Elder survival wisdom

by Peter Twitchell

Always be prepared for cold weather. After talking to my friend Charlie Kilangak of Emmonak about survival strategies it really got me to thinking about what I used to hear our Elders say. First be prepared for the unexpected. I never put too much thought into that. It was good advice when I was younger in my lifetime.

I probably had four or five snow machines in my 20s through 50s. I’d have to admit I did take some risks out in the cold. Luckily I never broke down far from Bethel or villages. The snowmachines were fast and could cover 50/100 miles in a matter of an hour. I always managed to return home even after going into deep powder snow.

I thank God for that and his angels for always watching over me.

And I always got my jack rabbits and snowshoe rabbits and ptarmigan and head home as the sun was setting over the horizon. I’ve got so cold at times and struggled digging my snowmachine out of powder snow and deep snow. The good Lord made sure I was safe and returning home once again and successful in my subsistence hunting excursions out in the wild. I was thinking I could have easily been stranded out in the wild and merciless cold weather.

Elders always had success stories and survival skills that they used long before any kind of communication, sleeping bags, survival gear, tents, shovels, flashlights, flares, flare guns, warm clothing or stove oil like we have today.

One important thing that they shared with us younger folks was if we fall in through the ice and the cold water miles and miles from home and heat they always said wring out your clothes quickly as possible before it freezes. Find some grass and stuff your clothes with the grass. They have shoots that retain your body heat in the grass and help you survive in the frigid cold.

The elders also said tunneling into a snowbank and seeking shelter was better than being exposed to the winter elements like the wind chill factor. Several Elders said that it helped them survive the bitter freezing cold and return home safely to their families.

Once I was out in the bay on the slushy ocean and icebergs hunting with friends from Kipnuk. I became hypothermic. The freezing cold was entering my body and it started affecting my breathing. An Elder I was hunting with had a jar of seal oil in his pack and told me to quickly take a mouthful and swallow it.

I was in a bad situation but within 15 minutes I started feeling warm on the inside in my body with heat radiating out to my outer skin and I felt warm once again.

They knew the wisdom of our Elders and used their survival skills all their life. I was grateful to be warm again and I never went anywhere without some seal oil.

And I made sure I had sturdy clothing when I was out there in the middle of winter. We were advised to take shovels, a saw to cut wood if we should need it and have to spend the night in the wilderness.

When the weather was really cold I heard an elder say, “Ella yugtengnaquq”, “the weather is trying to get someone who is unprepared.”

I am forever grateful for our Elders and their wisdom about survival and so many things in this life. Quyanaqvaa.

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