Tamuuliciqukut uksurpailan. - We will make dry fish before the winter.
Winter in the Kodiak Archipelago quickly follows summer. As the days darken and stormy weather sets in, the landscape turns rapidly from green to brown, the temperature drops, and wet, windy days replace the warmer, foggy days of fall. In Prince William Sound, Alutiiq children once marked the first days of winter by making string figures. String games were intended to entangle the sun, slowing its seasonal disappearance.
Subsistence harvesting continues in winter. However, economic activities are usually those that can be conducted on or near land: deer hunting, bird hunting, and plant collecting. Lowbush cranberries, Labrador tea, and licorice ferns are some of the plant resources that continue to be harvested in the winter. Cranberries, collected in windswept areas where the snow has been blown away, are often eaten as they are picked. On calm days, people will venture out in their boats to hunt and fish, but sea mammals, halibut, and cod range farther from shore in the cold season and can be harder to catch.
Winter is also a time for social activities. People gather to visit, celebrate, and share the fish and game harvested over the past year. In classical Alutiiq society, many of these activities took place in the qasgiq, or community house. These large, single-roomed structures were built much like traditional houses. They were framed from driftwood, covered in sod, and had benches lining the walls. Russian observers noted that most communities had one such structure where men gathered to socialize, plan war parties, discuss political issues, and lead community festivals.
Photo: Wintery morning in Ouinkie, 1949. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Arnat peknartutaartut. - Women work hard.
Women had important economic, social, and spiritual roles in classical Alutiiq society. In addition to collecting plant foods, they processed fish for storage, tanned hides, sewed the skin coverings for kayaks, wove baskets, and manufactured clothing. In winter villages, groups of related women lived together in large sod houses with their husbands and children. A pair of sisters, for example, might share a household. Some anthropologists believe that Alutiiqs were a matrilineal society. Descent may have been traced through women, with children gaining their family identity from their mother’s side.
In the spiritual realm, women shared their powers as both shamans and healers. The shaman was a mystical person. They communicated with the spiritual world and could foretell the future, forecasting the wealth or predicting the success of subsistence activities. In contrast, healers were community doctors. They manufactured herbal medicines, tended the sick, and acted as midwives.
Photo: Female doll by Coral Chernoff. Purchased for the Alutiiq Museum collections with assistance from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Over the front of their vest, warriors sometimes attached a breastplate. They made this extra layer of protection by lashing narrow rods of wood together. A collar of tightly woven sinew provided protection for the neck, and warriors wore hats of wood or thick animal skin.
In addition to protective vests, Alutiiq warriors carried shields and shield walls in combat. Historic accounts describe large groups of men advancing with a wooden shield wall, a set of heavy, connected, wooden planks that could stop a musket ball. These portable walls were large. Russian observers note that they could shield 30 to 40 men each and were made of three layers of cedar boards tied together with kelp and sinew.
Katallrianga kesiin qanernilngua! (N); Katallrianga kesiin qan'rnilngua! (S) - I fell but I didn't cuss!
Despite the global history of cussing, curse words are often culturally specific. Every society determines what words and subjects are taboo. Every society has their own set of expletives that reflect cultural values, social norms, and local history. Interestingly, words from related languages can have very different meanings. For example the Yup'ik word for talking –Qanerluni, means "to cuss" in the Alutiiq language. Such changes in word meaning can lead to funny conversations, particularly when speakers are unaware of the differences.
Like many children, Alutiiq youth learn that cussing is wrong and that it can have bad consequences. One Elder recalls his parents saying that the devil would come after him if he swore. Yet they also remember adults cussing at each other during arguments. Documenting these colorful words is difficult. Ironically, many Alutiiq swears are disappearing, as Elder speakers do not wish to share profanity with young language learners. In the past, however, comparing someone to a Tlingit person was a form of cussing. This practice reflected the historic rivalry between the Alutiiq and Tlingit peoples.
Arnaurciqsaqlluni. - He has feminine ways.
Native American societies commonly celebrate people of two spirits. Such people may be seen as a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics or as gender neutral. They may also hold special or esteemed roles in their communities.
Explorers recorded the presence of cross-gendered people in Alaska Native societies. Historic sources indicate that parents could give a girl a boy’s name, or a boy a girl’s name, when a child of a particular sex was desired. Or if the child appeared to better fit a different gender role, parents could raise the child in the traditions associated with that gender–with the skills, clothing, tattoos, and social roles. Transgendered individuals were valued members of their communities who could marry and become cultural specialists like shamans.
The Alutiiq word for a two-spirit or transgendered man, arnauciq, translates as “a male who is sort of female.” Arnauciq sometimes accompanied hunting trips to perform women’s tasks, as women were forbidden to hunt or using hunting speech. The term for employing such a companion is arnaucirluni – to provide oneself with a take-along woman.
Image: Petroglyph from Cape Alitak, Kodiak Island.
Carliaqa llangllarngauq. – My child is aware.
Why do toddlers like to say, “No!”? The answer lies in a baby’s growing brain. In the transitions from infant to toddler, children develop their sense of self-awareness, both physical and emotional. By about 18 months, children recognize themselves as unique individuals. At this age, many know and use their own name, recognize their image in a mirror, share opinions, express personal feelings like pride and shame, and act with concern for others.
Saying “No!”, or “Mine!” is an excellent indication of this transition. It shows that a child can express likes and dislikes, and that he understands he is an individual separate from his caregivers. This awareness is part of the process of gaining independence among toddlers who are also mastering walking and language.
This transition to self-awareness is recognized in Alutiiq culture. In the Alutiiq language, speakers differentiate between babies, who are unaware of their surroundings, and children who have gained awareness. The phrase llangart’llria literally means “he/she came to.” Alutiiq Elders associate this awakening with their earliest memories, with developing consciousness. Additionally, the term can be used to describe someone who awakens from being unconscious, or for an old soul–someone who knows more than their years.
Photo: First peek at the teacher’s new baby, Berna Joy. Goudie Collection, Courtesy the Wood Island Tribal Council. This baby is to young to be aware.
The Alutiiq word pilinguar translates literally as, “to make one’s own.” Alutiiq speakers use this word for adoption. It is a very specific term for adding a person to one’s family, or for fostering a child. It is not typically used for circumstances like adopting a pet or a practice. There are other words for these activities.
Adoption is a very important tradition in Alutiiq communities. Being an orphan, or lliya’aq, is dangerous, as family affiliation provides support and social standing. Orphaned children were often adopted by members of their extended family–grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even an older sibling. This safeguarded them from becoming laborers in another family’s home. Sometimes, however, a local adoption was not possible.
In the twentieth century, Alutiiq children in need of a home were sent to orphanages like the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska and the Kodiak Baptist Mission orphanage on Woody Island. One of the lesser known homes was Baker Cottage, a Baptist Mission facility in Ouzinkie. Baker Cottage operated from 1938 to 1958 and cared for up to about 15 children at a time. It was built after a fire destroyed the facilities on Woody Island. The youngest children in the Woody Island orphanage were sent to Ouzinkie, where they lived in a large, wood-framed home supervised by house parents. The house sat among the spruce trees on a hill overlooking Ouzinkie harbor and had running water.
When the orphanage closed, it became a community mission, overseen by the Reverends Norman and Joyce Smith. Children still gravitated to the home, where the Smith’s taught Kindergarten, had a playroom, provided nursing care, hosted clubs, parties, game nights, films, and Bible study.
Photo: Reverend Goudie with children at the Kodiak Baptist Orphanage. Goudie Collection, courtesy the Tangirnaq Tribe.