Vincent Nageak, Sr. was interviewed on May 25, 1978 in Barrow, Alaska for a project related to potential oil development of the Alaskan continental shelf. The original interview was in Inupiaq. The interview was first translated into English in 1979 by Molly Pederson and appears in the Historical References to Ice Conditions Along the Beaufort Sea Coast of Alaska (Scientific Report, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1979). The interview was translated again in August 2014 by Ronald Brower, Sr. and appears below synced with the Inupiaq audio. In this interview, Vincent talks about sea ice conditions in the area of Cape Halkett, Harrison Bay, Thetis Island, Cross Island, and Barter Island. He also talks about ice conditions around the barrier islands, whaling activity, and traveling by dogteam across the ice by Cape Halkett in late spring. Nageak was also interviewed for this project in English by Ron Metzner on September 27, 1979 (ORAL HISTORY 97-64-10).
Digital Asset Information
Project: Sea Ice
Date of Interview: May 25, 1978
Narrator(s): Vincent Nageak, Sr.
Transcriber: Ronald Brower, Sr.
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Ice conditions around Cape Halkett and Harrison Bay
Crossing the ice from Cape Halkett to Beechey Point in June
Ice conditions at Cross Island and Foggy Island
Ice conditions around the barrier islands in the Beaufort Sea
Ocean and ice conditions between Barrow and Barter Island in all seasons
Whaling at Cross Island
Ice conditions at Cross Island and crossing Harrison Bay
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VINCENT NAGEAK: Before me is a map showing the Arctic coast, wanting knowledge about the Arctic Ocean currents and ice movements. It was brought to me for a science researcher by my son-in-law Sakaaluk Therefore, I shall speak of what I know. From Cape Halkett, more rather, from Mackenzie Bay to here. I probably, well, I know it pretty well including Barter Island the entire area. I know the ocean. I know the ice movements and the ocean currents in the summer season. And In the month of June, about the middle of June,
Harrison Bay, starting from just west of Bodfish Island, I see they named this Island wrong. Mitqutailaqtuuq is just east of Thetis Island. Thesis Island is west of this this thin and long Island, is called Mitqutailaqtuuq that sits directly in clearly front of Oliktok Point. There is a drinking water source at Oliktok. I lived there for about four years or something like that, six years. At Beechey Point, no, at Oliktok Point. Beechey Point is close eastward to Oliktok from there.
They are both secondary points to another further out. So Bodfish and other Islands are a chain of islands by themselves. They sit in front of Oliktok Point. Thetis Island is our target path when we make for Cape Halkett. In going to Cape Halkett from Oliktok Point, one can make a straight line to Cape Halkett when traveling by dog team in winter or boat by summer, it is the same navigation point. I have traveled by dog team on the ice in this region on numerous occasions. When one is aiming for Cape Halkett traveling by dog team in these conditions, one would soon lose sight of land while crossing on ice because it is moving as one mass. One thing about Harrison Bay, its ice cover melts earlier in some years. Harrison Bay ice melts earlier
because it is the mouth of the Colville River. The delta shallows extend even further out to sea. And so, ice within Harrison Bay moves out to sea when the east winds blow. The currents of the river pushes the sea ice out to sea when it joins together with ocean currents. If In crossing by boat, the Harrison Bay currents will take a boat out to sea. We might think we are making good headway but.
even while trying to cross to Cape Halkett, land will disappear from sight. That is how strong the combined currents often are. On days when the currents are slack, one can go straight across to the Cape Halkett being mindful of the direction of the currents. Waves of the Bay are dangerous. Now the ice, when it starts moving, except for the ice over the shallows of Harrison Bay. It is similar to Barrow area where parts of the shore fast ice breaks free close to shore and that ice moves out to sea. Well, Harrison Bay ice would break by the shore and empty the bay completely of ice.
One time in June, when all other travelers quit crossing the bay by the sea ice, traveling by dog team to Oliktok Point. My traveling companion and I, feeling distressed, decided to cross the sea ice from Cape Halkett to reach Beechey Point to escape exposure to dangerous conditions we were in, the quickest way and be where we had family. There we would find respite. Well, we took our chance and cut out across the ice as fog rolled in. It took us five days to cross in the spring because the trail had turned awful bad. And now Cross Island has a similar ocean current movement pattern. But over there, large icebergs drift into the inlet side driven by the strong west winds.
Large icebergs drift into () Bay, which is part of Cross Island. It is also the furthest island out from land. It is a most dangerous place. We are always fearful when we are hunting and traveling out there ask for that be no west wind that would set us adrift on the ice. We hoped for good weather. Some of the Islands are not safe, and danger lurks if one stays there. Still others are safe to have shelter there. When we are out on the far islands we always seek safe haven at Foggy Island.
Foggy Island makes for the only reliable safe haven from strong west winds. The ice in front of the Mackenzie River always breaks up early affecting this side. Like our river here. Its mouth always melt early as well. Foggy Island is a protected island and serves as the only safe haven island when strong winds blow from the west. Because the bay is shallow.
The current is flowing steadily out to sea. It flows east toward Cross Island. The currents flowing out are not diverted by other current conditions very often. It has a steady current flowing out to sea. This current also flows by Cross Island ever moving eastward. On the landward side of Cross Island there is . While Cross Island is here. But there is an island missing on this map. There should be another island visible here named Napaqsraligauraq . Moving eastward, these islands that line the coast over here. -There are a series of unnamed islands. All the way to the other side of Mackenzie River.
So there are islands that are known like this sideways island, visible, but they are not identified here on this map. While some of them are identified. However, the ice there is subject to early melts. The surrounding area is subject to early melts because of the inlets. The early melt include all of the waters within the islands all the way to Cape Halkett. The coastal islands form the outer edge of the sea. The real Arctic Ocean begins on the ocean side of the coastal islands.
Unlike Barrow there are no melt flows to flood the shore fast ice close to the island shores. it is good enough to be passable. One does not travel on the ice feeling fearful, nor do they hurry to get somewhere. Now with regard to Brownlow Point, you can barely see it on this map. There is Flaxman Island, where to one, the point of Brownlow Point is visible. From that point east, the currents change a little. But we can always navigate our way through when we are traveling by boat.
When we traveled from Barter Island to Mackenzie, then toward Barrow by boat, I always took control of steering the boat to cross treacherous waters along the way. The others do not steer the boat. Only I do. I always make a straight line from Thetis Island to Cape Halkett. It is because I learned the currents of the area and how it ejects water out to sea. When the sea ice is pushed to the ocean and the sea is clear of ice masses, it will eject large broken ice masses rapidly way out to sea. I am talking about this because of its importance. If I do not talk about it, I can address later. Sea ice conditions from
Barter Island to Barrow. Ocean conditions in winter, spring, and summer seasons, I have traveled these coasts. I don’t know how many times I traveled that country. Then I joined Jake’s party. I did several rescues bringing people to safe havens they did not know about. We used the islands for safe haven as we traveled by dog team. It was west of Cape Halkett where I came ashore. Once as we were traveling by boat, we were struck by west winds. So I took the boat around the eastward bend of Cape Halkett, there was some mighty sighs of relief as we entered calm of the Bay. However we had grounded to a shallow before we realized it.
That was Itchuagaq and I. That was some of our experiences in traveling these coasts. The two of us. It is a dangerous place that Colville River. Colville River and Harrison Bay is one of the most dangerous of places to cross when traveling along the coastal trails. The ice of Harrison Bay is constantly being pushed out to sea by the Colville River. When the ice of Harrison Bay melts ice tends to break up. But if the sea ice has anchored icebergs by the shallows, ice tends to stay longer up to Thetis Island.
Up to Cross Island, is where the bowhead whales are passing by close to the island. Bowhead whales travel eastward passing Cross Island on the seaward side. They would just watch them, Avaqqan and Quŋuyuk would tell us. That island is where the sea ice piles continuously. That place is called Napaqsralik. It is the name in Inupiaq language. So that Cross Island's real name is Napaqsralik. And just to the southwest is Napaqsraligauraq . That island can be barely visible from the mainland, here. That island is not on this map. So here I end the discussion on that subject. However if he wants to know more,
I am willing to provide more information.
He wants to know about the shores of Cross Island. After spring thaw the conditions stabilize, it is possible to travel safely by boat. However, I cannot say in the spring if it is safe or not. I know that the mouth of the river melts much earlier than other areas. The Harrison Bay early melts flow and exists as far as the seaward side of Cross Island. The hunters would often report that giant bearded seals are numerous in spring on the seaward side. Even though I have not spent the spring out there myself, they often tell me about it.
And so it thaws earlier than other places. It then becomes possible to navigate across the bay once the ice moved out. There are no obstacles in boating across unless there suddenly blows a west wind. Unless there is a west wind it is safe to cross the bay. Especially when one is traveling west. For those traveling east, it makes for a difficult journey across Harrison Bay, facing waves when east winds are blowing while crossing. But once you cross Harrison Bay travel gets easier. All the way to Barter Island the sea route is always easier and passable. I have a preference traveling in that area. I don’t know how many times I traveled by boat from Barter Island to Barrow. I will stop talking on the subject here,
so others who may want to say something also have a chance to do so. Okay.