April mal’ugnek piugtengq’rtuq. - April has two dogs.
Archaeological sites in Alaska illustrate that dogs (Canis familiaris) have been a part of Native communities for at least two thousand years, although the presence of dogs in Siberia eleven thousand years ago suggests that it may be much longer. On Kodiak, dog bones illustrate that Alutiiq people kept two varieties of dogs: a large, wolf-like breed similar in size to the working dogs used by northern Alaskans and a smaller, lighter dog. These animals probably guarded communities against bears and acted as companions, but apparently they were not used for transportation, for carrying loads or pulling sleds.
A legend collected in the early nineteenth century tells of the colonization of Kodiak Island by the children of a woman and her lover, a dog. The daughter of a chief, who lived on the AlaskaPeninsula, was banished by her father after having five children with her lover. The lover tried to find his family but was drowned in the search. When the children grew up and learned of their grandfather’s harsh treatment, they tore him to pieces and fled to distant areas. Some of the children went north, while others came to Kodiak and started their own families, creating the island’s population.
There are many ways to interpret this dog-husband story. It may be about banishment. Elders say that long ago, incestuous people were called dogs and were sometimes forced to leave a community. It may also be a story that an unfriendly neighbor told to explorers to make fun of Kodiak Islanders. People from different areas often traded insults. Or maybe this is a story about a sua, the human spirit that lives in all things. This spirit looks like a person. It can leave its owner’s body at any time and live on its own. Whatever the answer, this story illustrates the deep ancestral ties between Alutiiqs and their coastal neighbors. Similar dog-husband stories are found across the Eskimo-Aleut world.
Photo: Dogs watching beach seiners in Karluk. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Alimat kuigmen asgurtaartut. - Dog salmon always go up the stream.
Chum salmon, also known as dog salmon (Oncorhynchus keta),are the most widely available species of Pacific salmon. These large fish live in marine waters from southern California to the Arctic Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Chum can reach over thirty pounds,but more commonly weigh between seven and eighteen pounds.
In Kodiak waters, chum salmon are the third most abundant species of salmon. They are broadly distributed and spawn in many of the same streams as pink salmon, particularly the island’s larger watercourses. There are more than one hundred dog salmon streams around the archipelago and about 1.7 million chums return to the island each year. Like king salmon, chums may inhabit near-shore ocean waters for weeks before moving into freshwater. However, once they enter streams, they spawn rapidly, developing distinctive vertical bars of green and purple. Around Kodiak, chum salmon spawn in the greatest numbers from mid August through early October.
Chum salmon are not as widely eaten as other varieties of salmon. Many people find their pale-colored flesh less appealing,perhaps because it contains less oil than other varieties of salmon and has a firmer texture. Some Alutiiq Elders note that they have never eaten much chum salmon, although others report that the fish is tasty when boiled and that it makes good smoked salmon.Across northern and interior Alaska, dried and smoked chum salmon have long been staple winter foods. Chum salmon are also an economically important species. Sport fishermen seek out these fish as they fight a hook energetically, and commercial fishermen prize them for their large, flavorful roe.
Illustration: Male dog salmon, Goldsborough, Edmund Lee (1907) The Fishes of Alaska, Washington, D.C.: Department of Commerce and Labor Bureau of Fisheries
Nanwam ancii miktaartut. - Lake trout are always small.
Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma Walbaum) belong to a group of fishes called char. The light spots on their sides distinguish dollys from most trout and salmon, which are usually black spotted or speckled. There are two varieties of Dolly Varden in Alaska waters. The southern variety ranges from southeast Alaska to the tip of the Aleutian Chain, and the northern variety occurs from Bristol Bay to Alaska’s northern coast.
In Alutiiq, the words nanwam ancia mean lake trout, referring to the common habitat of Kodiak’s Dolly Varden. However, Alutiiq people also use the word anciq meaning trout, for these small fish. However, these fish should not be confused with Kodiak’s two varieties of arctic char — rainbow trout and steelehead trout.
Kodiak’s dollys are available most of the year, from September through mid-May. They reach maturity between age five and six, at a length of twelve to sixteen inches and a weight of up to a pound. Although small, these fish are an important subsistence resource because they can be harvested in winter. They are a source of fresh food that can be harvested from lakes and streams when weather makes it difficult to fish and hunt in ocean waters. Dollys are also abundant and easy to catch. Historic sources suggest that Karluk residents dried Dolly Varden alongside salmon.
In Alaska’s territorial days, Dolly Varden were also a source of cash. Westerners considered them a pest, because they were seen to prey on salmon eggs and fry. Between 1921 and 1941, the federal government set a bounty on these small fish, paying two cents for every Dolly Varden tail.
Photo: A string of Dolly Varden and salmon. Nekeferof Collection.
Mangat kiagmi amlertaartut; paRaguutami maligkaturtaakiikut. - There are always a lot of dolphins in the summertime; they always follow us in the boat.
The Pacific white-sided dolphin (lagenorhynchus obliquidens) is a common resident of the deep waters surrounding Kodiak. The average adult is about seven and a half feet long, weighs three hundred pounds, and has a black back and beak, grey sides, and a white belly. These acrobatic sea mammals are gregarious. They travel in large groups, often with Dall porpoises and occasionally with baleen whales. Dolphins eat small schooling fish and squid and can live up to forty-five years.
Archaeological data and historic accounts indicate that Alutiiq people have hunted dolphins for millennia. However, they were among the most difficult sea mammals to capture. Dolphins are fast swimmers that range far from shore and only surface for a few seconds to breathe. Although they are noted bow riders and like to play around boats, they frighten easily. Historic accounts indicate that hunters pursued dolphins from kayaks. They used throwing boards loaded with special darts or bows and arrows to wound the animals. These weapons were designed to penetrate the animal’s skin and fat. A struck animal dove immediately and the others in its pod disappeared.
Alutiiqs no longer hunt dolphins, except symbolically as carved miniature targets in a traditional dart game. One Elder says emphatically, “Don’t shoot dolphins because they help you.” This belief may come from Scandinavian folklore. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish mariners who married into Alutiiq communities believed that dolphins were good luck and could guide a boat to safety in the fog.
Saqul’aarsurciqukut. - We are going to go duck hunting.
More than fifty-two species of loons, grebes, swans, geese, and ducks winter along the gulf coast of Alaska. Waterfowl begin arriving in September, flocking to protected bays and estuaries to feed on shellfish, vegetation, and insects. About two hundred thousand birds winter in the Kodiak Archipelago, many of them in the marshy environments of southwest Kodiak Island. For the Alutiiq people, waterfowl provided an important source of winter food and raw material. Men once hunted birds from kayaks with special bird darts, or on land with bows and arrows. Today, residents use shotguns, typically harvesting birds from September through March, although sporadic hunting may extend into June.
There are many ways to prepare ducks. People often clean their ducks, pluck out the feathers, and store them in the freezer for roasting, stewing, and frying. Another method is to make stinky duck. Elders recall hanging mallards in their attic or behind the stoves to ripen. When the feathers wiped off easily, they would clean the carcass and cook it.
The word for duck is a good example of regional differences in the pronunciation of Alutiiq words. Speakers from the northwestern coast of Kodiak say saqul’aat with a “sh” sound at the beginning. This is the typical pronunciation in Afognak and Ouzinkie. Along the southeastern coast, however, in the communities of Old Harbor and Akhiok, the word is pronounced with an “s” sound at the beginning.
Painting: Duck, by Lena Amason. Acrylic and oil paint on brich wood, with strips of marine bouy. Purchased with assistance from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Kum’agyak uqguwmi misngauq. - An eagle is perched in the tree.
Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are a common sight in Kodiak’s coastal environments. These large, territorial raptors eat a variety of fish, small mammals, and birds and may occur in great concentrations when feeding on migratory species like herring or salmon. They have excellent eyesight and grow up to forty inches tall with a seven-foot wingspan. However, with large feathers and hollow bones, a full-grown eagle may weigh just fourteen pounds.
Although many Native American cultures honor the eagle, Alutiiqs captured eagles for raw material, preferring to esteem the clever raven. An account from Russian colonial times reports that an Alutiiq person kept a tame eagle. Other sources indicate that birds were snared using fish heads for bait. Eagle wings functioned as brooms and fire fans, their hollow bones as needle cases, and their feathers as fletching for arrows and filling for mattresses. Eagle skins were also a source of material for clothing. Among the Chugach Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound, eagle skins were plucked of their large feathers but the down was left in place. The skins were then washed in a mixture of water, fat, and spruce bark and scraped clean. Ten skins were then sewn together to make a coat. If the feathers were left on the skin, the coat was water repellent and could be used as a rain jacket.
According to Alutiiq legend, people could transform themselves into eagles by putting on an eagle skin. A tale from Prince William Sound tells of a young man who transformed himself into an eagle and captured a whale to feed his hungry grandmother.
Photo: Eagles perched in a Kodiak area tree.
Manigsurciqukut. - We’re going to look for eggs.
Bird eggs are a favorite spring food in Alutiiq communities. Each year many thousands of seabirds nest along the rocky shores of the Gulf of Alaska coast. Collectors begin gathering eggs in May, particularly gull eggs. To avoid eggs with developing chicks, it is important to collect those that have been recently laid. Elders teach that you should not collect from a nest with three eggs. This means that the bird has laid its entire clutch and the eggs have been developing for some time. Most people collect eggs by boat, but in the past, they were also harvested by rappelling down steep cliffs with the aid of ropes made from sea-mammal hide.
In the past, people ate eggs fresh or stored them in pits for future use. Elders remember cooking eggs and other fresh foods in hollowed-out cottonwood logs on the beach. They dropped hot rocks from a campfire into the log to heat water for cooking. Before refrigeration, people stored eggs in grass-lined pits to keep them cool, but unfrozen, throughout the winter. Upright sticks marked these pits so they could be easily located.
Cirunertulit piturnirtaartut. - Elk always taste good.
Elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) are one of four ungulate species introduced to the Kodiak Archipelago in the twentieth century. In 1929, eight Roosevelt elk were released on Afognak Island: five females and three males captured in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state in 1928. The animals spent their first winter in Kalsin Bay before being transplanted to Afognak in the spring of 1929.
Today, the descendants of these elk roam both Afognak and Raspberry islands and the herd has grown to about one thousand. People occasionally sight elk on Kodiak Island because elk are strong swimmers and will cross channels between islands. However, Kodiak has no established herd.
Roosevelt elk are larger and slightly darker than their Rocky Mountain cousins. A large Afognak Island bull can weigh as much as 1,300 pounds. Roosevelt elk can also be distinguished by their antlers, which are shorter, less symmetrical, and more massive than the antlers grown by elk living east of the Cascade Mountains.
On Kodiak, elk hunting officially began in 1950, when the herd had grown enough to permit culling. Since then, these large animals have become an important and highly desired source of meat in Kodiak communities, particularly Ouzinkie, where nearly half of households consume elk meat over the course of a year. Elk hunting is difficult because the animals are large, swift, and often found in rough terrain, so only a small number of people hunt elk, but the meat is widely distributed. Today, Alutiiq people harvest elk by permit from the end of September through November.
Photo: Elk released on Afognak Island, March 1929. Photograph by Charles Madsen, Courtesy the US Fish & Wildlife Service.