by Peter Twitchell
In the old days in Eskimo country people really cared about their neighbor and families really cared about each other. Imagine living a hundred years ago in a Yupiaq community. The people back then watched out for each other. People weren’t allowed to go hungry, although people back then experienced lean times when game was scarce and food from the land was hard to come by.
It was during these times that the people really pulled together. The Elders were allowed in those times to go around the village and gather all the food from the caches of fish, berries, birds and wild game. When all the food from each family had been gathered, a woman was appointed by the Elders to divide the food proportionately to each of the community members. A man was never appointed to do this, as women were considered expert food handlers. The men were the providers, but the women always handled and prepared the game such as muskrats, beavers, rabbits, ptarmigan, ducks, geese, reindeer, the berries, greens, white fish, and salmon which were caught in nets made from the roots of spruce and alder trees.
Nets and traps provided blackfish, mink, otter and muskrats, as well as diving ducks like the Northern Grebe, Loon, and Black ducks. The men were proficient in getting all species of birds with their throwing sticks, and the birds were plentiful in the old days before white man and scatter guns. There were so many birds in those olden times that it was said when birds flew – they darkened the sky.
As early as the 1950s when I was growing up here in Bethel I saw flocks upon flocks of Geese. The flocks were so big in numbers that I could not always count how many birds were in them. In a single day I’d see a dozen or more big flocks during their spring and fall migrations. I was not always looking for them, so I knew there were a lot of birds in the sky that I didn’t see.
The Kuskokwim River was abundant in many species of fish. I know The Kuskokwim is one of the richest in various species of fish, which made it an ideal place for our Ancestors to settle in. My grandfather on mom’s side of the family, Peter “Aq’acuugaq” Betka, was one of the first settlers here on the Bethel side, “Urucararmiut” because of the “Pekenkuq” or Brown’s Slough, because of the abundance of fish in and out of there in the early years of Bethel.
Unfortunately hungry people today are put on an income scale and our only salvation is our Native food from the river and the land; otherwise, we’d be hungry.