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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hunting and Gathering - Alaska

There is a cycle to hunting and gathering.  Not as much today as in the past because there is always the local Native store that sells everything from fruit to CDs.  But the cycle still exists albeit modified some due to modern technology. 

Effie Hadley, friend, confidant, and village elder says she can remember how they use to hunt and gather food and can even recall the cycle they use to follow, although she does admit, “It is hard to say for sure, some of it just sort of blends together at my age.”

“When springtime came," Effie continued, “and the snow returned to the earth we use to hunt for eggs and pick berries.  After a long winter it really was a treat to eat something different.  Eventually though it would be time to hunt the beluga and seal and we would walk the riverbank leading to the ocean.  Along the riverbank we would find berry patches, some eggs, and now and then rhubarb.  I liked rhubarb.  I would pick as much as I could find and what I did not eat or give away I would bury.  That would keep it fresh until I returned from the coast.

“There were a lot of seal and the men would have no trouble getting all they wanted or could use.  Every part of the seal was used either for food or clothing.  The bones we would make into needles, the skin of course for clothing, the flippers and sinew for mukluks, and of course the oil.

“It seems like we would work all day and all night,” Effie said with a chuckle.  “The beluga would start to come around and the men had found out that you can run down a beluga with a motor boat pretty easily but some men thought that when they did they did not get as many whale.  They said the noise scared them off.  So depending on things, the men would line up their boasts and stretch them out as far as they could and sit and wait quietly.  As a beluga would come close the men would attack.  After a kill they would light a lantern and that was the signal for the women and children to boat out and drag the kill back to the beach.  We would prepare the beluga, divide it among the families as to need and the men would continue the hunt.”

Apparently nothing of the beluga was wasted either.  Bones, meat, even what Effie called rancid flippers were saved to boil during the winter just in case they ran out of food.

“Even the head was cooked.  We would scrape out the brain, mix it with a local leaf called surra, and fry it in seal oil or its own oil.  It was a real treat to eat it out there on the beach.  It tasted like crispy fried rice.

“You had to be careful however of what combinations you ate.”  Effie said emphatically.  Some things apparently did not go well together and were even lethal.  Effie claims that her people learned a long time ago that you did not eat muktuk (whale meat) and raw salmon berries.  “It would kill you.”  I asked her if she knew anyone who died from eating that combination.  “Yes,” she said, “My sister died from doing that ,  But that was a long time ago before I was born.  I don’t know anyone now that would be so foolish to try it.

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