Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Project Jukebox Survey

Help us redesign the Project Jukebox website by taking a very short survey!

Greta Akpik, Part 1
Greta Akpik

Greta Akpik (Suvluuraq) was interviewed on March 14, 1982 by Wendy Arundale at her home in Atqasuk, Alaska for the Chipp-Ikpikpuk and Meade Rivers Oral History Project. In this first part of a two part interview, Greta talks about her family background, growing up living a traditional subsistence lifestyle where they moved from camp to camp according to the seasons, and coming into Barrow for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She also talks about going to school in Barrow, working at the hospital, her early years of marriage to Walter Akpik, and spending time with the reindeer herders. (IHLC Tape #00036)

The transcript with Iñupiaq spellings was completed by Kathy Itta (now Ahgeak).

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 87-101-01

Project: Chipp-Ikpikpuk and Meade Rivers Oral History Project
Date of Interview: Mar 14, 1982
Narrator(s): Greta Akpik
Interviewer(s): Wendy Arundale
Transcriber: Katherine Itta Ahgeak
People Present: Bill Schneider
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
North Slope Borough, Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.


How her family traveled on seasonal rounds when she was young.

Her earliest memories of camps.

Her father's mother, and how her sister often stayed with her grandmother.

Where her father's mother's family was from.

Where her mother's family was from and the death of her grandfather.

How she grew up living in Barrow during the whaling season but moving along the coast after that.

Going into Barrow for Thanksgiving.

Traveling to Barrow for Christmas.

Staying in town to attend school.

Leaving school to work in the hospital after her mother's death.

Her first years of marriage to Walter Akpik.

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.


Wendy: This is Wendy Arundale and I'm talking to Greta Akpik in her home in Atqasuk on March 14, 1982 and we're going to talk a little bit about Greta's life and some of the things that happened to her when she was younger. Shall we start out and talk about some of the first things you remember as a little girl? Greta: Yes. Should I talk Eskimo or talk in English a little? Maybe you won't understand me when I talk in English. I talk funny. Wendy: No, that's fine. Maybe you could put it in Iñupiaq and then kind of tell me what you've said so that I can know what to talk to you about next. But I think that it would be nice to have some of it, at least, in Iñupiaq. Greta: You starting it? Oh, it's running. The first thing I remembered when I was a girl. We never stay in town, Barrow, because my father was a whaler and trapper. He never stay in town all the time, he always try to go hunting by boat, by dog team. He usually had dogs, six or seven, all the time. He go not much, saving dogs. But he likes to hunt. He don't want us to be hungry all the time. He didn't raise us with money, with big money, he just raise us with hunting animals. People, those hunters, never stay in one place all the time. They're moving around. Where there's caribou, they follow the caribous or good fishing. They always follow or go back to hunt. Every time my father always go trapping. I know he always go to coast in the spring time after he go whaling, hunting. He always goes coast, hunting with ugruks, and seals or whatever he get. Save them for winter. By poke, or seal poke, save seal oil, and dried meat, save them. Wendy: How did you save them? How did you save the pokes and...dry meat? Greta: Keep them in the skin of seals. Take the seal out from that skin and keep them in there. It's safer when you make seal oil with dried meat in there. And keep it, store it 'til winter. That's the way my parents always try to save meat. Wendy: In the oil? Greta: In the oil, yes. Wendy: Did you keep those in your house or in an ice cellar or someplace else? Greta: Not in the house, outside. They got something safer. Wendy: Uh-huh. What's the first place that you remember being as a little girl. Greta: What's that. What should I say. That's what I was thinking. Wendy: Do you remember what place you were when you first became aware. Were you in Barrow, or were you someplace else. Greta: Yes. I usually know in Barrow. I noticed it when I was a girl, I was five or six years old when they built that new hospital. That was in 1921. That's all I remember.

Wendy: Earlier we were talking about some of the traveling that your father did. Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the places he went when he was traveling? Greta: Ii (yes). After we were down at coast in the last part of July or in the first part of August they always take us by boat, in the rivers. Ikpikpak or Meade River. We never as much as this. Tikiġluk long time. We were in the (unintel.) the Meade River. This is the part of the Meade River at Payugvik. Wendy: Payugvik. Greta: Ii (yes) Payugvik. And we usually stay at Brower's camp that was Alaqtaq. Ikpikpak, what we're talking about, that other one? I always forget. I should write. Wendy: On Ikpikpak? Greta: Ikpikpak and other river. Wendy: Mayuagiaq or Chipp River? Greta: Chipp River was the Ikpikpak River. Wendy: I'm trying to think of the river... Is it the river that flows into the Tasiqpak Lake? Greta: That's between Meade River and Ikpikpak.That was it.

Wendy: The one that starts with T. Do you remember about how old you were the last time that you went to the Ikpikpak area? Great: I was the youngest that time when we were at that river between Ikpikpak and Meade River. I know my grandmother was there, living. Wendy: Do you have any feeling for how old you were then? Greta: I don't know... maybe four, five or six years old, because I can really know but I know my sister always stays with my grandma all the time. One time I remember my grandmother go a cards (playing cards) like this and they were so dirty, and she wants me to wash. And I try to wash them and make whiter. (Chuckle). Wendy: So your sister lived with your grandmother? Greta: Yes. Wendy: What was your sister's name? Greta: Ruby. Wendy: And what was your grandmother's name? Greta: Utuayuk. That was my father's mother. I noticed her. I don't know about her husband. Wendy: Was he dead when you were a little girl? Greta: Uh-huh. Wendy: He was already gone. Greta: Yes. Maybe before I was born he was dead. He's got rheumatism or arthritis. My mother was always telling us that my grandfather-always had trouble with joints. When the ground start to freeze up. So he's having a hard time. Maybe he had rheumatism or arthritis.

Wendy: Do you know where your father's mother came from, what area? Greta: I should say...they come in from Noatak. When my father was a little boy, while my grandma was carrying him in her back, they start to move to Barrow from Noatak, That's why my (unintel.) came from Noatak. Wendy: Do you know why they moved from Noatak? Greta: I don't know. I don't know anything about how they're moving. I just know the old lady down there at Noatak. He was telling us he sent the message someone she always thinking about my father Tuvaaq. She always carry him on her back when he was a baby, and she always heard that my father, Tuvaaq, is a whaling hunter. And he wants seal oil, he sent a message through someone. Because long time there's no plane, but just by dog team, mail runs by dog team from Barrow through coastline, through Wainwright, Pt. Hope, somewhere along there. Wendy: So he would communicate with her that way or did he travel with you a lot when you were young? Greta: I never, we never. She was raised in Barrow, I think, yes. And she got married...

Wendy: Where was your mother from? Greta: She's from Wainwright. Because my mother's mother was from Wainwright. Wendy: And you were saying earlier about something about your grandmother being adopted? Greta: No. You know my grandmother and her husband, maybe they got three kids in the springtime, when they start to go hunting down the coast. And her husband didn't come home. Maybe he was heart attack. There's no one up there in that camp. They just hunt, her husband. There were my mother and his two brothers. And while they were waiting, never hear nothing, her husband never come home. They start to go walk to Barrow. When they meet the people up there, maybe down the coast, meet the people, they tell them that her husband was never come home, how many days, how many days. Maybe heart attack, or...There they found him. He was dead, lying on his belIy, I think. And his rifle, and there he shoot a seal. Yes, they found him all right. My grandfather's dead, and his rifle was with him. Wendy: Do you know how your mother and father met, how they got together, did they ever talk about that? Greta: I don't know.

Wendy: So you grew up being in Barrow for whaling, and then going out to the coast after that. Where did you go on the coast? Greta: I don't stay in one place. Wendy: So several different places. Greta: Yes, several different places. Because they got place to go down there, down the coast. Maybe you've been...I was looking at those down the coast where the people always go camping. Wendy: Do you remember the names of any of the places that you went on the coast? Greta: Yes. I remembered one. Sunaimna Utik, pigisuuvaung aapaa? Sunaimna tagiuqtigvigisuuvaung? Kuugugruk. (What was that, Utik (Walter) that my father had? What place did he go out to the ocean from? Kuugugruk.) Wendy: And then you would go up the river, from what you were saying, in late July, early August, and what would you do on the river? Would you hunt, fish, or... Greta: Yes, just hunt. Fish, hunt.. Wendy: And how long would you stay? Greta: You know, my father always make a sod house. And we stay up there 'til winter. And he's trapping up there. When we go up the river.

Wendy: And then in wintertime, what would you do? Greta: In wintertime, he always go to Barrow and get groceries from store down there. And he always stay up there. And at Thanksgiving Day, because my father always..sometimes he catch a whale, they always bring the whale meat to feast at church. That's why he never missed the Thanksgiving for feeding the people at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Wendy: Can you tell me a little bit about what that feast was like? Greta: They just had it...maybe they noticed it from his father's. That's a custom. Handed down from generation to generation.

Wendy: So you would also go down for Christmas? Greta: Yes. He always carry us. Sometimes we were in the sled. One time I know. My grandma and me were in the tent, I mean a cloth or those drilling cloth or cover for the things on the sled. We were in there. We got a lantern or anything to warm up, because there's not much as we do right now. We got not much cups or dishes, not as much as we got right now. There's a pot to cook something, and then maybe teapot or coffeepot, anything like that, few cups.. Wendy: When you went down for Christmas, what happened then, what happened in Barrow during Christmas time? Greta: At Thanksgiving or Christmas before they bring them to church, they're always invited somewhere, older people they invited them to have lunch or supper at our house. There's some people always coming, having whale meat, maktak, flippers, quaq (frozen meat or fish). Wendy: So the church..and then you would go to church? Greta: Yes. Wendy: Was there a special service? Greta: Yes. Special service. On Wednesdays and last Thursdays of November, always have a Thanksgiving, you know. On Wednesdays there's special and Thursday morning there's special service. Never miss. Even Sundays or evenings when we were young kids, our parents always take us to church. Wendy: How was that service different from the regular service? What made it special? Was there special music or other things that made it different? Greta: It seems to me it's not a special, but they're always having it all the time. Wendy: An extra one? Greta: Yes.

Wendy: You were talking a little earlier about working at the hospital. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Greta: Yes. And I went to school when I was a girl. They always make me stay in the house while my parents were up there. And my sister Ruby, they try to let her go to school, to stay somewhere, and they always keep me in the house. They took me back to camping. How come they always try to let me stay in the house instead of my sister. That my sister should stay in the house all the time instead of me. Because she was dead when she was fourteen-fifteen years old, fifteen-sixteen years old. And I was alive. I should go to school instead of her. That's the way I was thinking about it. Wendy: I'm not sure I understand. So the two of you would stay in the house? Uh-huh. So while your parents were up the river so that you could go to school, is that right? Greta: No. They always take us along. As soon as the ground or lagoons was enough to travel. My father take my sister to Barrow to go to school there, and my mother and me always stay in the house. Wendy: You were talking a little bit about working in the hospital. Greta: Yes. When we were big enough to go to school, or big enough to understand what little English, they start to keep us down at Barrow. Never going to inland. But my father always trapping and go camping himself, and my mother always keep us up, try to let us go to school all the time. After she's dead, one of the hospital workers wants me to go to work. And I quit school and I start to learn. I. . schooling, not finishing to sixth grade. Maybe I just finish fifth grade. That's as far as my education go. To not finish sixth grade. I worked in the hospital. But I got a board. I stayed there.

Wendy: Room and board? Greta: Yes. Room and board. Wendy: And that was when Dr. Greist was at the hospital? Greta: Yes, when Dr. Greist was there. Wendy: And what did you do in the hospital? Greta: I just help in the kitchen, and laundry. In the basement they got a laundry. Always try to carry the water, we got no faucet or anything. We just warm up the water ourselves. No electric heaters, we just carrying from regular flight to basement. That hospital got a basement. Wendy: Sounds like hard work to me. Greta: Hard work all the time. Wendy: So how did you meet Walter? Greta: (laughs. ) Arra! I better quit. (More laughter. ) I don't know. While I was working at the hospital. I never finish my staying when I start to working in the hospital. I start to work in the kitchen and laundry. After we get married they want me to move to helping, what you call that..department.. Wendy: Work for the health department? Greta: Yes. Try to help with the sick people. What you call it, health... Wendy: Health Aide? Greta: Health department. Even that Dr. Greist was deaf, it's pretty hard to work to him, talk to him, even his wife was deaf. Always having a hard time. I work for them... You know how much I earn that time? They always only pay me ten dollars a month when I was helping in the kitchen. Because I eat and boarding. Only I think. But I was working hard that time.

Wendy: So after you and Walter got married, did you continue to work at the hospital or did you start traveling? Greta: Yes, when I was pregnant, maybe a month before, I just quit. Wendy: Do you remember how old you were when you had your first child? Greta: Yes, we were maybe nineteen. Wendy: So when you and Walter were first married, you more or less lived in Barrow? Greta: Yes. We always. One time we go to Tikiġluk, because his grand (parents)... we travel by dog team in November. I heard that Phoebe got the baby. I heard that she got a big baby that time.(Unintel.) Wendy: This was Phoebe Kippi? Greta: Yes. I thought Flossie was older than Frankie was. Frankie was born in 1934. Wendy: So you went up to Tikiġluk to visit... Greta: His grandparents. Wendy : And Phoebe was there with her baby then? Greta: No, in Barrow, I think. That time they got done counting the reindeer that time. They were... Wendy: Corraling? Greta: Corraling the reindeer that time. That was down at Uqpiksuu. Taimani Uqiiksuumi kaigaqtungarut. Yes. Wendy: And what time of year was that? Greta: That was in 1934. In November. Wendy: So when was your first child born? Greta: 1934, April 13, 1934. Wendy: And after you had your first child, what did you and Walter do, did you continue to live in Barrow or did you travel around? What was your life like then? Greta: We try know that time they always have the herding, and we went up there to stay with herders, when Frankie was how many months? Two or three month old. Wendy: Where did you go to start herding? Greta: Down here at Tatchim Isua, you know where Franklin Point? What do you call that down there?