The Bones in the Box

Good meat and bones recently seen discarded in a local dump during the 2017 Moose Season. Photo courtesy of Mark Leary

by Mark Leary

She slowly hobbled down the bank cradling a beat-up grease-stained cardboard box. Reaching a small Lund boat she carefully set the box inside and climbed in. Poor woman – she pulled on the little Johnson 15 horse for several minutes but the motor wouldn’t fire.

This was maybe 25 years ago – we were unloading a barge there by Nick’s Store in Nunapitchuk. I asked our young deckhand – Teddy Wise – to go help the Elderly woman start her motor. He went over but couldn’t get it started either so I told him to give her a ride wherever she wanted to go with the barge skiff. I figured she just wanted to go across the River to the other side of Nunap.

Teddy helped her in the boat – she was still holding her box. It seemed precious to her. Instead of going just across the River, they zoomed off disappearing around the bend. “Hmmm, I wonder where they’re going,” I thought to myself.

It was quite a while later they came back. Teddy was smiling hard as he finished helping her up the bank and got back on the barge.

“You know what we did?” he asked me.

“What’s that?”

“She brought me way back in a little creek and across some lakes then we stopped at a tundra spot. She went out in the tundra with her box. Inside were all the bones of the fish and animals she had eaten (recently). She put them back out in the tundra where they came from!”

“Yep,” I told him, “That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s the way we were taught by our Elders. People used to always do that but we don’t see it much anymore.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that day lately and about all the other things we were taught growing up with regard to showing respect for the animals we catch to provide food for our families.

Maybe it’s because now I’m seeing my own children grown up, starting families of their own, feeding them with food from our land and waters. I want them to know these things because sometimes it seems like many of their generation weren’t taught this way.

These are some of old time traditional values that we were taught regarding the proper, respectful treatment of the food we catch. There are more. I hope some of the readers of this will also remember and talk about them to our young Hunters.

•Any part of fish and game that you don’t use: don’t throw it in the dump – bring it back out to the land and waters where it came from. It doesn’t have to be brought back to the same exact spot. It could be just across the River or even just back in the bushes or on the tundra some place close by.

•The bones are the life of the moose and many other animals – People long ago figured that out. You can eat all the plain meat you want and still starve to death. That’s why People like to eat dried meat and fish with seal oil, bear fat, or some other kind of fat. Just the meat is not enough to live on.

The Life – the nutrition is in those bones. Take the time and effort to saw them up. When you have moose soup – look at the broth – that’s where the Life is – all that good oil and stuff floating around. That broth alone can keep you alive more than the meat. That’s why they always gave broth first to a person who never ate for a long time. Some People saw up every bone in the moose or caribou that they catch – from the first vertebrae behind the head to the tail bone. Some even saw up the head. You ever see inside the nostril part of a Moose head? Once you do you’ll understand why a Moose can smell so good and why when you’re hunting them the wind direction is so important.

•Don’t leave any parts of fish and game that you harvest for food laying around on the ground where it can be walked on, driven on or kicked around. This includes dumping Fish scraps where People land their boats. If nothing else burn or bury them. Even leftover soup bones that the dogs chew on should be picked up and put away.

It’s all about respect – having respect for your food. In the old days the food you hunted, fished, and gathered was what kept you, your family, and your community alive. There was nothing else – no stores – no quest card. These were the generations of People that taught us: Our Hunter-Teachers.

One way they would explain it was like this:

That animal – that moose or whatever lived its whole life to be there at that exact moment you took its life. Everywhere it went, every mile it traveled, every winter it survived, every bear or wolf attack it escaped, every step it took brought it there for you to take it. To take what was given to you.

For this we need to show the utmost respect.

There are Hunters and there are killers.

I hope my children, grandchildren and the rest of their generation are Hunters – like the Ones that taught us.