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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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I˝upiaq RavenIñupiat Ioitqusiat

A Special Publication of Alaska Newspapers Inc.

"Those things that make us who we are"

Portrait of a People - By the People
Originally a supplement to The Arctic Sounder

Kamaksrioiq Irrutchikun
Respect for Nature

Photo courtesy of Christine Ahlalook

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Johnny Pungalik
Noorvik 8th grade

Respect for Nature is helping animals.
Don’t pollute the tundra so you can have meat to eat.
Be resourceful of the water and tundra. Love animals and have safe behavior when you go out hunting.
If you pollute the tundra we will have no meat. The caribou will die and everybody will starve.

Get seeds and plant trees. If you run over a small tree and it bends over, straighten it back up. If it busts, tap it back to see if it will heal and be more careful next time. Feel sorry for the tree. Water that tree every day to see if it will grow back. If it does, let it grow on its own.

If you love birds and you see a wounded bird, take it to an empty nest and put it in there. People can kill a bird if they are going to use it for food. But don’t kill something for no reason. Respect for nature can be fun sometimes. Like you can feed some birds and make a house for them.End Article

“Treat nature like you would like to be treated.”
Johnny Pungalik

Separation Bar

Rescue on the Trail of Ice
Berda Wilson
Chukchi News and Information Service

As my eldest son mushed his dog team along the trail on the Bering Sea ice, he felt strong and alive as the warm life blood pulsed through his young veins. Feeling invincible, he harbored no thought of the impending danger that lay just ahead on the trail.

Although just 24 years old at the time, this experienced young dog musher had run his own team since he was 15. The weather was cold on this day, 30 below zero, but there was no wind. For mushers raised on the typically windswept coast of northwestern Alaska, it was a fair day for running dogs. Despite years of wilderness travel by dog team, my son did not anticipate the ordeal he was about to encounter.

He had run his dogs over this ice trail many times. The ice, favored by both dogmushers and snowmachiners, always made a nice smooth trail. Cape Nome jutted directly out into the Bering Sea’s Norton Sound in deep water, making it hard to get around the cape without going out onto the ice to avoid the nearly impassable huge granite boulders along shore.

Just the night before, my son had used this same trail to transport his younger brother to their camp at Nuuk some 20 miles east of Nome. He was returning alone the following day for more supplies.

On this early February day, the sun would not be rising until almost 11 a.m. My son peered through the inky blackness, barely able to distinguish the ghostly shapes of the snow-covered ice hummocks in the distance. The dogs knew the trail well, though, and their driver was confident in. their ability. No sign of danger offered any reason to fear for their safety this day.

As my son rounded Cape Nome, the horizon expanded, diffused in a reddish orangy pink glow. The cold winter sun would soon be rising for a brief few hours. The wind freshened. He felt the chill on his exposed face, so he quickly adjusted the wolverine ruff on his parka to curl closer around his face. He called the dogs up to hurry them along.

Every so often my son pushed with his foot to give the dogs a little help. Something didn’t feel quite right, though. His foot felt like it was sinking slightly with each pump. Casually, he glanced back at his trail. With alarm mounting, he could see water welling up from his footprints. He was on thin ice!

“ Gee! Gee!” my son yelled at his leaders, commanding a turn to the right toward the solid shore. The dogs did turn sharply, but the runners dug in, and the sled carrying the musher plunged into the icy waters, dragging the back four dogs with it.

My son tried desperately to crawl up onto the thin ice, but it kept breaking under him. Panic hit. He lunged and thrashed with his young dogs in the freezing water, as the other dogs looked on helplessly. Cold and shock numbed his body and slowed his movements. He was becoming increasingly weaker. Despite all his frantic effort, my son managed to calm himself. He tried to think rationally.

“ If I can throw myself up on the ice, maybe it won’t break,” he thought.

His strength almost gone, my son heaved himself up on the thin ice and began rolling toward shore. When he thought it was safe, he stood up, only to break through again!

“ Please, please, let someone help me,” he pleaded silently. “I don’t want to die.” Somehow my son managed to get back up onto the treacherous ice again, and he continued rolling toward the shore ice once again.

As he rolled, he spotted a lone snowmachine bobbing toward him on the shore ice pulling a canoe behind it.

“ Am I dreaming this?” my son thought to himself.

Stinging tears of joy and hope froze on the young musher’s face. He recognized his rescuer, the kind and gentle Herbie Wilkalkia, a fellow Inupiaq he had known all his young life. Herbie and his wife Bertha were the only human inhabitants for miles. The elderly man had been keeping watch and listening for the sound of snowmachines from his home up on the hill about a quarter-mile away.

Herbie knew the ice had moved out late the night before, leaving only a thin, unsafe layer, despite the frigid temperatures. Herbie had readied his canoe and snowmachine in case misfortunate should strike some unfortunate traveler. Incredibly though, Herbie had been listening for the roar of a snowmachine. He almost missed seeing the young musher and his silently moving dog team.

“ I cannot save the dogs without your help,” Herbie told the musher. “You must leave the dogs and come with me to change your clothes.”

The six dogs from the front of the team stood on the dangerous thin ice as motionless as statues, as if they knew they dare not move. The four dogs still in the icy water cried out and thrashed wildly.

The musher had no choice but to go with Herbie back to his house to get out of the clothes that were imprisoning him in a cocoon of ice. They removed the musher’s frozen parka, leaving it on the shore. Shivering violently, although now moving more freely, the young musher climbed into the sled and they headed for the warm cabin. The sound of the snowmachine drowned out the wails of the four dogs that had to be left behind to the mercy of the freezing water.

Herbie’s wife Bertha had prepared hot cocoa, tea, and coffee as she waited anxiously for the safe return of her husband and the still unknown traveler. With alarm, she recognized my son and quickly went about helping him out of his frozen clothes and into some of Herbie’s.

Still shivering, my son took massive gulps of hot cocoa. The couple rapidly rummaged through their belongings and found a snowsuit almost large enough to fit, although the too-small clothes gave my son a comical appearance. A pair of Herbie’s largest mukluks with heavy wool socks, hand-knit by Bertha, had to suffice for footwear instead of the normal size 13 my son wears.

When Herbie and my son returned to the team, the front six dogs were still waiting calmly, but only one of the dogs in the water was still moving. She was the oldest; the three pups had died from the cold and shock.

Herbie and my son used the canoe like an iceboat to reach the dogs and sled. They had returned with a rope that was long enough to attach to the sled and pull it to safety with the use of the snowmachine. Incredibly, after retrieving his sled and the remaining seven dogs, the musher then continued on to Nome.

Herbie wished the young musher a safe passage to Nome, politely accepting my son’s heartfelt thanks. He then calmly went back to his home and his waiting wife.

Each man silently and sadly acknowledged the loss of the dogs and each accepted without comment the danger they had both survived. Although Herbie was a true hero, typical of Inupiaq Eskimos, he viewed such heroic deeds as just another day in his life. Herbie was not looking for notoriety when he saved my son’s life and the lives of most of his dogs. He only sought satisfaction of helping others who needed his help.

Herbie died quietly in his sleep a year or so after this heroic deed, and his loving wife Bertha followed a few years later, but they will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the young musher and his grateful family.

My son never used that ice trail again.End Article



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Last modified October 19, 2006