Course in Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resources

Ram hunts and Eskimo Potatoes

As I mentioned before, I knew that I would encounter some form of hunting.  I went into this experience as open-minded as I possibly could be, so when a handful of people were allowed to go on the actual hunt, I made sure I was one of them.  I would not forgive myself if I did not have photographs of this experience: hunting in the mountains of Alaska.  We went off in hopes of finding a few straggling caribou on their way north, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful.  We saw some foxes, some bears and cubs (oh, and by baby bears, I mean MASSIVELY BIG - not the cute and cuddly kind of bears), and some dall sheep.  We spotted a couple of large dall sheep on the mountainside, parked our argos far off and about seven of us headed up the side of the mountain.  This included the hunter (in every sense of the word), B3 (Benjamin III).  Now I will admit that I am not in the best of shape, and that the mere thought of anything athletic usually makes me uneasy, but I knew that I had to do this.  I should also mention that because of my inexperience, I though that it woould be okay if I wore my giant rubber boots to hike up a vertical mountain. 

I managed to keep up (and not fall off the mountain!!), and we climbed for about two hours chasing the sheep.  We were careful to not kick rocks that would fall make noise, and to stay out of the sight of the sheep.  We rested and had some lunch: sandwiches that almost fell down the mountain, and enjoyed the view

We climbed into the mountain range, up the side of the mountain and doubled back along the top.  As we were nearing the end of our journey, we were told to duck down. We were farther behind from the guide, so we couldn't exactly see what was going on.  We heard a gunshot, which seemed to ring through the mountains forever.  We then heard another gun shot an a loud "WHOOP" in celebration.  We all ran over to see the prize.  It was a male ram with a full-curled set of horns.  We each took our turns taking our picture with it.  As I crouched down next to it, I put my hand on its still warm body, and was absolutely shocked that I started crying.  I suppose I was overwhelmed with the profoundness of it all.

I don't think I ever slept so well, or woke up in so much physical pain in my entire life.

The next day we went digging for Eskimo potatoes.  We went and gathered some caribou antlers and cut them up into small pieces to use for digging.  Clearly I pictured potatoes.  Nope, not so much.  They were the roots of a flower, and looked more like thin, brown carrots.  Some stayed for a while and digged some up, and a group of us went back to make Exkimo donuts.   The dough is mixed and placed in a bag on someone's back under a coat to let it rise.  Once it has risen, it is taken out and formed into rings and deep fry them in oil.  Oh man were they delicious.

What I Learned:

-Do NOT wear big rubber boots to climb a mountain,(especially if they are two sizes too big)

-Tuttu (caribou) tastes like steak

-You don't kill female caribou in the spring, only male: They are migrating north to their breeding ground

-How to make Eskimo Donuts (rings of bannock dough deep fried in oil) and that they taste like "doughboys"

-There are cranberries in the tundra that you can pick and eat

-I'd eat anything if I was hungry enough, and every time I did it was delicious

-Mountain stream water is probably the best, purest water I will ever drink (definitely the best I have ever had)

-Animal hides aren't very useful in the spring because they are shedding

-You can count the age of a ram by counting the rings on their horns, like a tree

-Certain animals leave different scents in their tracks sending messages like "I'm hurt" or "food this way"

-A carton of chocolate milk has 200 calories

-You can clean your hands of blood by using the insides (contents) of a ram's stomach, or by wiping them on moss

-The marrow of animal bones is like a delicacy, and tastes like egg yolk

-The soul of an animal stays until the spinal cord is separated from the head

-There is little I can't do: I have hiked up the side of a mountain in the Brooks Range

-Sheep horns can be used as ladles

-You can eat sheep brains, some people really want to

-What a gun shot sounds like in the mountains

-Caribou antlers can be useful tools: digging in the ground, and holding up pots of water in the fire

-Do not hunt the first group of migrating caribou in the fall - it is bad luck

-If hunters do not return at an expected time the women hang a mukluk: if it still moves he is okay, if it stops that means something bad has happened

From The North Alaskan Eskimo, A Study in Ecology and Society by Robert F. Spencer (1959):

"The mountain sheep were snared in the mountains by the nuunamiut [sic].  The sheep were not obtained in sufficient numbers by either group [nuunamuit and tareumuit] to be economically important, but their horns were eagerly sought, serving as caribou spearheads and dippers, and becoming important items of trade."

From The Eskimo of North Alaska by Norman A. Chance (1966):

"Caribou is the most significant land mammal regularly hunted.  Traditionally, it provided a variety of food, sinew for sewing, antlers for implements, and skins for clothing, tents, and bedding.  Meat and skin were the most important of these items, with skin serving for clothing even up to the present day."

From The North Alaskan Eskimo, A Study in Ecology and Society by Robert F. Spencer (1959):

"What the whale was to the tareumuit, the caribou was to the nunamiut.  Its presence was vital to inland life and, like the whale on the coast, it became the keystone of economic, social, and religious activities, involved with an infinite number of restrictions, attitudes, and modes of treatment... The caribou move through the passes of the Brooks Range, not once, but often several times yearly, the movements themselves being quite irregular and erratic."



From Ethnological Results of the Point Barrow Expedition by John Murdoch (1892):

"Whenever a woman wishes to cut anything, from her food to a thread in her sewing, she uses an úlu in preference to anything else.  The knife is handled precisely as described among the eastern Eskimo, making the cut by pushing instead of drawing, thus differeing from the long-handled round knife."