Gui angayuka Kicarwigmen ag’uq. - My partner is going to Anchorage.
Throughout Native Alaska, friendships were an important source of economic assistance as well as a safety mechanism and a way to enhance wealth. In addition to forming friendships within their communities, many men and women established lifelong trading partnerships with people in distant places. There was no limit to the number of trading partners, and many people had several. Trading partners were never relatives, but the children of trading partners might establish their own partnerships. These relationships connected communities to ecologically distinct areas with different resources. In times of need, a person could request assistance from a trading partner. Trading partnerships also facilitated movement. A person with ties to a trading partner in another region could safely travel in that region and might gain access to valuable, nonlocal materials.
Historic sources suggest that Kodiak Alutiiq people maintained trading partnerships with mainland people. Kodiak travelers partnered with Dena’ina traders in Cook Inlet, exchanging whale meat and kayaks for land mammal pelts and goat horn. Additionally, trading partners may have met at large regional trading fairs. Kodiak people traded wooden hats at intertribal fairs, and the southern coast of the Alaska Peninsula was one location for such fairs. Similarly, the Chugach Alutiiq reportedly traveled to the headwaters of the Susitna River to participate in trade fairs with Ahtna, Dena’ina, and Tanana peoples.
Photo: Girls in Old Harbor, ca. 1950. Violet Able Collection, Courtesy the Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Nasqulut tak’ut. - The bull kelp are long.
Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) is a variety of seaweed with a long, hollow stem attached to a bulb with trailing leaves. This plant grows abundantly in Kodiak’s nearshore waters and has a one-year life cycle. Microscopic spores emitted in the fall live through the winter to produce new kelp each spring. During the warm months, the plant grows rapidly, forming a sturdy stem up to sixty feet long. In the winter, kelp plants die, and large accumulations wash onto area beaches.
Alutiiq people once used the kelp’s hollow stem as a suction tube. Pieces about two feet long and one inch in diameter were kept in kayaks and used to bail water. The thinner parts of the stem were dried and used for line. The line was soaked in saltwater to make it supple and then used to anchor kayaks or as line for jigging halibut, cod, and rockfish. Bull kelp is also a traditional food. Pickles and relishes are made from the bulb, and the tender stems of small plants are eaten raw. Today, many gardeners mix bull kelp with eelgrass to produce a rich fertilizer.
Uuqutiit amlertut suitkaani. - There are a lot of bees on the flowers.
Bumblebees play an important role in the ecology of Alaska’s terrestrial environments. The farther north you move, the fewer pollinators there are. In Alaska, bumblebees and hoverflies do much of the pollinating. Bumblebees have a furry, black-andyellow body and transparent wings. These social insects search flowers for nectar, which they drink with a long tongue. In the process, their hairy bodies become smeared with pollen, which they spread among other plants as they travel and feed.
A fear of bees pervades the Eskimo world, where dead bees were once used in amulets and shamans’ paraphernalia. An Alutiiq Elder reports that bumblebees are “bad, bad, bad.” This may be because bees drink the nectar of the monkshood plant. This plant is the source of aconite, the extremely potent nerve toxin once used to kill whales. The fact that bees can subsist from this deadly plant may make them dangerous. In the Aleutian chain, bumblebees were associated with weaponry and their legs were used in whaling poisons. Like a poisoned spear, the bumblebee deeply penetrates a flower where he remains to do his work. In the traditional language of the Aleutian Islands, the term for the monkshood plant translates literally as “the house of the bumblebee.”
KaaRamek igu’ullianga. - I bought a car.
Before the development of a western cash economy, Kodiak’s Alutiiq people obtained many of the foods and materials they needed through trade. In good weather, men traveled by skin boat to communities to share their surplus goods and barter for items. Trade with the Alaska mainland was particularly important. Here, Kodiak Islanders could acquire resources not locally available. These included caribou skins, walrus ivory, antler, volcanic rocks, and other exotic items. What did Kodiak Islander’s offer in trade? Mainlanders coveted Kodiak’s high-quality slate, perfect for making ulus and spear points.
In the historic era, Alutiiqs found opportunities to earn money. At first, families sustained themselves through subsistence activities, earning small amounts of cash through trapping and reinvesting these funds in hunting and fishing equipment. But as cannery jobs became more widely available, people began to work for wages and to purchase more of their supplies.
Today, most Alutiiq communities have a local store where families can buy necessities. Many also purchase food and clothing in Kodiak, order from catalogs, and as computers have become more accessible, shop via the Internet. But bartering remains an important and valued part of village economies.
Photo: Ouzinkie store (center behind dock), 1949. Marie Heinrichs Colletion.