would say earth is thawing out so much that the rat -- muskrat dens were falling in.
You know those trouts that they have back there along the lakes, I don't know all that, they have dens that are underwater and they are about 7, 8 feet deep.
They go back, tunnel back into the -- under the earth back there, and they have about 50 or 60 of them living back in there.
Back in the '70s, late '70s, we had kind of like a crash where the weather changing and a different kind of earth movements, all of a sudden all the animals, water animals kind of disseminated or disappeared.
Now, they are finally coming back a little bit. Maybe they are digging out, making new trough, whatever. I'm not too sure.
But we also are getting a lot of birds here, a lot more birds. More birds that you don't see around here for, you know, hey, we've got lots of canaries here. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Canaries?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yes, sir. I see them every morning. I've been growing raspberries and they've been munching down on that, they love the juice off the plants.
SIDNEY STEPHENS: A little yellow bird?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. I call them canaries. What else can they be? The closest to the canaries.
We have a lot of little birds that are showing up. Anybody want bird watching, Alexander Village is an excellent place for it. Big lakes there.
SIDNEY STEPHENS: Yesterday James -- we were talking to James Kelly, and he -- he talked about how spring geese hunting has changed because of the -- the different -- a different kind of breakup on the river.
Does that sound familiar to you? Could -- could you say something about that?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Of course, National Geographic were here about 20 years ago, they want to know about the river. And they wanted to know what go -- what goes on.
And I tell them, well, every spring we have natural breakup, which is the water goes up, the ice starts breaking up, but I told them that years ago, as a young person, I'd see a river breaking up, the ice is about 8 to 10 feet thick,
and that -- that when it started moving, there's a roar sound, I told him my -- just my imagination, I hear one D-8 Cat, my imagination tells me I'm listening to about 500 D-8 Cats standing right there.
The sound of the river going down with crushing this 8 foot to 10 feet thick ice, boiling with water, and just tearing up everything.
Well, as years start going by, I was going back to the time that I'm mentioning back in 1960 when I come across a country with dog team.
It's changed from that time. But from -- but same time as that growth is taking place out in the country, the river, spring breakup has almost gone down to a just melting, melting out.
We didn't hear this roar of D-8 Cats anymore. The river just starting to melt out, just -- not -- just -- there was no -- even no flood, nothing.
Just low water like it is right now. For the last 10 years or so, that water has been pretty damn low, just the way it is right now.
But this spring we had -- you have to remember, we're watching. Okay?
I mean, other people, I don't know how -- what they watch, but I'm watching Whitehorse, Carcross, and Juneau. Okay.
Why? I'm watching this wind -- wind going down, so I'm watching the heat. The heat -- the heat this spring was 80, 90 -- 80, 75, up to 80, up here behind Juneau, while the ice was still solid. Okay.
It was solid as all get out right here. All solid.
Well, back in those foothills of the -- the headwaters, the high heat has intensified so bad that it start melting all the snow at one time, and the rush of water coming down and started break up at the -- way up there instead of down here as it usually -- it works its way down all the time,
but we know Eagle goes out, Fort Yukon will go out in a week. But this year it was a little bit different.
Eagle was starting to go out, but it also created with those ice in the -- the canyon up there, must have been 8 to 10 feet thick, and that created a dam below Eagle, which held the water back like a dam.
It keep going up, the ice keep piling up. It keep going up, the ice keep piling up.
Well, we were afraid it was going to bust through and put all the water on the Flats. But that didn't happen. We lucked out. It kind of bust through.
So it's -- this is the first year that we noticed that the high heat from the early -- early spring that up there in the foothills, the headwaters, that made it a flood for all -- all the villages down this way because all that water accumulated.
If Porcupine had went out the same time as Yukon, those people down that way would have caught hell because right here there's only about a mile or so path here, and it hauls all the water back that way, this way.
Usually the water comes through here, right through here. Yeah. But it's -- it's -- but the thickness of the -- the ice and the heat, that early heat, in the spring, well, if it happened this year, it might happen again and a bigger time next year.
Eagle might not be a safe place to rebuild for future, I don't know. But if it's become a trend, and you notice -- you even notice this year and that we're getting 70s and 80s all over the state of Alaska, you notice it.
And you're noticing it that more in the Southeast and that's where all the glacier water is coming from up there on the top of hill.
This -- this is our local observations are -- I don't know about James Kelly's.
Yeah, he's right, though, you know. There's -- for one thing, he's right, there's -- there's a change of condition of the ice.
It's warming up here. Even though we get 70 below, we're warming up. Okay? Yeah. We're actually warming up. We know it.
I used to like it when it got 50 below for one month. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about fall moose hunting? Has the fall moose hunt changed at all?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Well, yeah. In a way. I think it's interesting that animals don't know what the hell to do, I guess, when traditionally -- traditional knowledge has it that the bull moose stamps on the ground. (stomps on the ground) Sorry about that.
Goes like this, a moose, if he hears a thump, because that ground in the fall -- in the falltime is frozen. Boom. Boom. Then he takes off to take on whoever is in his way, to get to that other one.
And but now, the season is getting later and later. And I think that moose just goes according to the body more than it does with the weather pattern.
It, you know, is changing its habit, too. I think it's utilizing its body, what its body is saying more than what the weather is saying. Okay.
Back in our time, I mean, our time, back in -- I'm talking about -- sure, sure, it changed. Everything, the habit are changing on animals.
Even the brown bear and the black bear are coming out a little earlier than they normally do because the weather is changing.
But they find themselves out there in the terrain with, what the hell is going on? I'm out here in the snow.
The weather is warm. But nothing to eat. No plants are growing yet.
No -- you know, it's -- they have to wait long time, then they start -- things are changing for them. They have to adapt, too, I guess. It would be a hell -- hell to pay for it, but they will adapt. Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So did I understand you correctly that -- that -- that you think the bull moose need that frozen ground in order to move around just before the rut?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: The time when you do the hunting?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. Yeah. They are really heavy-duty animals, and they -- they are out to fight, so they need solid ground.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And are you saying that that solid ground is coming later than it used to?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And the animal is just going by its own animal instinct we call rutting, more so than following the weather like it used to.
I think there might not -- different patterns might be taking place. Sure.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's good.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: I see how -- last several years, the only time I've ever noticed a wolf coming onto the Flats. Never see them around here before.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hmm.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. That's right. I travel 20 miles and they cross -- they come up to my trail. They come up to my trail, they are moose hunting.
But when they came up to my trail, they found out they are -- they come -- they'd bump right into it and they'd stop right there. Looked like they had a meeting there.
About 15 of them. You see where they are. They had a meeting. They congregated. From there, the trail follow my trail, every quarter of a mile they jump off to the right.
Every quarter of a mile. All 15 of them. Following my trail. So another one jump this way, another one jump this way, now they are going back the other way.
They call it driving. Driving a moose. Or just like we -- we do, we go on the highland, we drive rabbits, bunch of us were killing rabbits, highlands, about 5, 6 of us, and we walk through with snowshoes in wintertime, all the rabbits would be on the other end. Okay.
And we just go dunk, dunk. Nice, big, fat rabbits. You know. That's what the moose is doing, too. Same thing. But -- but they are finding more trails, more trails, so they turn around.
But I -- I never seen them enter this part of the world here from day one. Okay? I've never seen wolf tracks unless they are on the rivers, river corridor.
I see them there, but now they are entering the -- the mainland. Uh-hum.
BILL SCHNEIDER: One other thing you've talked about is relationship to nature, and living -- living within nature.
Could you talk a little bit about that, as opposed to maybe the way some societies and folks operate outside of paying attention to nature.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: I think we're talking about when we -- when we want define nature, we're as -- we have to remember there's laws been created, too.
I don't know how to get around that, but we're only talking about 1 percent of the resource that are being utilized by the indigenous people of the state of Alaska.
1 percent. And that 1 percent is something that they are fighting over us, talking they call it subsistence activity.
And of all Alaska Natives that exist, we only take 1 percent.
99 percent is taken by the commercial activities, and now there are activities that are taking place in the state of Alaska, and yet they only -- they want to take this 1 percent that we -- we're kind of like allowed by law. I forgot the question you had.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We were talking about nature and how you --
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Oh, yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- you feel that you're a part of the world.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. Hmm. How do you -- since I -- you know, my thinking is quite different than others, I think, because I -- I have a hard time thinking the same way you do, I guess.
I have this biases about brokers, but you know, when I leave Fort Yukon, I don't have a truckload or boatload of material that will sustain me out there.
I have my little pack sack, maybe my sugar is only about this much, maybe loose tea and bread, maybe a bunch of biscuits. Maybe carrying rice or something.
But everything I want out there I just -- it's like for you, it would be like getting back to home, to Fairbanks and, ah, gee, a nice moose treat.
And, well, I go out there, the messengers are passing out the information that I'm there. The messengers. There's a lot of them out there.
We have messengers. And that's what I -- within the nature itself.
That's my nature is being a messenger, and that's what I've been doing for the last -- since I turned 40. Being a messenger.
And out there, you enter, the animals know that you're there. How stupid can we be that they are not communicating, they are not doing anything, they are just out there is what we think.
But with me, I go in there, I -- I notice that things are communicating. In fact, they even communicate with us.
And it's -- it's a different world. You have to -- you have to be born into it, maybe you can learn to observe it, but it's a world that you see evolving within itself all the time.
It evolves. Everything has connection. Everything has a relationship. Every specie and everything that's out there has a relationship with each other.
That we can see. And every once in awhile, this is -- I can call this a funny matter, but every once in awhile, one would come up to me like this. Okay?
I say that literally, as they give themselves up, as we say, in the Indian world, Gwich'in, Yup'ik, God only knows, Inupiaq.
It gives itself up. Nature has a way of providing you because we are in heaven, like, it provides you with food, too.
If I'm thinking "grouse," it would be right there. Believe it or not, that's just the way it is. I don't care who believes it or not, but I am there and I know it's there, available for me, if I wish it. And it's there.
If I want whitefish, I will catch whitefish. If I want northern pike, I will catch northern pike. I wouldn't catch twenty of them, but I would catch one. Just what I need.
So there is -- there is also birds and animals that also squeal on others. You can call it squealing, or telling on others where they are.
And there's others that are telling others that we are present. Hey, get out of the way, this guy is coming down a trail.
And you can go around a whole lake and this bird will follow you a few feet away, ahead of you, telling everybody, hey, you guys, that guy has got .22 with him.
If not, you know, it's -- but it -- it's a sense of I know that that's the beauty of this whole thing of who we are is that we're so closely connected to the nature that I feel like it's like praying to God itself.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah. We don't say -- we don't say "God," we say "Boss." Our Boss. Yeah. There's -- in charge.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: You know. There is -- as far as my grandmother is concerned, every living being has a spirit, according to her.
Every living thing should be handled with utmost care because they have the spirit that you might offend.
So when somebody comes in, we tell them, hay-yin-tee (phonetic), sit down. We give them a glass of water. You know.
We don't ask, we don't ask anybody if they want something, we give.
And that's the word they use out there and they call it reciprocity. That word, you can kick it out of my vocabulary.
Does not exist that way. What it means, I give you something, you're going to struggle trying to give me something back. Yeah?
But you don't like that -- I don't know what it is, but I know you don't like that feeling of owing or something. Even as little gesture as it is.
I'm telling you the truth. I notice it because I -- I've been there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: I've been around -- I went there 10 years to find out exactly what makes a middle -- middle class tick. Found out there's no information on them. Okay.
Or on -- nothing. There's nothing. I'm trying to find out who in the hell these people are and what make them motivated to do what they are doing, and I cannot find information on middle class American people.
And there's quite a few of them around. You know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It sounds like your research is paying off, though, if you've got that figured out pretty well.
But getting back to this -- this question of this -- this question of nature, and you explained it, I think, really well, how you -- how you live, how -- your sense of being here in place.
And how does that compare with -- with -- how is that being impacted? Or is it?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yes. There is -- there is a hell of an impact going on in the state as a whole.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Not only our region, but the impact is that we're not sitting at the table, we're not sitting at the table where negotiations are taking place.
We are the afterthoughts. They think about it afterwards. They say, here's a feasibility study that says we can do this.
Hey. Without any consultation or anything else, they -- they make rules and regulations to apply to them, not apply it for us.
We have to fight battles all the time. We're always at our -- we're responding instead of we don't want to respond, we want to be able to live our way of life just the way we want to,
and yet we're responding all the time to some of the -- what they considered development or whatever it is that they are involved in that impact us, but yet, we're not allowed or be able to sit at the same time the table.
Us, we include a word in our vocabulary that made it possible for the outside world to be able to drink this clean water when we get finished and we say we want to be inclusive.
That means that we want all walks of life to be a part of what we're doing, so that we would have up-to-date, up-to-time awareness of this beautiful scenery and water and land, and here we have, that will no longer exist if we allow others to manipulate or mandate that we have development without our consultation. (End of Part 1 of interview, beginning of Part 2 of interview.)
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: -- we had our ID.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We'll check on that.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Because, you know, we all look alike and we could wipe each other out any time, I guess.
You have to remember that I was a young kid, some of our elders still wear bones in their nose and, you know, their -- like big, fat bones I got, like you see pictures from Africa and something like that, they were like that around here.
You know, there are no angels around here, to be honest with you. There were -- they were a feisty people.
That's why -- that's why we still have what we have here. There are no -- White men don't own no land around here, no in no way. We lease to them but they don't -- that's it.
We don't sell them. We haven't even sold one square inch yet. We lease it.
SIDNEY STEPHENS: That's good.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me ask you just a couple more questions and then we'll let you go. The -- what are some of your goals for the Yukon in a tribal watershed group?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Oh, well, the big picture, the big picture is put in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, to gather to create a 'salmonation'.
That's the big picture. That's what they are going to be talking up there about at Whitehorse, what's your goal and objectives.
We are trying to put the people that are the users of the salmon first before the commercial activity,
and we're thinking of quitting these communities along this -- we're calling it 'salmonation' because 'salmonation' is -- it could be anything.
It's a matter of discussion. But people that utilize salmon and from here to California, are in a diring need right now to fix that specie because it's disappearing from other things that are going on.
Take Oregon, for instance. 800 miles of the coastline is dead. And when I say dead, I mean dead. Okay.
All the vegetation, there's nothing growing there, all the seashells, all everything else is gone.
That is entering the Puget Sound now, and up to British Columbia. Two years ago I went down to the Salish country, 80 tribes, they want to know what we're up to up here.
We're an indigenous people, the last ones on earth that are living our way of life the way that it was hundred years ago, even within this modern world today.
Why? Because that's the way we're teaching our young people. We're making sure that they identify themself with where they are from before we send them over to the University of Alaska.
And when we do that, we find out that they are very capable of doing exactly what we want them to do. It's just that they have no hard feelings about being away from who they are because now they know who they are and they can take the time to focus in on the -- on the education that we have identified for them to actually go challenge it.
And that's what we're up to. And my youngest one was part of the process and his name is Samuel.
And he's a captain in the U.S. Army, Special Forces, Green Beret. He's one of those kids that we actually took and trained, winter, fall, summer survival, and now they know who they are.
They are proud of who they are. Now they can defend that right of who they are wherever they go.
And that's -- and you have to remember, we had quite a few people here from Fort Yukon.
Those that were out there in the trap line came in and joined the Army, and over there in Iraq being helicopter pilots or mechanics and stuff like that.
Hey, we have a lot of young people here, some of them a medic. And so my son, he speaks five different language.
So they are capable of going out and doing what we ask them to do because self-identity is a very important thing and we have accomplished doing that.
And there's others around, further than -- have been banged out of them, we're going back there and helping them reestablishing themself the way we think.
You know, so they have been beaten up lots, but up here, we haven't been touched because our elders protected us.
They didn't put up with that White man manipulating them in -- in a disorderly manner because of the laws they had, they were implementing.
People didn't understand here why because here they have been living here just naturally for thousands of years, and all of a sudden somebody comes in there and hold a rifle to you and says you're doing us wrong, man.
What did I do wrong? I didn't do nothing wrong. And yet, they have been -- if you go back and read the Fish & Game Wildlife Services guy by the name of White that was up here that terrorized the damn place, the Native people, literally starving them out.
What a buddy they were. And yet we fight for them today. All the way across the USA, the Native Americans are the most populated people in the military.
And they are the smallest population in the United States. And yet we fight for them and yet they are trying to -- right now the laws in place is Termination Act.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: There's a Termination Act, meaning get rid of the goddamn Indians, any way, shape, or form. Don't kill them but get rid of them. I -- even that, we reach out and say, hey, we can be helpful, reestablishing ourself.
This is being said by all the Indian leaders all over. Washington, what's the name, Billy Frank is going to come up here to talk about what they encounter.
Oren Lyons (phonetic) from Mohawk, from New York, I will sit with them because I grew up out here in the nature, he grew up in the downtown setting.
I want to see what kind of transaction we're going to have. So that's where we are -- that's -- you know, that's -- but it seems that everything we do, the basic principal of who we are are still the same.
We're act -- we're acting like elders. Elders have a different criteria that they follow.
You know, you can be -- you can be -- you can be inclusive, and yet you can be tenacious, you can be honest, you can have integrity.
You can -- you know, that's -- that's our principles. And yet, we encounter this all the time.
Oh, we're going to have to check into that and see what policy, see how the policy deals with that.
Well, in that case, let us make the policy. Not you. Because when you make policy -- I've learned to read written technical papers.
It's always written for them. It's never written for who they are doing it for.
Like, I would read contracts, and even though their lawyer writes it for our corporation, it -- it still leans toward there.
So we have to make sure that everything we encounter, we have to look at it and make sure that it's -- make -- we read it like it's made for us, so we -- the boilerplate is changed. Okay.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So in that -- in along those lines, this project that we're working on here is an attempt to try to get local people and scientists in the same room talking to each other about climate change. How should we approach that?
How should we make -- how can we make that happen in a good way?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Well, there is -- you know, when you're talking to local people, you're talking to Village English. You know that.
You've got a place over there, at university, that makes you understand what -- how that works. Cross-cultural communication is a touchy one.
I used to work with Fish and Game so I -- I -- I -- I look at the questionnaires that are going to be presented out there in the field, personally.
When I work with the social scientists, I look at their -- since -- since I ask that we standardize the questions.
I ask that what we're dealing that we all are in the same boat asking the same kind of questions.
And I manage to get them to standardize their research. And once we standardize it, we also -- I also ask that this -- this question right here will mislead the receiver.
That receiver is going to tell you this because the way you have it written down. But if you change the language, even though you don't like it because it doesn't match your standardized -- standard English, you're -- you're a loss anyway.
This guy over here doesn't hear you, he doesn't -- he doesn't understand you, you don't understand him.
Yeah. You know, so I -- I work on changing the -- I work on changing -- I help change the questionnaire for every specific region.
And because I tell them, this is the way they'll understand it. This way they won't understand it. This is the kind of answer you're going to get if you're very specific.
I'm talking lots. Usually I give you a word or two at a time and then call it quits, see, because that's the kind of questions that you are putting out, but if you redirect a question, I talk more.
That's what you're talking about, right?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But getting scientists together in the room with folks from here, how -- what are some of the issues that -- that people here will -- will bring up that scientists may be able to -- to discuss with them?
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Well, I don't know. I know that climate change has got to be one. Why -- why aren't they getting more rain, you know.
One of the questions, okay, why aren't we getting more rain like we used to in the fall time. Why is the weather changing?
How come it's not the same as it used to be? How come our plants are turning yellow now when -- when it's only July.
You know, this happens in September all the time, now it's turning -- turning color now because of the heat, intense heat.
We -- the Fort Yukon's always been warm, but it's also had a lot of moisture in -- and moisture in the ground because it's frozen, and then it's seeping through a little bit at a time.
You know. My sister is pretty good at this. She's over there at Salcha River and she put in potatoes out there on the sand where the water, high level watermark is.
She put potatoes in all summer, she just goes over and hills it because it gets wet from the bottom up with the heat drawing out the water.
She don't have to wet it. You know. So I was just throwing that in there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Well, thank you for taking the time to do this.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: I hope it's helpful. I -- all I know is that 1950 I see little trees like this, 1947 or '48, this whole country burned on the north side.
The whole country. And right now their -- their growth is about 60 year old, 65, or whatever it might be, but anyway, they are big enough for building cabins now.
Yeah. Growth is taking place.
We have less -- some of our birds are also disappearing. Yeah. High numbers of birds are disappearing.
Especially the ones that are edible. Yeah. They don't go after too many things around here, you know.
I know there's one thing they eat, they eat only the things that White men don't eat, they eat whitefish, black ducks, bears.
Now they are going after the bottom fish and they never used to. Yeah.
But I'm -- I'm -- I have to break trail. I -- I wanted -- my brother is going up but we have to break trail, we have to cut the trail out because of the growth taking place. Okay?
And it's up to Alexander Village. Yeah. Growth is -- once -- ones we use during wintertimes are okay, but the summer trails are growing up.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Growing up. Yeah.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. All right.