The value of shared knowledge

by Greg Lincoln

Andrew Tsikoyak (Ciquyaq) gets ready to set his blackfish trap in Nunapitchuk in 1940. Photo is courtesy of the Alaska State Library and is featured in the Akulmiut Neqait Fish and Food of the Akulmiut publication.

Alaska State Library Dale Collection

Our lives are intertwined with the land we reside on. It provides us with the food that we so love to eat every day. This life/land/food relationship defines who we are, the Yup’ik people of southwestern Alaska.

When we are separated from our homeland for whatever reason, sometimes we can’t help feeling that unmistakable sense of longing, like homesickness. Eating food from home helps calm that restless feeling. We know that there are some folks that, whenever they travel, like to pack some dry fish and seal oil to eat before retiring for the night.

Each of our areas are different, but we share the same language. We have different traditions, but we share the same values.

And we applaud our friends at the Calista Education and Culture, Inc. who have published another book entitled, Akulmiut Neqait – Fish and Food of the Akulmiut. The editors are Ann Fienup-Riordan, Marie Meade, and Alice Rearden.

This book is about the traditional knowledge surrounding the harvest of whitefish by the Akulmiut People who reside in Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, and Atmautluak and is written in Yup’ik and English.

“This bilingual book details the lives of the Akulmiut living in the lake country west of Bethel,” the editors write. “Akulmiut Neqait is based on conversations recorded with the people of these villages as they talk about their uniquely Yup’ik view of the world and how it has weathered periods of immense change.”

You can read what was said in Yup’ik by the Akulmiut residents and then you can read the translation in English. It is like hearing their voices through the words in these pages.

“Our intended focus was not on harvest amounts but rather on traditional knowledge surrounding the harvest and use of six species of whitefish, as well as pike, burbot, and blackfish, on which people from this area relied so heavily in the past and continue to harvest to this day,” writes the editors of Akulmiut Neqait. “In fact, all three contemporary Akulmiut villages, like settlements in the past, were established at sites where fish fences were built across the river each fall to intercept whitefish as they migrated out of the lakes and sloughs toward the main stem of the Kuskokwim River. If there is one food that defines people from this area, it is whitefish.”

Quyana for this great gift of knowledge that will be passed on for generations. Thank you for preserving these traditions, and descriptions, and ancient placenames in this book for others to learn and remember.

Akulmiut Neqait is available at the University of Alaska Press.