The sharing of First Catch

by Peter Twitchell

In my boyhood back in the 1950s I was very fortunate to hear the stories of the ancient Yupiat of long ago from hundreds of years ago.

Mom and I lived at fish camp in the summer months and winter months but in the summer months there were many elders not far from where we lived who were putting away their fish for the winter.

My mom enjoyed so much listening to a Yupiaq elder whose name was Tom Nelson.

Mom was a homemaker and a great cook and Elder Nelson enjoyed every visit to Mom’s house to have his lunch and also to tell stories of long ago when he was young, putting to his heart the stories Elders told and passed down generation to generation to generation.

Elder Tom Nelson was a great storyteller and as a boy of 6, 7, 8 years old I really listened to his stories, captivated by the way Elder Nelson could bend his voice to show emotion and excitement, bringing his stories to life after lunch! I am still amazed at the artistry and technique and how his voice was interesting with excitement and drama as he presented how our ancestors created stories of a successful hunt, successful summer, with plenty of berries and fish and prayers for successes in the coming months and year.

I often think about these things about how stories of our Yupiat Tribe are told today through Yupiat Dances.

Our ancients and our ancestors lived happily in the harshest conditions of Alaska’s winters and hot summers, our people were successful in their harvest of the food from our tundra, lakes, rivers, and sloughs. And they make do with what they have.

I believe this was the dream and wishes of people long ago – to see us happy and successful in whatever we do in this life and to carry on their teachings and practices.

So against all odds, people share our natural food sources from the land and sea, what little they have with others while living with all the regulations we’re up against to harvest our favorite foods, which in some years are nonexistent in our diet

And that’s why I teach and will continue to teach my grandkids to give their first catches of fish, waterfowl, moose and berries to an Elder.

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