Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Jennie Ahkivgak

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Jennie Ahkivgak


"I was born in 1926, on Flaxman Island. My father (William Ekolook) had taken my mother (Etta Ekolook) to Flaxman Island before I was born so my mother wouldn’t be alone while giving birth. He took her to Samuel Panningona’s house (my mother’s brother and adopted father). After I was born we returned to our house on the Qalġusiḷik River."

Every spring in March, my father would travel from Qalġusiḷik to Napaqsralik (Cross Island), Pole Island or the McClure Island to hunt seal. Traveling by dog sled, he would sometimes take the whole family. My father would travel to McClure Islands to hunt polar bear and trap white fox.

My father and George Woods built a house at Pole Island to use it during the winter and spring months. After he made seal oil, he would fish. When the ice starts melting, the fish travel upstream through a creek into the lake on Pole Island. Qalliñiq’s oldest brother, Kakianaaq, drowned there one spring. George Woods usually came and got my father and they together hunted seal. This is during the spring when they would travel by dog sled to Napaqsralik first, then to Pole Island or the McClure Islands. Sometimes the family would go to Foggy Island to stay while my father was out hunting. He caught and dried fish at Pole Island and also caught ducks. He caught iqaluakpik in the bay around Pole Island. After making the seal oil and drying fish we would travel inland, stopping at Foggy Island or Tigvaġiaq. When the ice went out, we would go by small boat to Qalġusiḷik and spend the summer there. The mosquitoes are bad around there in the summer so my father would place our tent on top of a mount where there were few bugs. He would hunt caribou and hook fish while we were there. George Woods, Kogannaqs used to stay on the Qalġusiḷik River also. While there, my father would fix backpacks for the dogs to carry gear for hunting caribou in August. He had fifteen dogs. Carrying our gear on our backs and using the dogs, we would travel to the Savviuġvik River, crossing it where it was shallow in August, to hunt and fish. Then in November he would take us back to our house in Qalġusiḷik by dog team. In the fall, my father always went to Jack Smith’s store on Foggy Island, trading fox skins for supplies.

There were many houses at Napaqsralik during the 1920’s, Ullaaq had a house there, so did Ikpik, my father, William Ekolook, and Qiñŋusaaq (Kingosak). Taaqpak had a warehouse there which he used to store the whale he caught. Taaqpak is my husband’s (Herbert Ahkivagak) grandfather. I was 12 years old when they caught the whale and too young to help. People and their dog teams came from Beechey Point, Foggy Island, Kuukpik, and Flaxman Island to help pull the whale up on Napaqsralik. They used a pulley to help get it up. There wasn’t that many people there at the time of year. Jack Smith had all the men help and he in turn supplied them with gas, dog teams, boat. He always helped people around there whenever they needed help.

There are lots of seal around Napaqsralik. Qiñŋusaaq got a walrus there one time all alone in the winter time at Napaqsralik. He tied it up and went for help, then they pulled it up to butcher it. One winter my father, Suvałiq, Clay Kaigelak, Sr., David Pausanna and George Woods were taken out on the ice and stayed out there for one week. There got taken out on the ice outside of the McClure Islands and couldn’t get back on land because of water in between. The ice there is different from ice around here in Utqiaġvik (Barrow). When the wind is from the east the ice opens up. They had gone out hunting with their dog teams and didn’t have much food. This happened in November and there weren’t that many people along the coast, so there weren’t people to go out and search. There were only the women at home when those men left on that hunt. My mom, Nannie Woods, Ullaaq were home on Napaqsralik at that time. We waited at home for them for a week and we were sure they had died. They were wise and they waited for the water to re-freeze. They were drifted to the east and landed at Flaxman Island. They walked so long that heir boots wore out. George Woods only had a change of boots and when those wore out completely, he used his second pair. Death was so close to them that they knew what day and even what hour they would die. They were lucky they never fell into the water even though they traveled in the dark all the time. The ice between the carrier Islands and the mainland doesn’t pile up too much. Sometimes there would be small pressure ridges in there. Where it really pressure ridges large is out beyond the barrier islands.

When we stayed at Tigvaġiaq we had a house made of driftwood and ice cellar close by. During the summer we would set up our tent on the northern tip of the island. When we lived at Tigvaġiaq my brother and I would go get wood by using dog sled with a sail. Then after loading the sled and when the wind is right we would sail home. I’ve never seen people using inboard motors all the time I lived in that area. The only kind of boat I’ve seen there were skin boats, but once I saw a wooden boat with sails though.

Sometimes my father would take us up to his father’s grave by a small skin boat and we would stay there for a while. My grandfather’s grave is at Nuvugagruaq by Tigvaġiaq. My grandfather asked to buried there. My grandfather’s name was John Taglugraq. After spending a short time at the grave, we would return to the Qalġusiḷik River. My grandfather had gone down on the Kuukpik River a long time ago and reached Fairbanks. The Indians living up there then called it Saviiyu. My father was born there. Aqsiataaq took me and my sister Maria to an old house in Fairbanks and told us that is where my father was born.

I lived all around the Beaufort Sea area till I was 21 years old. By then there were hardly any people left living around there. The store had closed up so we couldn’t make it there along anymore. No place to get gas or matches or coffee or tea. My father and my oldest brother had died also and my mother didn’t want to live there anymore. There were just Woods and us there then. My father and my oldest brother David, my younger sisters Maggie and Mary are all buried there at Qalġusiḷik." (pg. 98)