Suuget cimiutut. - People are trading.
Kuingtua aprutkun. - I am walking down the trail.
Across the Kodiak Archipelago, trails help hikers travel overland through thick forests and dense brush. You can hike to the summit of Kashevaroff Mountain on a trail or follow the network of coastal paths that lead to Termination Point. Although animals, four-wheelers, and even the military are responsible for establishing many local trails, a number of these paths are quite ancient. Some of Kodiak’s well-worn byways have been used for as long as any one can remember and are considered archaeological features. For example, the presence of prehistoric village sites at both ends of the short overland trail that connects the head of Larsen Bay with the Karluk River illustrates that people made the journey between coast and river for millennia. There is also an old trail connecting the head of Uyak Bay on western Kodiak with the head of Three Saints Bay on the island’s southeastern coast. Legend has it that steps have been cut into mountain bedrock along this trail to assist hikers.
In addition to aiding travel, trails provide convenient places to ambush game. Foxes, otters, and even bears use predictable routes to and from feeding and resting areas. Here, Alutiiq hunters set up traps and snares to intercept furbearers, particularly in the fall. In the past, shamans also used trails to communicate with people. A shaman who wished to scare someone would carve a doll in the person’s likeness and leave it along a path that he or she commonly followed.
Photo: Students hike down a trail on Spruce Island. Smith Collection, courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Callret imarmi pugtaut. - Trash is floating in the ocean.
For Kodiak archaeologists the old adage “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure” holds true. During 7,500 years of island residence, Kodiak’s Native people left behind an abundance of cultural materials that have been preserved by the region’s persistently cool, wet climate. Scattered around their settlements, their middens provide an unusually rich picture of traditional lifeways. Alutiiq sites contain not only artifacts illustrating past activities but animal remains that reveal ancient subsistence practices, butchery patterns, food storage techniques, and even the character of Kodiak’s natural environment.
Clam shells, which are abundant in later prehistoric sites, are particularly informative. Like trees, clams produce annual growth rings, and these rings reflect the organism’s surrounding environment. During the summer, particularly from July to October when ocean waters are warmest, they grow rapidly, adding a wide, lightly colored band of calcium carbonate to the outer edge of their shell. During the succeeding cold months, growth halts as water temperatures drop and clams enter a resting phase. At this time of year, some of the recently produced shell is reabsorbed, creating a dark band of material and a distinctive notch on the surface of the shell. When a shell is cut open, archaeologists can observe these bands and notches and determine the season a clam was harvested. When compared with seasonal indicators in other animal remains, archaeologists can reconstruct not only what resources people were harvesting, but when. This helps in determining how people once used the landscape and how those uses have changed with time.
Photo: Mark Rusk in Uganik Bay by an eroding deposit of midden - ancient trash.
Sun'ami maani napat amlertut, angsinarluteng cali. Kal'uni, Larsen Bay-mi napaitaartukut. - Here in Kodiak we have a lot of spruce trees and tall ones, but in Karluk and Larsen Bay we don't have any.
The Kodiak Archipelago lies at the ecological boundary of windswept coastal tundra and the foggy rainforests of coastal Alaska. Here, the coniferous forest gives way to grassy meadows and groves of cottonwood trees. Kodiak’s forests are young. Biologists believe that the Sitka spruce, known by its Latin name Picea sitchensis, began spreading into the area just nine hundred years ago, and it is still spreading southward. Black cottonwood trees (Populus balsamifera) are more ancient, colonizing the archipelago thousands of years ago.
The Alutiiq word napaq can be used to refer to a tree in general or to a spruce tree specifically. Although Kodiak’s forests are relatively young, wood collected from area beaches and both deciduous and coniferous trees are important for fuel and raw material. In Kodiak’s northern Alutiiq communities, Sitka spruce is a major source of firewood, and it was used in the construction of traditional sod houses, fish drying racks, temporary shelters, and many common wooden objects. Cottonwood was primarily used for smoking fish, because it burns slowly, creates a lot of smoke, and imparts a nice flavor. It was also used for carving children’s toys.
Photo: A grove of deciduous trees overlooking a bend in the Karluk River.
Angermek aturtaakait. - They used tree pitch.
Alutiiq people used every part of the spruce tree, from its wood and roots to its needles and sticky pitch. When the bark of a spruce is ripped or cut, sap collects at the site of the injury. Alutiiqs recognize two different types of pitch, soft and hard, that form in a variety of colors: clear, white, yellow, pink, and even black.
The harder pitch, particularly the pink, yellow, and white varieties, makes the best chewing gum and tends to occur on older trees. Alutiiq Elders recall the fun of gathering pitch for gum. As children, some spent entire afternoons searching the forests for lumps of hardened sap, fighting over the pink pieces, which had the best flavor. Others remember chewing spruce gum so often that everything they ate tasted of spruce. Today, people use the hard pitch to make a tea to treat colds and coughs or apply warmed lumps of the soft yellow pitch to cuts to stop them from bleeding.
Like many Alaskans, Alutiiqs once used spruce pitch as a sealant. By mixing soft pitch with a little oil and heating it, they created a paste for waterproofing the seams of bark containers or temporarily fixing small holes in skin boats. The oil helped to keep the pitch from cracking as it dried. Spruce pitch can also help you start a fire. Like bark, wood shavings, or bird down, it is a good source of tinder.
Photo: Pitch oozing from the trunk of a Sitka spruce tree.
Ancinek pisurtaartukuk. - We two always fish for trout.
Kodiak streams support two races of trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss), resident rainbows and anadromous steelhead. Rainbow trout live in freshwater throughout the year. In contrast, steelhead trout spend a large portion of their lives in marine waters. They enter local rivers between August and January, with peak runs in October. Fish overwinter in deep river holes or lake waters and spawn in late April and May. Adults then return to saltwater. Both races of trout are found predominantly on Afognak Island and southwestern Kodiak Island, in lake-headed rivers that also support red salmon.
Although the trout population is quite small, steelhead can reach 20 pounds and are a tasty source of food. Historic sources indicate that Karluk residents occasionally caught and dried trout, but their contribution to the diet was minor in comparison with other fish, particularly salmon. In classical Alutiiq cuisine, trout were predominantly a winter food, as they represented a source of fresh meat at a time when bad weather often limited access to other subsistence resources. Alutiiq Elders fondly remember fishing for steelhead through the ice. Today, sport fishermen seek steelhead from the Karluk River.
Photo: Trout caught in the Karluk River. Photo by Mark Rusk, Alutiiq Museum collections.
Ciguut'kaarluku tuqullria. - She died of tuberculosis.
Known as TB or consumption, tuberculosis once ranked among the most deadly diseases in the world. Caused by the tubercle bacilli bacteria, tuberculosis often infects the lungs and spreads to other parts of the body. People typically get the disease by breathing in the bacteria. After the initial infection, TB can lie dormant for years. The first symptom of tuberculosis is a persistent cough. TB can lead to rapid death, but it often progresses slowly, causing chest pain, fever, night sweats, fatigue, and weight loss.
Although tuberculosis may have been present in Alaska before the arrival of Westerners, it spread rapidly to the Native population wherever settlers established colonies. Historic sources indicate that many early explorers had the disease. In the early nineteenth century, tuberculosis was one of the most common illnesses on Kodiak. By 1846, nearly forty percent of Kodiak’s population was infected. There were no rapid outbreaks of the disease. Instead, it smoldered in the population, increasing susceptibility to other infectious diseases, disabling the sick, and eventually causing death. In Alutiiq communities, tuberculosis spread through families living together in the close quarters of traditional houses.
The spread of TB in Alaska reached devastating levels in the 1940s and 1950s. Victims of the disease were transported to public sanitaria and many died in distant hospitals, far from home. In rural communities, people with TB simply disappeared forever, as hospitals had no funds to send the dead home for burial. Three Alutiiq men were among the victims of TB who died at the Mt. Edgecombe Indian Health Service Hospital in Sitka. Their remains, originally entombed in a World War II era ammunition bunker, were returned to Kodiak for burial in 2000.
Image: Mircoscopic view of Tuberculosis causing bacteria
Kal’ut awatiini cailnguq. - Around Karluk is tundra.
Across the northern hemisphere, tundra environments occur above treeline and below year-round snowpack. Although tundra is commonly associated with mountain slopes, it also occurs all the way to sea level. For example, extensive, low-lying areas of the southern Kodiak Archipelago contain moist tundra, a wet, hummocky environment dominated by grasses, sedges, and dwarf shrubs. Also known as tundra muskeg, this type of vegetation occurs around the community of Akhiok. In contrast, Kodiak’s drier coastal regions and mountain slopes have a carpet of alpine tundra. This environmental zone holds small woody and herbaceous plants as well as an abundance of grasses. This type of vegetation is common around Old Harbor.
The Alutiiq people harvest a variety of resources from the tundra. They collect the leaves of the Labrador tea plant, a small evergreen herb, to treat colds and coughs. Many varieties of delicious berries can be found in these environments, including cloudberries, nagoonberries, crowberries, blueberries, lowbush cranberries, and bunchberries. Kodiak’s tundra also provides habitat for waterfowl and game birds. Swans, ducks, geese, and willow ptarmigan frequent moist tundra, while rock ptarmigan are common in alpine tundra. Once hunted with bow and arrow or snares, Alutiiqs pursue these birds with shotguns today.
Photo: Coastal tundra along the Ayakulik River, southern Kodiak Island.