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Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Wilson Soplu

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Wilson Soplu


Wilson Soplu, born in Utqiaġvik (Barrow) on July 13, 1914, is the only son of Annie Taiyugaaq Ologak and Richmond Ologak (Richmond died in the mid 1950’s and is buried in Fairbanks; Annie, now 86 years old, lives in Kaktovik).

When Soplu was a small boy, he lived in the Upqiuruuraq Valley south of the Shublik Mountains, in an ivrulik, or house built of willows and sod. That house was really warm. During that time they fished in the siiqsiññiq (open-water springs) of the Canning (Kuruaq) River, in the vicinity of Ignek and Nanuq Creeks and around Shublik Island.

 After this, they moved to Barter Island and built a small wooden house there. This house had no window glass - just ugruk windows. They stayed there for two years.

Then when Soplu’s father started herding reindeer - sometime around 1925 - they moved over to Aanallaq, taking some 200 reindeer that they had gotten from Andrew Akootchook or Barter Island. They built a house near the lake about 3 miles southwest of Anderson Point at a sight marked Koganak on the USGS map. Johnny Koganalook (Qugannaaluk) also had a house here (hence the name Koganak), and his son Levi Griest herded reindeer in the same area. Quġannaaluk had come down the Kuukpik or Kuvuk River with Richmond in an umiaq several years earlier. (River referred to is probably the Colville.)

Aanallaq was a good area for keeping track of reindeer, as it was relatively high and dry land - almost like a large, low hill- and it was easy to see the deer and corral them.

Every spring, Soplu would help his family take the herd up to the Sadlerochit Mountains. They would usually leave late winter and go to Sivugaq on the Hula Hula River, where there is a long, high bluff. After remaining there awhile, they’d go up the Sadlerochit River to the mountain valley beyond Sadlerochit Springs. Here the reindeer would have their calves. The first ones were usually born in April.

After the calves had gotten bigger, the herders would slowly guild the reindeer towards the coast, letting them graze all over the long, low hills between Sadlerochit and Aanallaq. One of these hills is called Nasaruk, which means “the hill that looks like a woman with a pack on her back” (the word for this is Nasak).

The Ologaks used binoculars to watch the reindeer and try to keep track of them, but it was still very difficult. There were no skidoos to help them round them up. Wolves would often attach the deer, biting them in the throat. Soplu said that there were no caribou around when the deer were there.

Although Aanallaq was the only coastal place where Ologaks kept reindeer, they had several other houses along the coast, in the Camden Bay area. One was at the base of Kanigniivik Point, near the graves. Another was on the coast, directly across the bay from the tip of Kanigniivik Point, by the lake. Another was on Simpson Cove, about a mile from Nuvuaq. Still another was at Sanniqsaluk.

In the Camden Bay area, Soplu noted Ikalukiruk Creek as especially important for fishing. (This creek is called Carter Creek on the USGS map, but Soplu had never heard of this English name). June is the best month for fishing here. Iqualuakpik (arctic char) and qaaktaq (whitefish) are caught. The area between Ikalukiruk and Aanallaq is noted for kaŋuq, or snow geese, and there are lots of quġruk (whistling swans) in this area.

Soplu and his family used to do a lot of fishing in the Shaviovik River, especially to Shaviovik River delta. They built what Soplu calls a “beaver house” about three miles west of the delta. There were lots of pieces of coal around this site, which they used for fuel. They lived at this site for one year (even though they fished in the Shaviovik River for several years). They also built a small house several miles inland on the Shaviovik (exact location not determined), which they used on winter fishing and hunting trips. Soplu’s father, Richmond Ologak and William Ekolook used to fish together in the summer before freeze-up. There were so many fish that all they’d have to do was put the net (kuvraq) in the water and pull it up (qaaktuqtuq) and it would be full of fish. They would just cut the fish in half, but still there were sometimes more fish than they could handle in a day. One year, they go so many fish that they couldn’t use them up in a whole year. The fish that they used to catch were the qaaktaq, iqaluakpik, and pagiluk (blackfish). The blackfish had a pinkish-white meat, similar to iqaluakpik, but they had black fins.

Soplu says that there has been a change in the fish populations of the Shaviovik River. It used to be that the fish were small and there were many of them; now, there are fewer fish and the ones that are being taken by Kaktovik are big.

The Ologak family also lived for one year on the barrier island which is northeast of Tigvaġiaq Island. Soplu thinks it was Belvedere Island. (Their only name for it was Qikiqtaq, which means “island”).

Around 1940, Soplu married Annie Kyoutak. Annie, born at Demarcation Point on July 22, 1922, is the daughter of Paul Kyoutak and Mae Saukpuk, who were both long-time residents of the coastal areas between Camden Bay and Canada. (Mae was the daughter or Ekayuak and the white prospector Ned Arey). Their first child, Jimmy Soplu of Kaktovik, was born in the mountains along the Sadlerochit River on April 18, 1941.

By the mid 1940’s, the price of arctic fox fur had dropped down to nothing and all the Alaskan Beaufort coastal trading posts had closed. So in 1946, Soplu and his family moved to Herschel Island, Canada. Here they lived for seven years, returning to Kaktovik in the spring of 1953. they used to hunt, fish and trap from Herschel Island and all over the Mackenzie Delta area, but they especially noted Hooper Island, where they lived during the summer of 1952. there were lots of kanuq (snow geese) in that area.

The Soplus had had two more children before going to Canada - Billy on August 25, 1943 and Alice Faith  in 1944. Alice died while they were in Canada. Then Mark, who was born in Canada in 1946, died several years later in Fairbanks. Two of their living children - both Kaktovik residents - were also born at Herschel Island - Eve Kignak on April 1, 1949, and Joshua on May 6, 1951.

The Soplus had two other children who died: Maggie, and Donald, who drowned when he was 5 years old. Their family was further struck by tragedy a few years ago when Annie’s brother, Jonas Kyoutak, and his son were lost and drowned between Herschel Island and Philips Bay in Canada.

Soplu’s other living children, born at Barter Island or Utqiaġvik, are: Fred (born Nov. 8, 1954), Joe (born Sept. 14, 1955), George T. (born Oct. 21, 1960), and twins Linda and Lucy (born April 15, 1963).

Soplu retired from the Barter Island DEW LINE Site in October, 1978, after some 25 years of government service. He was awarded a Swiss gold watch bearing the inscription Wilson “Easy Money” Soplu (“Easy Money” being his English nickname). Since then, he has been trapping, hunting and fishing full time. This winter and spring he lived much of the tie in the Sadlerochit Mountains, trapping wolverine, wolves and foxes, and hunting caribou and brown bear. Now, in the summer, he has been hunting ugruk, eiders and old squaws, and fishing in the vicinity of Barter Island. (pg. 185-186)