A man named Yulqutaq

by Peter Twitchell

I noticed an old man back in the Fifties, he had my undivided attention! Every spring he took his kayak out from under the building and put it on a homemade sled with two runners braced with 2x4s.

He placed his kayak on the homemade sled and screwed it down lightly until he reached the river’s edge and he loosened the lightly-tied rope so the kayak was no longer attached to it.

The idea was if he broke through the spring ice the kayak would be separated from the sled and be buoyant on the river, free of the sled, and he could paddle the kayak onto the ice and use his ice pick to push himself along onto the other shore of the river.

He accomplished crossing the dangerous river safely to hunt spring birds that were landing on the sandbars across the Kuskokwim River.

Our Yup’ik people did not depend on government handouts of welfare checks back in those days; never mind unemployment checks – there wasn’t any to speak of in the mail!

That was real life, the reality was: no Quest cards or food stamps were available. You either went out and got your food like muskrats, birds or fish, or starve to death. People back then were strong – no one got free government aid or relief checks in the mail.

Yulqutaq was from up North, not a proud man but quiet like our ancestors. Quiet but strong in mind, body and spirit. The Elder “Yulqutaq” I remember was Nicholai Evans, his wife was Maria Gilman Evans.

Thank you Anna Alexie for helping me to remember their names. They were a strong people who were not dependent or expecting anyone’s checks. They possessed a quiet strength.