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1981 North Slope Elders Conference, Medicinal Plant Session, Part 1

In this first part of a two part recording, Waldo Bodfish, Roxy Ekowana, Louise Okakok, Nanny Woods, Rhoda Nageak, Mattie Bodfish, Isa Sovalik, Roseanne Negovanna, Nannie Kagak, Wier Negovanna, Phoebe Kippi, and Eunice Leavitt talk about the use of plants for medicine, food, and diapers, and about traditional healing practices during the 1981 North Slope Elders Conference, Medicinal Plant Session, August 12, 1981 in Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), Alaska. Donna Neakok Miller facilitates the session. This recording has the English translators speaking while the Iñupiaq speakers are faint in the background. There is audio bleeding in from a different recording, which at times is distracting.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 87-32-15_PT. 5_SIDE A

Project: Ethnobotany, Ethnomedicine and Traditional Healing
Date of Interview: Aug 12, 1981
Narrator(s): 1981 North Slope Elders Conference, Medicinal Plant Session
Transcriber: Karen Brewster
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Ethnobotany Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Use of moss

Use of plants to create smoke to clean out sod house

Use of moss in diapers

Use of green leaves, and treating wounds and infection

Use of stinkweed (sargiġruaq)

Use of ochre (ivisaaq (sp?))

Chewing plants to treat indigestion

Use of willow

Treating wounds with beluga oil

Use of grass (iiriq (sp?))

More about the use of stinkweed (sargiġruaq)

Treating cancer

Use of arctic sorrel (quŋuliq)

Use of stinkweed (sargiġruaq) in Atqasuk

Use of black soap

Use of beluga and walrus oil

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ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF WALDO BODFISH SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I got this rock -- this plant from the area above Barrow. And I tried it. I did not find a good specimen, but this was growing in an isolated area beyond Barrow -- above Barrow.

I wanted you to see this. I wanted the young people to see this as well, so that they can learn what it is. This is maniq. It's a tussock type.

And this other one, called ugruauyat (sp?). They're found in the area around Wainwright. These are -- This is moss, which is -- was used for diapers. The women would also use them for -- during their menstruation.

They would gather these in large quantities and use -- they would make diaper holders out of tuttu (caribou) -- I mean, seal or caribou. Then they would put the moss in the diaper holder and they'd use the moss all night long and change it in the morning. I've also heard that the women also used them during their menstruation.

These are called aqutuqpuq (sp?). Big leaves. We call them aqutuqpuq (sp?) in Wainwright. These plants are put -- usually put in seal oil, and we still put them in seal oil before the leaves become hard.

I went up to -- I walked beyond Barrow to look for these and before the meeting began and got them.

And I also search for the things that they used for -- for creating -- puyuqluq (sp?). Puyuqluq means "creating big smoke." Those things, you usually find between little -- between polygons.

After they have left the house for quite some time, they would gather these and during the fall before they entered the house again, the early people would use the puylaqutat (sp?) to smoke out a house.

After a house has been vacated all summer long, during the fall the house during that time would be infested with insects and worms. Then they would place these inside the house, opening the entranceway and also the window on top of the sod house.

They would place these in there, set the leaves on fire, and create a great deal of smoke within the sod house.

And then when the insects -- all the insects in the rooms would fall to the floor, because of the -- the smoke would cause them to emerge from the sod. Then they would sweep them out of the house.

And this information I got from Utauyuq (sp?). This is what she taught me and told me.

I did not bring the leaves that were used to create the smoke in the sod house. My name is -- my name is Waldo Bodfish.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF DONNA NEAKOK MILLER (FACILITATOR) SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: Those who would like to comment on the uses of the plants of the land can come up and do so.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF ROXY EKOWANA SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I was made to remember something. My name is Roxy Ekowana. Concerning the diapers that were used long ago, you have made me remember what my grandmother used to say.

They call this moss ugruayuk (sp?). The infants used them as diapers. And this is what I used to hear from my mother.

She said she used to -- she said, "I used these as diapers as a young -- as a baby." She used to tell me that. 'Cause my parents did not stay in one place, but they were nomadic. And I was born in Piġiniq and then before many days passed after I was born they left and they did not have prepared cloth diapers.

But along the legs, they -- there are the wet plants. I don't know what they're called. But I'm -- They're called aumaqutiit (sp?). But they're -- They call them --

And according to her talkings, she made a diaper holder out of seal and inside the diaper seal holder she -- diaper holder, she would place the moss in. This is what I used as a child. And this was -- this type of diaper was used in route from -- in route to our camping place.

And I say this because they say I used this type of diaper. I wanted to relate this information that I had obtained.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF LOUISE OKAKOK SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: My name is Louise Okakok. I also used this type of a diaper with my oldest child. And when we used to go trapping, we used this type of diaper for our babies. I could --

Long ago, they didn't have cloth diapers, but these could be used all day long, all day long while you're traveling without changing them.

'Cause I know how practical they are and how good they are when using with babies, 'cause I used them myself with my oldest baby. Okay.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF NANNY WOODS SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I have also used these. And we used a seal on top and then put moss in between the -- so that they could be used as diapers. And we just cover it with the seal. Okay. (poor audio quality, inaudible)

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF RHODA NAGEAK SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I left my medicine that I had gotten from Anaktuvuk. And the green leaves what I had collected in Anaktuvuk. And we put 'em in hot water. And then you put 'em -- And where it's hurting. You can be chewing them. They're edible medication.

And when they started talking about this, and diapers, learning about diapers, I forgot them. I don't remember using moss at all. I probably used Pampers.

But I went down so that I could talk about that medicine that I used when sprain -- with a sprained ankle. Sprained back.

They're talking about medicine. Herbs. Medicine and herbs. I have -- I know of them.

Tuttut, caribou, 'cause of the -- they -- they clean -- they clean the wound or a bacteria infection, and then they cover it and let it stay overnight. The person who has had cuts and they use the qasaġiat (sp?) to heal the wounds.

Also the walrus skin, I use for medicine. Herbs. And wounds that won't heal. What they do is cover it. On the wound. And I am talking about it. My name is Rhoda Nageak.

ENGLISH TRANSLATOR: Qasaġiat (sp?). I don't know what it is.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MATTIE BODFISH SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I -- I've -- I just came. This is my first time and I'm just participating. And now I'm coming down in front of you.

I have heard of these lettuce herbs and I learned a little bit of them. And I always answer back to people right what they're about. When they had talked about them.

When we were growing up, we have learned of them. I have -- I had already knew of these things when they have talked of them. So, I cannot talk of these over and over.

But -- but I have -- I have something with me what I would like to show you. I didn't go up inland, because I -- I was afraid of brown bears approaching me. So, I haven't really picked some plants.

I'm really holding onto these herbs. They must be a little bit damaged. The leaves are -- they used to be long, but they're getting dry and so they have broken up into little pieces.

These are from Kotzebue area that were sent to me when they -- there were some in Kotzebue, but I didn't get a chance to pick them out. But you do see them in the front yards, and they're from Kotzebue area.

Taqriġruat (sp?)? Sargiit. Saġiaq. Sargiġruat. It's a medicinal herb. They cover them in the cloth and when wherever the -- there's pain, then they use it in that area. As a medicinal herb. They always tell me to gather some whenever I'm in Kotzebue area. And they gather them.

I -- I tried 'em. My back ache, it hurt so I tried 'em one time. Covered it with cloth and laid down, and pretty soon my back pain was gone.

When you're hurting something, you know, it's noticeable. And when it was -- when I used that herb, my pain quit hurting.

I did it when they were wet. You're supposed to pick them up when they're dry. I have some more. Older people, older women, always have lots of things around them. I'm already an older woman.

I have three bags in this. I got this from Point Hope. And it's still kind of damp. And it's called ivisaaq (sp?). It's like mud, and when you put it on the wound, it's a healing ointment. They use it as an ointment. Wherever there's a pain.

Even then, they can use it as a dye. And it's like mud and they can use it on making dyes for sleds or other items.

And then there's a rock. She's gathering a rock. She used that as a scraper for skin scraper. And that type of rock is a scrap -- skin scraper. When you can scrape the skin. You can try it.

And they put a little bit of Ajax, and then scrape it off. Boy, it does work. A skin scraper from Point Hope that are dyed. The woman used this a long time ago for cleaning purposes.

I don't have much to say on any other subject, but what I have gathered. My medicine -- she talked a little bit about it earlier. I looked all over for them. And I got a little bit from Ataŋan (sp?).

And I got those herbs while I'm waiting. And I chew them. It's like a chewing tobacco. Especially when there's heartburn or indigestion, you chew them. And then, ever since I started chewing them, boy I've changed. I don't have heartburns anymore.

And when I think is aqpikgut (sp?), they can be also used as medicine or herbs. Or you swallow the juice of the plant. Sometimes you can eat the whole plant.

And if you use them in ointment, in (inaudible), it's good too. That's all I have to say. Mattie Bodfish speaking. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF ISA SOVALIK SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: My name is Isa Sovalik. I have gathered some things from Nuiqsut. Here, they call them nunaniat (alder). Nunaniat. We know them but our younger people might not know them so they can use them in books. They can find them in books.

They're from the willow. Bark. They're willow barks. And I just gathered this because I couldn't walk a long distance.

Nunaniat. They're called nunaniat. From the willow bark. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

We use a lot of terms that are old. Then we just say the term in Iñupiaq.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF ROSEANNE NEGOVANNA SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: My name is Roseanne Negovanna. I'd like to say something, especially when I learned these things.

When your family in -- Winton took a -- Taqanigurat (sp?) was a person who had a wound that wouldn't heal. Well, so I told him, "Well, in the spring, let's go in and take a walk. And let it heal."

So we would go and walk, and wade in the water. He would -- it would start healing slowly. It was a big wound on the leg. He would scrape it off if it healed. "It finally clearing up," he told me.

It was real shiny when -- when he came and took his boots off. Now, I will work on you, and he said yes. So, I used a beluga oil, and I cleaned his wound with it.

And, "Boy," he said. "Boy, it's really burning." His legs were really burning. It feels like bugs. So, I used beluga oil. Boy, it's really itchy.

And thus I covered it with cloth. And probably for -- there was nothing. It was healed. This is what I used.

And when they talk about moss or grass, I used iiriq (sp?), they're called. Grass. Taqalak (sp?) helped gather some. Two years her -- would have been hurting when we were hunting.

And so, I covered these up. I dried them out. Aŋalaq (sp?) told me a little bit. If you put it on the -- where the pain is, it's like a healing ointment. It feels a little hot.

So Emily has -- Emily Ungarook has borrowed them now. We have taken some home already, and if a person wants to see this type of a plant, we've got some in our house. By the side of the house. They're already growing.

They eat 'em. They boil them. They drink the juice or they even eat the whole edible plant. We've used those with -- for two years and you can use them when there's a cut on the wound and they don't cause infection. That's all I have to say.

Oh, they planted some in Wainwright. On a little knoll.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF NANNIE KAGAK SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: My name is Nannie Kagak,and I would like to say something. When they talk about these matters, sargiġruaq (stinkweed), I also got some from the Kotzebue area, the Point Hope area.

And so when I went home, I started working on them. And a lady, Eva, she was having a hard time walking. Eva Tagarook. She's a young lady.

There's something wrong with her legs, her feet. So I worked on her. Used two straps of cloth and then filled them up with sargiġruaq. A weed.

She didn't know that I was working on this. Then I took them over and told her to put them on her legs. And so her living mate told her to do that. And so she used them several days past and she was very thankful.

Boy, her legs weren't hurting anymore. They would hurt her, and now they're healing. So she would be sleeping peacefully.

When her feet stopped hurting, then it was her hip bone. The back bone. Lower back bone. So she started using them for that area.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF WIER NEGOVANNA SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I would like to say something concerning what the women have said. I -- we really believe in the power is as medicines.

You can fill a plastic bag. I filled a plastic bag full of all these herbs and then planted them around my house. And then I brought some here, as well.

Mary Lou is using them right now as medication. They are powerful and I have used them myself.

When I had developed a sore throat, I filled a small can and after mixing them for a while, I let the contents boil. And after boiling them, I drank the water, and -- and you can also eat the leaves and drink the juice of the leaves. From the leaves.

And there are no ill effects from drinking and eating the leaves of these plants. I drank contents because I had a cold and also I had a sore throat. When I woke up, I had no longer a sore throat or a cold. These plants are really powerful as medicinal herbs.

And there was one man who had cancer. They took him to a doctor and the doctor worked on the man for several days, but then they sent him home saying that he would not live.

And then when he came home, they worked on him using -- covering -- using these herbs and covered him all with the herbs.

As he laid, they placed all of these herbs on him and let him lay there with the herbs on top of him for some time. And he stayed thus with the leaves on top of him for quite some time. But I don't remember how long he used the herbs.

He became -- he recovered using these herbs. He was no longer -- did not have the cancer anymore.

And after he lived -- had been living for a while, the doctors inquired about the man and asked what happened to him. The fellow who had cancer.

And they answered him, the doctors. That man is hunting, he's chopping wood, he's traveling around. And he was cured by the herbs called -- Like I said, he had had cancer. He was still living and hunting.

And I would drop at those doctors (?) -- realized that the man was still living when they had said would die due to cancer.

When you go to Kotzebue, you should pick up these herbs. Medicinal herbs. They're all over the place, and they're grow around the houses. And I usually pick these when I go there and I use them in Wainwright. And others use them, as well. I use them myself.

The dyes that they have shown to us are also very good. And I can also -- I had some given to me by Susook (sp?) in Kotzebue. He gave me a bag full of money when I am -- when I'm carving, and when the walrus that I'm carving is too white, then I bought some of this dye into the small coffee can and then I -- I dip the ivory in quickly and then put it on top of the stove to dry.

Then it picks up the appearance of the walrus, which is brown. This dye is very powerful. It can also dye caribou skins.

And then when the white men buy the ivory, regardless of the color, they stopped using the dye because they buy the ivory carvings anyway, even if they're white.

These medicines are good and they're powerful. We still have some. If there's anyone here who would like to try these herbs, rub them on yourself or you can chew. Medicines that we've got from the Kotzebue area. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

Yesterday when Kusiq told me, I had things that I wanted to show to you, I forgot them as I came over here this morning. Then I remembered and quick going back and got them, because I wanted to show them to you.

They grow all over the land here. They're called quŋuliq (arctic sorrel). People used them as food before the white man came. The people used them as the source of food. They're very good.

You can also place them in seal oil. You can boil them. No, you can even make them into Kool-Aid.

But nowadays -- Yes, now you can also boil them. My children make them into Kool-Aid and add sugar to the juice.

Springtime I pick them. These are called quŋuliq. And they were good when I picked them. They grow in abundance around here, but people no longer pay attention to them.

The young people do not -- these were the food eaten by the people long ago, but the young people no longer pay attention to them now. They're forgotten.

They were our main source of -- one of our main sources of food. They grow in abundance at Hollywood, down the coast.

There's plenty of them down there, but they -- along the coast here, they don't survive very long. But they do grow. They are quite large. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF PHOEBE KIPPI SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: Now, I have to face this way? Ah, they're pointing to the TV. When they talked about sargiġruaq -- I'm from Atqasuk, and there's a whole bunch of sargiġruaq, and they're close by from Atqasuk.

When some of my women folk like -- they like to use sargiġruaq. And one lady, eats them. Ever since, a lot of years.

You don't have to gather them from a far, you get 'em close by there or close to the land. And we look for medicinal herbs. I have tried these sargiġruaq, especially when I have had sore throat and I boil them and then I use them two days -- two teaspoons a day.

And then from the leaves of the sargiġruaq, I eat them. And I don't have any pain after I have taken them. They've already started using them as medicines in Atqasuk. They used to use them a long time ago in Barrow.

Ah, qingalukak (sp?). Ah, beluga. Whenever people have colds in the Barrow area, they use beluga oil. And they also use them in Atqasuk.

And then the soaps, the black soaps. For people who have styes. They add a little bit of water and make it -- What is it?

They -- they call them black soaps and they put 'em on the wound, and I -- I also used them when I had infection on the arm and it went outward.

When my nephew -- the doctors know about this. He had an infection on the face. They let it grow -- I made a black soap out of it, and covered it and put a little bit of sugar in it so that it became smooth and satiny.

This way the soaps that we used a long time ago, they're square. We used them a long time ago. I still have the precedent when I use them as ointment nowadays.

And so my boy had this infection and put it -- put it on his wound and during overnight it popped. And so he took -- the mother took the baby to the hospital and they started cleaning the wound.

They also use beluga oil presently and now -- a long time ago, and also walrus oil, my grandmother used that. And they use it as healing ointment. The oil of the walrus. They -- You can drink that. And, walrus oil, you'd make him -- you'd let 'em turn black and then swallow them.

Then there's also a thing called uqsruq (sp?). Oil from seal. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.) Oh, kerosene with seal oil. They split 'em in half and part seal and part kerosene. Those were used as also medicine for wounds.

I didn't know of how they did this, so next time when I come back I'll bring some. I'll be sure to bring some.

But the sargiġruaq, I already know about. And the one that they talked about cancer, I have heard of him. And they use that sargiġruaq for cancer.

There's a whole -- there's an abundance of sargiġruaq in Atqasuk. Whatever, whoever wants to pick some. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

Because when they're good -- And also the quŋuliq, they cook them. Especially when we were young girls, we used to gather quŋuliq's. And we also use them as fruit, and also make them into juice.

These are the things that I know about, because so I started talking about them. My name is Panigeok (sp?) from Atqasuk. Phoebe Kippi.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF EUNICE LEAVITT SPEAKING IÑUPIAQ IN BACKGROUND: I would like to tell you something. (Audio bleeding in from a different recording.)

My story is what I have known, especially on my daughter, Marie Suvlu. The doctors told her -- told me that she wouldn't live long.

I didn't have anything. I didn't have any hope. And then I heard of people who did -- (Continues on Side B)