Village Resource Base

Looking Ahead

This project will help students understand more about the subsistence resources on which their village depends. We call this the village resource base. Class activities will focus on when and where local resources are found, how people catch or gather them, and what they do when a major resource fails (for example, if the salmon runs are small, or if few seals are caught in a particular year).

Day-By-Day Guide

Day l

The first activity in the project is planned to give students an idea of how Yup'ik people subsisted before Kass'aqs came to the area (when people hunted without the use of guns, outboard motors, etc.). This activity centers around a board game which represents the traditional subsistence way of life.

Before introducing the game, the teacher needs to give the class a basic description of Yup'ik hunting in earlier times. The following points, which are important in the game, should especially be emphasized:

  1. People had to move to several different locations each year to take advantage of resources.
  2. People depended on resources from other areas which they got by trading. Because of this, they had to keep good relationships with people in these areas, and they had to travel to distant places, relying on the hospitality of relatives in other villages. This social network was very important for the peoples' survival.
  3. During the winter, Yup'ik Eskimos observed traditional ceremonies, which were important for successful hunting and for the spiritual life of the people. During these ceremonies, the people of a village often hosted and exchanged gifts with large numbers of visitors.
  4. Each hunter had to be very skilled at deciding what, where, and when to hunt. The decision had to be based on many factors, such as weather and travel conditions, number of dogs in his team, distance of resources from the camp or village, and so on.
  5. Even if a hunter was very skilled, he and his family (or even a whole village) might have bad luck. When the weather stayed bad, when stored food supplies spoiled, when a village used up their supplies by hosting many visitors with their dog teams for a long time, people sometimes starved. Almost every winter there was a lean time before the birds came back. People tried to store as much as possible during good times, and emphasize the importance of sharing and generosity at all times, even when there was little to be shared. While playing this game in the unit, students may discover for themselves that survival is easier if they share their supplies with each other.

In preparing for the game, teachers may want to ask elders more about these things. In addition, refer to INUA: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimos for more information.

The best way for the teacher to learn how to play Pitengnaqsaraq, the subsistence board game, is to try it with some friends and to study the rules carefully before introducing it to the class. A copy of the rules in English appears at the end of this project guide.

Days 2 & 3

Students should continue playing 'Pitengnaqsaraq' in class.

Day 4

Students should be encouraged to think about what they have learned from the game, Pitengnaqsaraq. In class discussion, one of the most important ideas to emphasize is that a person had to be aware of many different things before he would go out hunting, For example, it might be springtime, so a hunter would want to go seal hunting. Before he could go, however, he needed to consider:

  1. whether the weather conditions were good;
  2. whether the ice conditions were good;
  3. whether he could preserve and use the meat and skins (for example, did he have a wife to help him?);
  4. whether he had the weapons and tools he needed, and whether they were in good repair;
  5. whether he had a means of transportation.

If any of these factors was a problem, he might not be able to go hunting. In other words, subsistence involved many decisions which were related to each other. If one thing went wrong, it could affect everything else. Because of this, subsistence is called a system. In a system, all of the parts work together; you cannot understand what subsistence is just by learning how people catch animals, without thinking of the other things involved. Parts of a system may change over time. For example, the type of transportation used to hunt seals has changed since the early days, and so it may be possible to hunt in somewhat more marginal weather conditions. (There may be less risk in going out under some conditions than in the past, because it is easier to get back to the village quickly.) The idea is that a change in one part of the system (the transportation used) can cause changes in other parts of the system (the type of weather one can hunt in). This idea will come up frequently in the class, because it is helpful to think of the connections between many of the ways that people think and behave. It helps us to understand our complicated lives. People who study how human beings live in different parts of the world (anthropologists) say that each human culture is a system.

The resources people depend on are a basic part of the subsistence system. Resources include all the fish, game, plants and other items needed for survival and comfort. In studying about your village's resource base, you will be thinking about what resources people use, how they use these resources, and how they get them.

Thinking about it in this way, it should become clear that:

  1. There have been some changes in the Yup'ik resource base, but many things remain the same, or similar to, the past.
  2. All other people in the world have resource bases, also.

Students may be surprised to learn that most of the people in the world live in villages, like they do. In small villages everywhere, people get or make most of their food, clothing and houses from what is around them.

In some areas of rural Ireland, for example, people grow their potatoes and other vegetables, and raise sheep for meat and wool. They build their own houses, using stones, and heat their homes with peat, which they cut from nearby bogs. In most of Southeast Asia, people have a different resource base, but they also live mainly from the land. They eat rice, which they grow, and small amounts of meat. The meat comes from water buffaloes, which also provide milk and butter, and are used to plow the rice field, or paddies. Meat also comes from the chickens and ducks they raise. They make their homes of bamboo and mud brick. On the other side of the world, in the Andes Mountains of South America, people raise guinea pigs for meat, llamas for wool and transportation, and vegetables, such as potatoes.

All of these peoples have more in common with Yup'ik Eskimos than they do with city dwellers. They all know their area well, and, for the most part, take what they need directly from the environment.

People who live in cities around the world are different because they rely mainly on others to produce their food, clothing, houses, and tools. They buy most of what they need with cash, rather than making, catching, or raising it. In cities, people make such things as cars and tractors, canned foods, and refined gasoline. The raw materials to make these things come from all around the world, including Alaska. These manufactured items are then sold back to people in different parts of the world. These items have become part of the Yup'ik economy, too, and people now need to earn some cash to be able to buy them.

In this area, cash is earned mainly from selling salmon and furs to Japan, Europe, and the Lower 48 states. The people who buy these things like to use them (although they do not need them for survival). We have also become used to some luxuries, like coffee, which are produced by villagers in other parts of the world. A basic understanding of how the present-day Yup'ik resource base works, and how it relates to the rest of the world, is important for several reasons. Here are two that you might want to discuss with the class. (Remember to help students discover reasons for themselves, rather than simply telling them.)

  1. Survival has always depended on knowing how and where to get food, clothing, shelter and tools. Before there were schools here, young Yup'ik people spent their time learning survival skills. Much of this knowledge is still important, but there is less time to learn it now that they spend their days in school. Studying about the resource base will help students understand how all the skills and resources combine to make a way of life. (These days, students often learn a few skills, but are not aware of how all the skills are needed together in the big picture).
  2. The more students know about their own resource base, the more they can learn from the experiences of people in other parts of the world. For example, we can have a better idea of the changes oil exploration might bring to this area, by knowing how it has affected other areas. To understand these things, students need to know what they have in common with others who live off the land.

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