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Willam and Minnie Salmon
William Salmon, Sr., Minnie Salmon

William and Minnie Salmon were interviewed on September 8, 2009 by William Schneider at their home in Chalkyitsik, Alaska. Their daughter Patricia (Patty) was cooking dinner during the recording and she also helped during the interview by asking about specific places she had heard her parents mention in the past. In this interview, the Salmons talk about environmental changes they have observed in their lifetimes of living off of and traveling on the land, including the effect of fire on the land, the lakes drying up, changes in weather and how this affects animals.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2009-11-05

Project: Stakeholders and Climate Change
Date of Interview: Sep 8, 2009
Narrator(s): William Salmon, Sr., Minnie Salmon
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Patricia Salmon
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Science Foundation
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Unpredictability of the Weather

Impact of Changing Weather on Animals

Traditional Weather Patterns

Impact of Fire on Animals

Changes in Fish Populations


Impact of Lakes Drying on Animals

Impact of Changing Weather on Animals

Traditional Weather Patterns

Black Ducks

Impact of Fire on Lakes

Changes in Muskrat Populations

Impact of Fire on Animals

Unpredictability of the Weather

Continuation of Unpredictability of the Weather

Impact of Lakes and Rivers Drying

Impact of Lakes Drying on Beavers

Fire History

Changes in Bird Populations

Impact of Lakes Drying on Animals

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BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We're going to hear a little bit of cooking in the background, but that's fine. Today is September 9th -- no, 8th, 2009. MINNIE SALMON: 10th. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, already? MINNIE SALMON: Yeah. PATTY SALMON: No, today's the 8th. MINNIE SALMON: Oh. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, it's the 8th, 2009.

I'm Bill Schneider. We have the pleasure of talking today with Minnie and William Salmon, and so thank you for taking the time to do this. I appreciate you letting me come into your home and -- and work with you a little bit on this.

We're interested in finding out your observations, the things you're seeing that deal with weather or climate change and variation throughout your life.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So what are some of the things that you're observing that have changed or are a little bit different?

MINNIE SALMON: Well, we -- we could see the weather, even weather is changed nowadays. The way we -- like what's going on in August this month, we never see any -- we never see this kind of weather before because it got cold so early.

Boy, what that -- (spoke in Native language). Weather.

WILLIAM SALMON: Weather? July, we had warm weather too. July.

And August we got cold weather. Yeah. We don't get that long time ago.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How was it long time ago?

WILLIAM SALMON: Well, long time ago, it -- oh, July we had temperatures went up to 93. In August, it went down to about 24 or 28. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: So it's a lot different. Long time ago, it don't do that. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How does that affect you when you -- when your activities out on the land, like fishing and hunting?

MINNIE SALMON: I think what it's wrong -- what is wrong with our weather is it changed -- it's changing so the animal and fish even change.

We don't get them anymore because we don't even see ducks flying. We don't even hear any ducks in the river. We don't see fish or anything like that we used to have. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

MINNIE SALMON: There's a season for every animal, what we have. Falltime, we get fish and ducks. Also moose.

To storage away for the winter. But right now there's nothing because of the weather. This weather, it got so cold so early, this August got cold early, and it -- the leaf turn yellow so fast and came down already, too.

And looked like it's going to be winter pretty soon, the way it looks. We still only don't have one ducks yet. This is really changed. I don't even know how to talk about how -- how -- how to explain that it's changing.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What do you think is causing that change?

MINNIE SALMON: God. I don't know. (Speaks in Native language.)

WILLIAM SALMON: (Speaks in Native language.) Gee, I don't know. Early in the springtime, we -- we get warm weather, like June, July. It don't do that before.

It get too hot, all the lake around here is drying up. Nothing, no more lake. So --

MINNIE SALMON: Another thing, too, is too much fire. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. MINNIE SALMON: Too much fire.

WILLIAM SALMON: We don't even see bird around, nothing. Everything is just going down.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What's the impact of too much fire?

MINNIE SALMON: Because there's just -- just like this summer, there was so many forest fires here we don't even have an airplane to come in with our mail.

Too much smoke. Just imagine what -- what's the animal, how they feel in this smoke, really smoky. This one day it was so smoky here, it feel like there's no air or nothing.

We just have to stay in house. And what the animals -- what the animals doing out there, you know, in the forest.

That probably changed their weather and drying the water, no water on earth, just all the lakes are drying up, all the slough that's drying up. Even in the river.

BILL SCHNEIDER: You were talking before about that whitefish place where you get whitefish?

MINNIE SALMON: Yeah. We don't get no more whitefish. That -- that Fish Creek we had over there is all dried up.

That's where we used to have fish. We set the fish trap in and we get all kinds of fish we want.

No more of that. So after us, what's going to happen, I wonder. I wonder -- I always wonder what the younger people going to -- like them, what they going to live on, I wonder. Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What about permafrost, do you see changes in the permafrost?

WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah, that it's going down, I think. It's thawing out. Because when I built -- when I first built house here, I think it was '79, there was swamp around there. Swamp.

There's nothing now. Everything is drying out. I know permafrost is going down. You could tell. Yeah. [00

BILL SCHNEIDER: And does that have an impact on the fish?

WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: How does it impact the fish?

WILLIAM SALMON: Fish? All the lake is drying out.

MINNIE SALMON: Only there's no water, there's going to be no fish. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: That would certainly affect the whitefish, wouldn't it? MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What about salmon?

MINNIE SALMON: We don't get salmon around here.

BILL SCHNEIDER: No salmon? WILLIAM SALMON: No. MINNIE SALMON: What they call dog salmon, that's all, but that's from the lake in falltime. WILLIAM SALMON: Little, not too much. MINNIE SALMON: We don't get any of those either.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Have you seen any king salmon? MINNIE SALMON: Not around here. WILLIAM SALMON: No. Nothing. MINNIE SALMON: Just the Yukon.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Some people have commented about fall freeze-up occurring much later, and spring breakup occurring much earlier. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. That's right. Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How -- how does that impact you in your hunting, fishing, trapping?

WILLIAM SALMON: I think it -- we got warm winter, too. Wintertime is warm. So it's no good for the animals, I guess. I'm pretty sure.

And we get early breakup. Long time ago, it don't do that, no. We get ice breakup around, oh, early in May but we -- right now, it's -- sometime April, it's too early. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: So there's a lot of things have changed. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What's the impact of that early breakup? How does that affect people?

WILLIAM SALMON: It's -- it's not right here. This -- a long time ago, it don't do that. And we don't get real cold weather, too.

In January, a long time ago, we get 60, 70 below for one month sometime. All that is gone.

Lucky we get 40 or 50 right now. Maybe less. So no more cold weather, too. Real cold weather.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Minnie, you were talking about black ducks when we were off tape. Could you talk a little bit about how black ducks are affected by the weather?

MINNIE SALMON: Black ducks -- gee, I forgot what I was saying.

BILL SCHNEIDER: I think you were saying they were coming earlier.

MINNIE SALMON: Yeah. It used to come in the last part of May. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. MINNIE SALMON: Last part of May. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: Last -- yeah. About June, first part of June. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: And I remember way back they used to fly over this -- this village, and people were standing down there by the bank and shoot them down is how they get them. So easy.

But then after -- after awhile later, because of this tin roof, they make a tin roof on the house -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum. MINNIE SALMON: -- the ducks never come back no more like that. BILL SCHNEIDER: I'll be darned.

MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. So they get them over at the Ohtig. That's all. But now, we just hardly get them anymore, too. They don't show up too good. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you think -- how does -- how does fire affect the -- the lakes? Does it have an impact on the lakes, do you think?

MINNIE SALMON: A long time ago, I heard -- I heard about that -- fire you say? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yes.

MINNIE SALMON: I heard about fire, when the fire is -- on the fire by the lake, you know, burned around the lake. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.

MINNIE SALMON: It takes water. That's how that -- that's why it's drying up. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh. Have you seen that? MINNIE SALMON: Well, I -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Is that what you hear?

MINNIE SALMON: I didn't see, I heard about it a long time ago. That's what the elder used to say. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. MINNIE SALMON: It affect a lot of things, that fire. Animal, everything.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Those are the things we're trying to understand. MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Because some of the people that will listen to this recording don't know about your activities. MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So hearing about how it impacts the animals and your activities with those animals is important.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What about muskrat?

WILLIAM SALMON: Nothing. Nothing. No more. We used to get a lot of muskrat.

MINNIE SALMON: Muskrat, they used to trap for it, starting -- starting February, late February, up until May, and then May -- in May, they -- they hunt for it with canoe, shooting -- shooting them.

Then the people dry them, put them away, and they also eat them. And they use the skin for the money, to sell it and have the money.

Only way they can get the money. There's no jobs or nothing, just -- just depend on that muskrat. But right now, for a long time, we don't even see one muskrat yet. WILLIAM SALMON: That's it.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And -- and why is that?

MINNIE SALMON: I sure don't know. WILLIAM SALMON: Well, the lake is getting dry. MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. Since the oil spill they had in Valdez, there's a lot of ducks missing. You know. There's a lot of ducks missing.

MINNIE SALMON: This little -- little village is so noisy in springtime when the ducks and birds and everything that come by, so noisy, sometime we just --

I don't know how to explain it, but anyway, the birds and ducks and everything, just noisy.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Have you seen change -- MINNIE SALMON: Nothing now.

BILL SCHNEIDER: -- have you seen changes in other birds? Are there birds not coming back or new species of birds?

MINNIE SALMON: Well, those poor little birds, they are burning up. They died with the smoke.

Oh, yeah, probably just all died out. Never come back. BILL SCHNEIDER: Pretty hard, yeah. MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Have you seen any new species of birds here?

MINNIE SALMON: What's that? BILL SCHNEIDER: Any new species, new kinds of birds?

MINNIE SALMON: No. Not that I know.

BILL SCHNEIDER: We're at the beginning of the moose hunting season now, but is this weather pattern -- how does this weather pattern affect moose hunting?

MINNIE SALMON: I don't know. WILLIAM SALMON: I think it's a lot of different, I think. A lot of different.


WILLIAM SALMON: Well, sometime we get a lot of moose, sometime nothing. So there's a lot of difference.

MINNIE SALMON: Like today, I was saying that right now people are complaining about moose because for a long time, people are killing -- killing only -- only bull moose.

And they can't touch calf. If they do, they know where to go. Then so right now, people are complaining that this is a hunter -- hunting time.

People go upriver, they see nothing but calf and cow. No bull. No more bull. I don't know how it will be tomorrow -- next year.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Some people have commented up on the Koyukuk River that the season for hunting moose should come later because it's not getting cold enough to keep the meat.

MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. That doesn't matter nowadays because we have a freezer and stuff like that. But long time ago, they -- it was different weather then.

The weather like they -- they hunt this -- this time, and it's getting cold and so they used the meat, they put away their meat and freeze their meat. It's nothing wrong with it.

But the weather right now, weather, right now we can't leave meat out there because it's too warm yet. So weather -- I don't know. It changing but you don't know -- there's no way we can explain how to. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What about trapping? Is there changes in trapping that you remember? MINNIE SALMON: I don't trap.

WILLIAM SALMON: Well. Trapping, falltime, October, November, October and November, it's just warm, so people trap late, start late. All the fur is no good when it's warm.

So it's no good for trapping, too. You know. Sometime November it's raining. That's no good. So. Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me stop a minute so you can relax a second. (Pause in interview.)

BILL SCHNEIDER: It seems like what you're talking about is that things are less predictable. Does that -- does that seem right or wrong? That you don't know what the weather is going to do?

MINNIE SALMON: I don't know. Maybe Patty will answer that.

PATTY SALMON: Maybe they don't understand the question. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah. How -- how can I better ask that?

Some people have said that -- that the old patterns of weather, that people used to know what -- when it was going to get cold, when the ice was going to be solid for travel, but now, it's harder to tell. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: I'm trying to think if that's correct or not.

WILLIAM SALMON: Right now, it's just a lot of different right now. BILL SCHNEIDER: It's different, yeah.

WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. Yeah. A long time ago, it's just like a pattern, but right now, you can't even -- MINNIE SALMON: We'll mess -- WILLIAM SALMON: -- tell the pattern. MINNIE SALMON: We'll mess up. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. PATTY SALMON: It even rains in December even. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: This winter, one -- one winter it was it was -- we went from here to Anchorage for a meeting in December, it was still green.

So that kind of weather we don't know, we all mess up. We can't tell which -- when -- when it's going to freeze, we can't tell when it's going to be summer even. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

MINNIE SALMON: That's how it is. BILL SCHNEIDER: Hard to plan, huh? MINNIE SALMON: Oh, hard. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. MINNIE SALMON: Really hard.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Well, I think that's -- that's good. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Do you have an observation?

PATTY SALMON: We were talking over the Village Council, we were talking about that meadow up here that used to be a big lake, that now it's -- it's like just the center has a little bit of water.

But my mother said a long time ago, she was -- when she was, I don't know, she used to go there when she was a child, it used to be a big lake. Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. Oh, that you're going up there. PATTY SALMON: Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: Yeah, my father used to hunt ducks on that part with canoe.

Then we had fire on our -- on the fire place, and when we hear him shooting, it's way up that way. But right now, not a drop of water in there. All bush. So...

BILL SCHNEIDER: All dried up? MINNIE SALMON: That's -- that's the way we're losing ducks, too. We're losing ducks.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And it seems like this is a community that depends on fish and ducks a lot? MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. That's right. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. MINNIE SALMON: Yeah.

PATTY SALMON: There was a big lake up here, that Marten Lake right up here by the school, that one's all dry. BILL SCHNEIDER: Marten Lake? MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. Back there. Yeah, yeah. It's all gone.

BILL SCHNEIDER: What about Ohtig? WILLIAM SALMON: Ohtig, water is just about same, but maybe it drop a little, we don't know. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: You know. Yeah. PATTY SALMON: Some of the guys were saying the number of ducks isn't the same as it was. Not as much ducks.

WILLIAM SALMON: Last time I went up to Ohtig, well, there's not much ducks on there. Just nothing. No -- I don't know about now.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So ducks and fish and muskrat, they all depend on the water system. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum.

WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. Beaver, too. Beaver. Beaver is -- I think is going to the river now. No -- no lake, so they go -- go down to the river.

Yeah. The fire in the summertime, it hurt the country, I think. Yeah. They hurt the country.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And you've had a history of fires in this area between here and Fort Yukon. I remember years ago, Grandma Charlotte Adams talking about a big fire that was in that area. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum.

MINNIE SALMON: Yeah. This one time fire started up here in the airport all the way down to Fort Yukon, it came back on the other side, way all the way up.

Yeah. Well, that was 19 -- I forgot what year. It was 19 -- PATTY SALMON: '67.

MINNIE SALMON: Yeah, some -- some earlier, around '60. Yeah. Lots of time that cahk (phonetic) they were talking about, that fishing place up there on the fish slough, that creek, that's the time that place burned up. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah.

MINNIE SALMON: Ever since then, no more, no people, everything burned up that way.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So what happened when it burned up with the fish?

MINNIE SALMON: Well, the tree -- I don't know. There won't be no fish over there dried up with fire.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And so it sounds like the drainage dried up? MINNIE SALMON: Uh-hum. WILLIAM SALMON: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Boy, lots of change. MINNIE SALMON: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's good. (Pause in interview.)

BILL SCHNEIDER: -- saying about little black birds?

MINNIE SALMON: Little black birds, they used to have -- they -- they go on the lake, on the lakeshore, you know, this whole bunch of black bird making noise.

And snipe and frog. All kinds of thing -- all kinds of bird we hear and that. Ducks, loon making noise, we don't hear none of them.

Not for a long time, we don't see them or we don't hear them.

PATTY SALMON: Not even frogs. There used to be frogs, there were crickets, you know, down in the states.

MINNIE SALMON: We're living on dead country nowadays. WILLIAM SALMON: Yeah. MINNIE SALMON: All our birds and ducks and animals just dying out on us.

And pretty soon we won't get anymore. If we don't watch out for the fire, that kills it. That kills everything.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I think I've taken enough of your time. Thank you very much.