Kingut ilait kumsugnartaartut. - Some insects are ugly.
Mosquitoes, black flies, white socks, no-see-ums, and other biting insects are an inescapable part of summer in the Gulf of Alaska. Hatched during the warming days of May, they thrive until the heavy frosts of fall. Anyone who has worked outdoors on a still day knows the agony of these pests. Early Russian explorers to the Alaska coast were amazed at the swarms of insects and reported that “itch” was a very common problem.
Alaska Natives devised many ways to control bugs. People across Alaska coated their skin with seal oil or lit smudge fires with wet moss to deter flying insects. Before the days of bug spray and citronella candles, Alutiiqs burned nettle leaves and seabeach sandwort to drive away the mosquitoes. They also fumigated their houses with the smoke from burning crowberry plants and carried angelica switches while hiking. Villages and camps were strategically located in windy areas and activities timed to coincide with breezy weather. Berry pickers, for example, would wait for a windy day to collect fruit from coastal meadows.
Photo: April Counceller wears a bug net to protect against biting insects. Outlet site, 2001.
Cawik tamaani uyaqsami patam Kal’uni amlertaartut. - There is a lot of iron around at Larsen Bay and Karluk.
Although metals were a rare material in Alutiiq communities before the historic era, they were not unknown. Kodiak Alutiiq people traded with the Chugach Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound for copper from the Copper River area and collected small pieces of naturally occurring graphite, hematite, and iron. Strong ocean currents also brought metal to the Alutiiq homeland, washing Asian shipwrecks ashore. From this flotsam, people collected iron objects, like nails, that may have been incorporated into tools or hammered into useful shapes. A prehistoric tool handle from Larsen Bay’s Uyak site features an iron stain on its working end. Perhaps an ancient craftsman lashed a small piece of iron to the handle for use in delicate engraving or hole piercing.
In the historic era, iron tools gradually replaced traditional stone implements. Some new tools supplanted older forms. Other tools were simply updated with metal parts. A crooked knife in the Smithsonian’s Fisher Collection, collected on the Alaska Peninsula in 1884, features a steel blade for carving. However, this blade is lashed to a caribou-rib handle with spruce root, not unlike the carving tools traditionally made with beaver incisors. And ulu knives, once made of ground slate, were refitted with iron blades fashioned from discarded saw blades.
Photo: Daryl Squartsoff holds a Russian era iron axe head, Karluk, 1984.
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