Saturday, June 21, 2008

G A S H travels

as usual, i'm behind - this time due to fieldwork and fun travel, which isn't over yet, so i'll sneak one post in here and then try to catch up again later...

Early June found me and a research colleague, Erin, in the GASH villages (Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk, and Holy Cross in the lower-middle Yukon River area). our task was to map subsistence practices across species and seasons, primarily addressing questions of climate change and how it is affecting aspects of subsistence. this is work i don't have much experience with, so i was a bit apprehensive about what we'd find. the fact that we arrived in Shageluk, a little village of about 85 people on the Innoko (a tributary of the Yukon) without our maps which we'd mistakenly left behind, didn't help. here, Erin pulls down a HUGE map from the wall of the high school that we used until we could get our real and much more manageable maps shipped out to us.

in between interviews in Shag, we were treated to one of Alaska's amazing sunsets (this one around 11 pm), bathing the village in pink light reflected in the windows of the school.

after Shageuk, we took our show on the road - or rather river - catching a ride by boat with our friend Arnold Hamilton to Holy Cross.

working on the same project, we were also there to help out with an annual elders conference that i try to attend every year. always held in a village, this conference is a great place for me to catch up with old friends i haven't seen for a little while. these lovely ladies are mostly from the Koyukuk River, all gathered together to visit and listen to fiddling and dance the waltz and two-step mostly. all of these women have taught me something and i consider them all my grandmas. the one on the far left beaded moosehide slippers for my first wedding (trimmed in white rabbit fur to match my dress, of course!)

this is Edna, originally from Shageluk and married into the village of Grayling, upriver from Holy Cross. she's one of the last Deg Xinag speakers in the area and still makes her own dip nets for fishing whitefish in the fall and spring.

after Holy Cross, we headed north to Grayling to continue working on our project and an additional one asking questions about the observations of natural indicators that help villagers to know when salmon, a most significant resource, will be arriving for harvest. just before the salmon arrive, there's a rush of sheefish (a large whitefish) that people set nets for. sheefish is an important food as well as an indicator for salmon. below, chaz (who went fishing with me last summer in "catching up" last July) squeezes all of the water out of boiled sheefish to make a local delicacy nicknamed "fish ice cream." boiled, wrung out, and flaked sheefish is mixed with fat (traditionally bear fat or some other rendered animal fat, but today crisco) and berries to make a whipped dessert that EVERYBODY loves and is a favored treat at potlatches. in this area, making fish ice cream used to an important marker of marriageability - a good wife knew how to make fish ice cream and the old stories are replete with this practice.

in Grayling, we talked to a lot of people about our work and they taught us a lot about their observations and concerns about climate change. we mapped many people's hunting, fishing, and trapping rounds - this is the chief of Grayling, "Harry O."

here's Edna again as we talk with her and her husband, "Tiny." Edna talked about the differences in fishing practices between her and her husband, given traditional gender differences. Edna is also an expert birch basket maker and grass tray weaver.

Here, Erin and Terry Chapin (a forestry ecologist from UAF who joined us for a spell in Grayling), leave Gabe Nicholai's smoke house after a tour. not very long ago, the Yukon River was dotted with summer fish camps where multiple families would gather for the entire summer to harvest, cut, and dry salmon for both themselves and the huge dog teams that provided transportation and labor for most villagers in the old days. technological advances of the snowmachine (which replaced dog teams), motor boats (which allowed for easy river travel), and surprisingly freezers (which allowed for an alternative way to preserve fish for the year instead of drying) allowed families to fish from the village and hang their fish at home instead of going to camp all summer. this smoke house stands right next to Gabe's home and allows him to both put his fish up and work a little during the summer to help with households expenses for the rest of the year.

in documenting subsistence practices among Athabascans in interior Alaska, this is much of what i do while out in the field, depending on the particular research questions and goals. i remain so impressed by the life that my friends here live, the work that they do, their care for the land and animals, and the challenges they face. i spend a lot of time in the field, it's true, but i never stop learning.


Blueberry Babe said...

Hi Caroline,

Nice recap... makes me miss you all so much more. I just started my own blog, still a work in progress! Hope all is well with you.

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