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Juanita Tukrook

Juanita Tukrook

First Nation Inupiak elder. Born in Fairbanks, Alaska in a small village called Tanana along the Arctic slope.

Born: Fairbanks, AK, United States
Heritage: Inupiak

I always pay attention to how you feel about where you’re at and who you’re around. If you feel danger, pay attention to that and do something different.

If you feel happy, then just enjoy it. Try not to be wasteful in anything that you do. And respect nature and take care of nature. Don’t be a litterbug!

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Juanita Tukrook

First Nation Inupiak elder. Born in Fairbanks, Alaska in a small village called Tanana along the Arctic slope.

Uvlaalluataq. I’m Juanita Tukrook. I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1953, one year before Alaska became a state. Alaska became part of the United States in 1954, but I’m still a United States citizen even though I was born before then.

I’m Victoria’s grandmother. The word for grandmother in my language is Ota and the word for grandfather is Opa. So I’m going to talk to you a little bit about growing up in Alaska.

I grew up in a small village called Tanana and I also grew up in a village called Point Lay, Alaska. They’re interior and up on the Arctic slope.

Tanana is an Athabaskan Indian village. The people in the village really um….like…I mean they survive on subsistence because everything in the village is very expensive. Like ah…a pail of ice cream is fifteen dollars. A carton of milk, a small carton, a quart carton is about eight dollars. So things are very expensive in the village and that’s why people like to live on the food of the land, the fruit, the berries, the leaves, the animals. I brought some things from the animals there, some jawbone, whalebone discs.

Anyway, I’m going to talk to you about the Inupiat culture. I am Inupiak, but even though I was raised in an Alaskan village, because of work, you know, it’s hard to get work at that time, my mother worked in Athabaskan village at a hospital as a cook.

I’m a cook in Alaska. I work at a camp up there that has about thirty workers and I cook for them. I’ve also cooked in the schools up there. The school I cooked for had ninety children, all the children of the village. Every time they walked up to the lunch counter, they said, Please and when they left, before, when they emptied their trays they said, Thank you.

So I’m going to talk to you about families practice cooperation and they do it not only in the home, but in dance practice. They all dance in unison and the dancing up there is storytelling. They might tell of a walrus hunt or a polar bear hunt or a whale hunt. But it’s all storytelling dances.

We all practice family kinship. When a person up in Alaska introduces themself to another person, they say who their parents and grandparents are so they know um…they’re connected not only to the village, but to the land.

And they also practice, are beginning to practice knowledge of language because the language…when the…there was boarding schools up in Alaska at first when they had boarding schools, they were sent away and not allowed to speak their language. So now they’re practicing language like you’re doing Spanish immersion. They do Inupiak Immersion and Athabaskan Immersion and the different languages up there, they do immersion classes to learn their own language again.

And of course they do hunting and that’s why they have to have a lot of cooperation because to catch a whale in Alaska, you need the whole village to pull that whale up on the ice and to harvest that whale.

And when they catch the whale, they use every part of the animal. You’ll see these examples here. If there’s a big whalebone disc and there’s a mask made out of a smaller whalebone.

We catch bullhead whales. This is the whalebone, the disc. And then from this…uh, no, that’s a vertebrae…and the disc and then the mask. They try to use every part of the animal so this is a mask that they made from the disc. And they sell these or decorate their homes, you know.

But we try to use every part of the animal. This is part of a …this is called baleen and it’s from the whale mouth and people decorate their homes with it. At my nephew’s graduation, they had 15 foot pieces of this over like this over where the graduates walked through. So it’s very um…traditional for them to use the whale, all parts of the whale.

We eat everything. We eat the tongue, the liver, all parts of the animal. Even the stomach of a walrus can be dried out and used as a buoy. They don’t do that so much anymore, but they do use walrus hide to do the um…the blanket toss.

Have you seen that on TV, anybody? They have a celebration. They used to use a blanket toss to through someone up in the air to see if they could spot a whale. Now they use it now in a celebration after they catch the whale called Nulukatuk.

And Nulukatuk is just celebrating the whale and sharing it, passing it out to everyone. The rest of the whale is kept in the cellar. Alaska has permafrost so if you dig down in there and you vent it right, you could freeze your meat right in the ground and keep it frozen all year long.

Even when we catch ducks, we use this for a feather duster or you know something in the house. We try to use all parts of the animal. This is um…made from seal and this is called ah…Alaskan yo-yo, Eskimo yo-yo. And this is how you work it. But this is some of the toys I played with growing up.

Some of the things they do up there, they mine for gold, they drill for oil, and I worked at a coal mine in the tundra where they drilled for coal. This is part of the coal that they got out of the ground. Alaska’s very rich in resources.

Some of the things they do with the baleen is um…they draw on it for wall-hangings. They’ll make boats or different jewelry out of it. And when they catch walrus, they get the ivory tusks. They make things like the earrings and bracelets, like my daughter has on a watch made of ivory and baleen. And they’ve got a necklace made out of a walrus tusk, but it’s carved.

A lot of the natives still do a lot of the carving up there. Even when they cut their hair, they’ll use it on a Christmas decoration. This is a Christmas decoration. On one side it’s a woman, on the other side it’s a man.

Even this, this is not finished, but I brought this back. This is a caribou jawbone. So with caribou and moose that they catch, they’ll put baleen in here and handles and this will become a sled for a child to play with or to sell at a gift shop or just to display.

Did I show the boat already? Okay, so um…and in the Athabaskan culture, beading is important and using moose. My boots are made of moose and rabbit, got from the land and processed there. And the gloves have beaver on them and beadwork.

But beadwork is um…very important in Alaska. This is some of the bags that we use, our purses. And they do beadwork on both sides. It’s just really nice, the different beadwork that they do.

This is called Akasbuk and it’s traditional wear in Alaska. We like to use these in the summer because they have hoods. There’s a lot of mosquitoes in the summer so this keeps the mosquitoes from buzzing in our ears so much.

We have a lot of books that I’ve read to my children and grandchildren, different age-levels of books from Alaska. This is Mama, Do You Love Me? And these are good for young children to read. They’re legends of Alaska. And they’re written by a woman from Fort Yukon, one of my friends, Two Old Women and Bird Girl.
And Anna’s Athabaskan Summer, and Free to Be Me, about the culture and being yourself in Alaska. Oh, there’s Mama, Do You Love Me? That’s kind of a younger book.

In Alaska, they still whale, catch the bullhead whale for existence. And this is um…a book that I can leave here with the teacher. It’s got whalers from Point Lay in it and what they do out there.

So, um…a lot of the parenting up there is leading by example. We try to really let the children make their own decisions between right and wrong. And just show ‘em by example.

Is that thirty minutes now? I’m not keeping track of time.
Oh, Athabaskan. That’s a tribe from Alaska. Inupiaq. Nulukatuk. Cuspuk. Itikulook.