Additional Kwik'Pak Regional information
Regional Subsistence Activities
Yup’ik DancingNative dancing is an ancient tradition that is regularly practiced in the native villages of Western and Northern Alaska. The coastal Villages of the Yukon Delta have similar traditions to those in different areas around Alaska, but each differs in their own unique way. Yuraq, “native dancing” in the Yup’ik language, mainly takes place in late winter/early spring while preparations are done throughout winter. Men sing uniformly, while beating homemade sealskin drums with drumsticks, in the background of the dancers. The women are dressed in homemade summer dresses with headdresses topped with wolf fur, belts made of a variety of animal skins and furs, beaded ivory necklaces, sealskin mukluks, and dance with caribou-beard dance fans. The men wear homemade summer jackets, sealskin mukluks and dance with snowy owl-feathered dance fans. The songs are either passed down from generation to generation or made new, all describing events that happened previously or throughout the year and are performed annually during potlatches. Native dancing is an essential way of preserving cultural practices and an excellent way of bringing people together on the Yukon Delta and throughout many parts of Alaska.
Emmonak, Kotlik, Alakanuk, and Nunam Iqua are located on the Yukon River delta, where the longest salmon migration in the world, to their spawning area, starts. The Yukon River salmon need to swim approximately 2,000 miles upriver into Canada starting from the Bering Sea. While in the Bering Sea, the salmon need to gather enough energy to complete their long journey. Because of this, the people living on the mouth of the Yukon River are blessed with salmon that have the most Omega-3 fatty acids in the world. The Yupik people have taken advantage of these high quality fish, for thousands of years, and still practice the same storing techniques as their ancestors did. These techniques include cutting, smoking, and storing salmon for the long winter months of October through April. The types of fish harvested are King, Keta, and Coho salmon, whitefish, pike, and humpies to name a few. Fishermen set gill nets or use dip nets to catch their fish. Fish are cut and smoked at family fish camps, usually located outside village boundaries. Fish camps usually consist of a camp house, a fish-cutting area, a fish drying rack, a smokehouse, a maqii (a steam room or sauna) and an outhouse.
The residents on the Yukon River Delta use an ancient technique for seal hunting that is rarely seen anywhere else in the world. This practice was used by the Yupik people hundreds of years ago; and although technology has altered the methods slightly, the basic tradition is still used today. In other parts of Alaska, seals are shot from far range and picked up before they sink, but the Yukon River waters, used for seal hunting, is fresh. In fresh water there is less buoyancy compared to salt water, making the sea animals sink faster when killed. This makes our seal hunting techniques different than most others. When people start seal hunting, they try to hit the seal with a spear, first, throwing it with a nuqaq (spear thrower). If the spear hits the seal the spear acts as a tracking devise, floating on top the water, following the seal while the seal is swimming underneath the water. Being able to predict where the seal will eventually come up for air, allows the hunters to hit the seal with a sturdy harpoon. Unlike the spear, the harpoon is made for close range throws and can be used to keep the seal afloat when killed. Hunters now, compared to 100 years ago, use out board motors on skiffs instead of kayaks, and guns instead of clubs. Seals aren’t only caught for food but their skin is stretched and dried for waterproof material. Seal hunting is an exciting hunting technique, one practice everyone should experience.
Every summer, Beluga whales migrate to the Bering Sea in search of fish. These whales are hunted by the Yupik people for food and oil. Beluga whales can reach up to 16 feet in length and can provide food for entire villages. Belugas mainly stay in the ocean, but can also be found in rivers feeding on fish. When hunting beluga whales, local residents usually wait for high tide because that’s when the whales come closest to the coastline. Due to the shallow waters of the Bering Sea, beluga whales are easily seen because of the qavluunaq (wake) made. When a hunter spots the whale, everyone in town is notified via VHF or, lately, text messaging. The hunters with available skiffs gather their hunting materials, usually a harpoon and rifle, and go after the whale. Sometimes up to 15 different skiffs can hunt one beluga whale at a time. Each hunter tries to hit the whale with their harpoon, allowing them to follow the whale while it’s swimming underneath the water. Once the whale is hit with several harpoons, the whale is shot, tied and dragged to land for cutting. The mungtaq (blubber) and meat is shared between all hunters and family members who helped with the catch. Whaling is an important hunting technique that every family takes part in.
During the late-July and August months, the native people on the Yukon River delta harvest different types of berries including atsat (cloudberries), pounrat (blackberries), curat (blueberries), kitngit (cranberries), and puyuurat (raspberries). These berries are high in vitamin C and used in many types of desserts such as jams, toppings, and agutaq (Eskimo Ice-cream). Each year, families travel to local berry patches, on the tundra, and harvest these berries. These berries grow close to ground, and are picked during different times of the fall season. Families pick enough berries to last them throughout the year, until next year’s berries are read y to be harvested. Families often have to pick up to twenty gallons of berries each fall to last them all winter. Depending on where the berry patches are, residents travel by boat (aluminum skiff) up to 50 miles to their familiar berry patches. Families work together to handpick berries, store them in Ziplock bags, and freeze them for winter.
In most places of Alaska, moose are harvested for food. On the lower Yukon Delta residents depend on moose, for food, all year long. Residents prefer to hunt Bull Moose rather than cows (female moose) because cows are depended upon for the reproduction of moose and raising calves. Moose hunting seasons are restricted to the months of September, December, and January to help control the moose population in Alaska. Furthermore, the residents of the Lower Yukon prefer to harvest moose, for their meat, in the fall and early winter seasons. There are two ways of traveling to hunt moose, by boat (aluminum skiff) in the fall months and by snowmobile in the winter. The preferred rifle used for hunting moose is a .30-06 bolt action rifle and hunters are limited to one moose harvest per season. Hunters need a rifle, a knife and a tarp to help protect the meat. Moose can weigh up to 1500 lbs, so usually hunters will quarter it where it has been killed. The meat is distributed to the families that helped contribute to the catch, and often a fully grown moose will feed a family for the entire year. Moose is an extremely important food source to the Yupik people on the Yukon River delta.
The villages of Emmonak, Alakanuk, Kotlik, Nunam Iqua, Mountain Village, and Grayling have a limited way of traveling because of their isolated location on the Yukon River delta. The only means of transportation year round between villages is by bush plane. During the spring, summer, and fall months, while the river isn’t frozen, residents travel by aluminum skiffs. These boats range from 18 to 28 feet long, and have outboard motors. The transportation between villages in the winter months, when the river is frozen, is by snowmobile. There are no roads connecting the villages but there are roads within each village for cars and trucks. The only village with no roads is Kotlik. People travel to the ocean for whale, and to the tundra for salmon berries, black berries, blue berries, and raspberries. In the fall, people travel about 100 miles upriver to go moose hunting. Traveling around the Yukon River delta, during the winter and summer months, ensures the survival of our Yupik culture.
During the winter months, on the Lower Yukon Delta, the Yupik people have gone ice fishing for hundreds of years. Ice fishing, known as manaqing, is the process of fishing with a homemade pole through a hole to the water underneath the ice. The pole is made of carved wood, and the hook can be made of carved ivory, or metal, with a sharp piece of metal attached as the point. Sheefish, Northern Pike, burbot, and whitefish are caught during the winter months of November through March. A hole is made through the ice with a tuvuq/turaq (ice pick), and the ice debris is taken out with a kenuirun, homemade ice skimmer.Ice fishing takes a lot of patience and is a quiet, peaceful practice.