Continuing the tradition of trapping

Harry Alexie's wife Sharon and son watch brown bears while trapping for Arctic Squirrel near Heart Lake. One bear came as close as 1/2 mile from the family's vantage point. Photos by Harry Alexie

by Harry Alexie

This summer we went on a weeklong camping trip to Heart Lake to trap for arctic ground squirrels, also known as parka squirrels. Not many go up to the mountains to trap nowadays. Kwethluk traditionally had almost the whole village travel up to the mountains to hunt and trap long ago during spring. They would float down the Rivers on a skin boat made with brown bear and caribou hides.

With the very first squirrels that I caught, a parka was sewed for my wife by Natalia Berlin from Nunapitchuk. With the skins that we caught on this trip we are planning on trying to get them tanned up ourselves and use the pelts for a parka.

We were watching brown bears, we saw a total of 6 and the closest one was about 1/2 mile away.

Squirrels are skinned from the mouth first towards the tail. While on the trapline we check them and prep the squirrels for skinning by skinning just the head, removing the front paws and slitting the feet and skinning the tail. Once we are done usually after about 1 hour or more we check the traps again going back to the camp and usually by then the traps caught more squirrels during the day.

Once at camp the squirrels are skinned and gutted and about a spoon full is placed inside the chest cavity to cure the inside since the stomach portion is sealed back up to prevent flies from laying larvae and the head is covered with plastic also to prevent flies. Way back when no plastic was handy the stomach portion was used for the head cover, but now we use plastic.

Harry Alexie is a from Kwethluk and Bethel, Alaska.

Sharon Alexie’s beautiful Arctic Squirrel Parka. The parka was made by Natalia Berlin of Nunapitchuk for Sharon.