Cuumi niugtaallriit, “Iraluq tuqu’uq.” - Before they always used to say “The moon died.”
An eclipse occurs when one celestial object moves into the shadow of another. This term is often used to describe a solar eclipse, when the moon’s shadow crosses the earth’s surface. However, there are also lunar eclipses, when the moon moves into the shadow of the earth. Each year, the earth experiences two to five eclipses of the sun and two to three eclipses of the moon.
There are two ways to say eclipse in Alutiiq. The first, “iraluq tuqu’uq,” means the sun or moon has died. The second, “macaq, iraluq pairutuk,” is a way to say, “The sun and moon passed each other.”
According to local folklore, the moon is brighter after an eclipse. Alutiiq tradition holds that the moon is a man who wears a different mask each night. At dusk, he enters a cave, changes his clothes, and puts on the mask for that evening. When the moon is eclipsed, the man is said to be wearing grease, which darkens his face. When the eclipse fades, he has cleaned himself, creating the brighter moon that follows.
Nuna ushnertuq - The land is eroding.
Erosion is the gradual wearing away of the earth by natural forces. Over thousands of years, wind, waves, rain, snow, and ice reshape the landscape, carving through soil and bedrock to create new landforms. Kodiak’s complex coastline, with its steep-sided fjords, inlets, straits, estuaries, lagoons, rocky headlands, and scattered islands, is the result of intense erosion.
Erosion is one of the biggest threats to the preservation of Alutiiq history. As erosion shapes Kodiak’s landscape, it also eats away the archaeological sites that document the past. Every year, meandering streams, storm surges, and heavy rains wash away a little more of the debris left by early residents.
For archaeologists, this natural process is both instructive and alarming. Although erosion can reveal the nature and location of buried deposits, it also destroys ancient materials. Erosion can also skew the archaeological record, making it more difficult to interpret. For example, it is difficult to find very old sites in the archipelago. Not only were there fewer people using the land seven thousand years ago, but erosion has had more time to wash away the most ancient traces of Alutiiq settlement.
Beachcombers should remember that collecting artifacts eroded from archaeological sites is illegal without permission of the site’s owner. If you find a site or an artifact, look with your eyes and your camera, not your hands. Leave the object in place and report your find to the landowner or an archaeologist.
Photo: Eroding shell midden, Kodiak Island.
Uksuartuq awa’i. - It is fall now.
Fall along Alaska’s gulf coast arrives with a palette of changing colors. The hills fade from green to gold, coastal meadows blaze with bright red fireweed and elderberry leaves, and the skies darken from blue to grey as the days shorten and winter storms reappear.
For Alutiiqs, fall was a time of preparation. Subsistence activities turned from the sea toward the land. Families harvested salmon from local streams, hunted ducks migrating through coastal marshes, and picked berries sweetened by the first frosts. Foods were processed and stored for winter use, filling sod houses with a wealth of resources. Subsistence activities were accompanied by preparations for cold weather. People gathered firewood, patched their sod houses, laid fresh grass on their floors, and began to create new clothes and tools from the abundance of the previous summer.
Photo: Fall colors along the Karluk River, 2014
Suit’kaat asingcugtaartut. - Flowers are pretty.
Each summer blue lupine, purple iris, lavender geranium, magenta fireweed, pink rose, yellow buttercup, and many other flowering plants flood Kodiak’s meadows with color. For Alutiiq people, however, wildflowers are more than a delightful reminder of summer. They are a source of information and a valuable natural resource.
Flowers help collectors judge the quality of plants. Many of Kodiak’s vegetables are picked before they blossom, because their leaves and stems toughen and may become bitter with flowering. Beach loveage, cow parsnip, sourdock, and goose tongue are all gathered when they first appear in May and June. Later in the summer, families will only harvest the nonflowering stems of these plants.
Like many other plant products, some flowers are eaten. Elders report sucking the nectar from salmonberry flowers, eating the berry-like flowers of pineapple weed, and making tea from the petals of wild roses. Other flowers can be used as medicine. Alutiiq people administer a tea made of elderberry flowers, fresh or dried, to reduce fever and relieve flu symptoms. This tea induces a cleansing sweat. Flowers are also used in poultices. A poultice of dried hemlock parsley flowers (Conioselinum chinense) can be used to clean wounds, one of wild sage (Artemisia tilesii) can relieve hemorrhoids, and one of heated single delight flowers (Monese uniflora) can treat tumors.
Photo: Lupine blooming on the shore of Monashka Bay, Kodiak Island.
Tumanaq martuq. (N); Umneq martuq. (S) - The fog is thick.
Each summer Kodiak’s coast clouds of mist and sea fog envelop Kodiak’s coast. As warm summer air passes over the cool North Pacific Ocean, dense patches of fog build against the island, where they may sit for days. Because fog can seriously hinder travel and subsistence activities, predicting its arrival and departure are important skills. It is not the clock that people watch in planning subsistence activities but the tides and the winds, the ocean and the sky.
Weather forecasting is considered an art in Alutiiq communities. People perfect their knowledge of the weather throughout life, learning from experience and developing an elaborate lore of local conditions. In the past, people also watched for omens that would foretell the weather. For example, if eagle down tied to the prow of a kayak fluttered, it was a signal of coming bad weather. Older individuals were particularly sought after for their knowledge, and some communities had a “sky person,” a weather expert who provided advice to hunting parties.
Photo: Fog covers the coast of Afognak Island.
Kulunguaq canakii suulutamek. - My ring is made of gold.
The bedrock underlying the Kodiak Archipelago formed about seventy million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. Geologists believe that Kodiak’s slates and greywackes developed on the South Pacific seafloor before rafting north on the earth’s crust to their current location. During this process, deposits of quartz were literally squirted into cracks in the rocks, where they cooled and formed distinctive veins. Some of these veins contain gold, silver, and metals of the platinum group.
Although significant deposits of precious metals have yet to be found on Kodiak, small quantities of gold have been found in association with Kodiak’s quartz deposits, particularly in Uyak Bay. They are also a consistent find in the region’s glacial gravels. As glaciers cut into the island’s bedrock, they eroded the gold in local quartz veins and redeposited it in sands and gravels. Erosion and wave action have worn away some of these glacial deposits, leaving gold in beach deposits.
Although the Alaska and Yukon gold rushes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century diverted attention from Kodiak’s fur industry, reducing the number of ships that visited the archipelago, gold fever reached Kodiak. Most of the mining took place along the beaches, where prospectors worked gravels to extract the gold. During this era, Alutiiq families participated in placer mining in places like Bumble Bay, to supplement income from fox farming and trapping. Other miners tried lode mining, cutting adits and shafts into hard-rock prospects to find the source of the placer gold. None of these ventures were very profitable and mining faded.
The Alutiiq word for gold, suulutaaq, comes from the Russian word zoloto. Because there is no word for yellow in the Alutiiq language, some people refer to the color yellow with the term suulutat’stun, which means “something like gold.”
Photo: Entrance to historic hard rock mine, Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Nanwat cikumaut. - The lakes are frozen over.
Kodiak may lie south of the frozen arctic regions of Alaska, but from 1852 to 1870, it was a known for its ice. In the 1850s the California gold rush was in full swing, and the west coast needed ice to preserve food. Russian American Company officials saw an economic opportunity and established contracts to sell ice in San Francisco.
Ice production began in Sitka in 1851. However, as the weather in southeast Alaska was not reliably cold, the enterprise moved to Kodiak’s Woody Island a year later. Here the company damned Lake Tanginak to create a broad, deep body of water for ice cutting. Nearby by they constructed support facilities; an ice storage house, a sawmill to make saw dust for packing ice, a wooden flume and iron rails to help haul the ice, a 13 mile road around the island, and a 12 acre oat field. The rails, the road, and the oat fields supported horses. The animals, imported from Russian, powered the ice-cutting saw.
Alutiiq men from Woody Island and other communities, worked for the company. In the winter, they cut and stored ice. In the summer they hunted and fished. Accounts from Woody Island indicate that Native workers received a small daily wage, along with their noon meal and rations of vodka or rum. The meal was often a salmon and potato soup thickened with graham flour.
After the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, the Kodiak Ice Company bought the Woody Island business. It operated until 1872 when the development of the ice machine made it unprofitable to ship ice from Alaska to California.
Photo: Ice in the Ouzinkie Harbor. Photo courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Quangkuta qik’rtarmiu’at. - We are island people.
The Alutiiq word qik’rtaq, meaning island, is the likely source of the name Kodiak. Stephen Glotov, a Russian explorer who wintered near Cape Alitak in 1763, recorded the Native term for the island as Kikhtak. Later colonists altered the word to “Kadiak,” which was the archipelago’s official name until the turn of the twentieth century. In 1901, Kadiak became Kodiak to reflect the more common local pronunciation. Add the suffix -miut, meaning “people of,” to qik’rtaq and you get Qik’rtarmiut: “people of the island.” This is the term the Alaska Peninsula Alutiiq people once used in referring to Kodiak Islanders.
The mountainous, fjorded islands of the Kodiak Archipelago have been home to Native peoples for more than 7,500 years. Although Kodiak may feel like a remote, isolated island today, it was a cultural crossroads in ancient times. A seafaring people, Alutiiqs traveled long distances to trade and socialize with their mainland neighbors, and Tlingit and Aleut people ventured to Kodiak. In oral tradition, the formidable Shelikof Strait is referred to as a river, and paddlers in skin boats crossed it regularly.
Image: Map of the Kodiak Archipelago