Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
BOOK REVIEW BY JENNIE MCLEAN
May 12, 2004
BY KIRKPATRICK HILL
I thought I would analyze one of my book reviews, Winter
Camp by Kirkpatrick Hill. I have chosen this book because it
tells about the Indian ways in Alaska. The area that this book is
written about is the area where I grew up, Yukon River; Tanana
(born), Ruby, Galena, Koyukuk, Nulato(my mother's home town). In this
paper I will pick out the examples in the book and explain their
truth for that region. Many of the old ways in my region are also the
same for other Native regions in Alaska, except for the land. Many of
the Native ways in Alaska were for survival, not to waste, and be
thankful for what you have; health, family, community. This book is
the second in a series; the first book is Toughboy and
Sister. This story, Winter Camp starts with Toughboy and
Sister going to live with the oldest person in there village, Natasha
after they lost both of their parents.
I have written my explanation first and then I have written the
whole part of the book in quotes or in section from a certain part
that pertains to my explanations. I hope that you enjoy my reasons
for choosing this book on Alaska Native Lifestyles in literature.
Page 1: This is true of Native ways of living.
Fish Camp in the summer
Moose hunting in the fall
School in the winter
Page 2: This is true; most elders in a village are very
knowledgeable and have much experience in living off the land and
utilizing the materials at hand. Very skillful.
"Natasha was the oldest person in the village and she knew how to
do everything. She could hunt and trap, and make mittens and mukluks,
and work on an outboard motor, and train dogs. She could make
snowshoes and rawhide and smoked fish strips."
Page 3 & 4: This is so true, most of the people in a
Native community have nicknames or a Native name handed down to them
from an elder at birth. My people "have tea" and give a Native name
to a child, which is what we call it "having tea", that's it. The
name Silas is a name of a family here in Nulato where I live.
"There real names were John and Annie Laurie Silas, but no one
ever called them that. Most Athabascan children were called by
nicknames. Natasha said that was because children in the old days
weren't named until they were grown up."
Page 6: I can believe this about the hundred marten skins.
Not many years ago when my cousin was still trapping he would get
lots of different skins. I even have pictures of my dad and hides
that he trapped when I was a little girl. My dad is white but he
trapped with my cousin who is Athabaskan Indian from Beaver, Alaska.
My dad would brag about my cousin, and how skilled he was at skinning
animals. I guess if you do it your whole life you have to get good at
it and that is what the Native men in the villages did to make money
to trade for goods at the stores and with the Eskimos (Inupiat) up
"There were pictures of Natasha grown up, too. Toughboy's favorite
was one of Natasha and her husband at their trapline. Between them
they held a long pole, and from the pole hung nearly a hundred marten
skins. Natasha said she had taken the picture herself, and she showed
them the string she had been holding in her hand to click the camera
Page 9: hutlanee is an Athabaskan word used to say,
something is wrong, or you are not suppose to do. There were many
things that were hutlanee in the Native ways. What is written
in this section I believe to be true about the word hutlanee.
"If a thing was wrong, it was hutlanee. You must never say
you were going hunting for such and such an animal. It was
hutlanee to say the name of the animal. If you did, the spirit
of the animal would hear and wouldn't let itself be caught. If you
were going hunting all you could say was, "I'm going to have a look
Page 10: Eating bear meat wasn't allowed by the women in my
culture. It is said that if women's eat bear meat they will become
mean. And it is true in Nulato about dropping food or cigarettes on
floor, you must burn in stove because that meant the dead were hungry
or wanted to smoke, so burning in the stove is feeding them or giving
them a smoke. Also in my culture during Stickdance if you go into a
house and the door doesn't shut all the way behind you that meant
that the dead person is behind you and they wanted to come in to.
"Mamma was careful about some things. She wouldn't eat bear meat
or even look at a bear if she could help it, and she put food and
cigarettes in the stove if they dropped on the floor. She said that
meant the dead were hungry or wanted to smoke, so she put those
things in the stove for them.
Page 11 & 12: During our class discussions we talked
about the 'woodsmen'. I am not to sure about the woodsmen. I was told
about the woodsmen so I would not go out at night alone or be stupid
at camp. They say the woodsman is always watching waiting for someone
to mess up and take them. Well just talked to my cousin and she said,
"you need to talk to one of the elders here in Nulato about the
woodsmen". She said that the woodsmen has extra powers and could turn
himself into man, woman, animal, object. It is scary, she said they
steal women. If I can get back to see Crispin Esmailka an elder here
in Nulato I will write more about these woodsmen.
"Toughboy felt his stomach grow hard with fear. 'What do woodsmen
do, Natasha?' She frowned hard at her knitting. 'They steal kids from
people and they steal women. One summer there's one near us at fish
camp. I hear all the time, off in the woods, someone shooting,
shooting. That's him. He just shoots in the air.' Toughboy sat silent
for a minute, imagining the eerie sound of aimless shooting coming
from the dark woods. Then a question occurred to him. 'Where would
woodsmen get their bullets, Natasha?' She gave him such a hard look
he was sorry he'd asked her."
Page 15: This is true most elders will teach you if you are
willing to learn. Elders have patience and very important knowledge
about living off the land and to respect the land. At winter camp
Natasha could teach the children the Indian ways.
"She'd take Toughboy and Sister to winter camp, and she'd shoe
them how to do everything the old time way. They were lucky to be
living with her, Natasha, who could teach them the Indian ways."
Page 18: Sakoyyaa does mean grandchild in Indian.
Page 20: This is true at what would be at a winter camp or
what you would need to bring.
"For a week Natasha poked through the cache behind her house and
dug out old snowshoes and axes and snare wire and lamp chimneys for
the gas lamps. Natasha and Sister cut up a whole quarter of a moose
into thin pieces and hung them to dry in the kitchen over the stove.
That was dry meat. Dry meat was chewy and tough and delicious. You
couldn't go trapping without it. Natasha sent Toughboy to the fuel
depot to buy kerosene and white gas for the lamps, and sent Sister to
the store for pilot crackers and canned butter and boxes of dried
apples, and a dozen other things."
Page 22 & 23: I just loved this part. It is important
to be descriptive in a children's book. You have to suck in there
attention and keep it. This book can keep your attention. Some of the
children can learn from this book on how it was done long ago and how
it is still done today. My father has two super cubs and you do have
to pack properly to utilize all the space. Packing small boxes is
essential to travel by dog sled or plane.
"Soon there was a big pile of clothes and food and trapping
equipment in the living room, and Sister couldn't imagine how all of
it would fit in Billy's little plane. 'We have to make two trips,'
said Natasha. Natasha packed everything carefully in small boxes and
bundles because, she said, Billy could stick the boxes in the plane
every which way if they were small, but there were no room for big
boxes. It was the same as packing up a dog sled. You had to keep the
Page 33: This is true I bet if you go out to anybodies
trapping camp you would find these items there. I know at my father's
hunting camp we leave certain items there for emergency if someone
has to stop and stay there. And it is the people's trust in others
that these things are there. I don't know of anyone going around
stealing from other people's camps because of this specific reason,
emergency. Most cabins and camps are left neat and orderly. I have
never gone to anybodies camp and seen it messy.
"But everything they needed was still in the cabin. There were
snares and traps and saws and tools hanging neatly on nails hammered
into the log walls. On the shelf over the door there was an old radio
and a stack of stretchers for the skins of the animals they would
trap. Wood and kindling and birch bark tinder had been left by the
stove. There were very old tin cans full of old-fashioned matches and
mantles for the lamps. There was a Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco tin and
a yellow can that read "KLIM, Milk spelled backwards'."
Page 36,37 & 38: These are just parts of these pages
that are true of a trapping cabin. I believe these to be good
descriptions. See how Natasha is teaching the children how to chink
the logs in the cabin to hold in the heat. This I did not know but it
is true of how it was long ago.
"There was a dirt roof, made of strips of tundra moss, there was a
dirt floor, too. In the old days people didn't put in boards for
floors because the frozen ground under the house would heave and sink
as it thawed out, and pretty soon the floor would be all wavy."
Curtain off in corner that was where the washstand was. Big wood
stove made from an oil drum. Two wooden gas boxes used for extra
chairs. Bunk bed made of spruce poles. Used there over-parkas and
extra clothes for pillows if they wanted to. Natasha took them
outside again to show them how to dig under the snow to find the kind
of moss that they used to chink logs."
Page 42: I did not know this put I have heard that pitch is
used for a lot of things and the Native people used it for many
different reasons. Kirkpatrick was good about explaining these things
in detail throughout the book and this would make for a good
curriculum unit on survival or what a kid would do at camp.
"In a dark green Hill Brothers coffee can Sister found spruce
bitch. Natasha said you could knock pitch off the trees with a stick
during hard-crust time, when you could walk on the top of the snow.
And then when you needed it you could boil it up with a little oil.
You could patch up anything with pitch. Even people. If you put pitch
on a bad cut it would heal up just right. Sister thought about long
ago when people had to get everything they needed from right here,
from the woods and the tundra. She was glad she hadn't lived then.
Page 44 & 45: This was three uses for grass in the old
"Cut grass, grass to hide their traps, good for dog beds, stuff
inside their mukluks.
Page 49: This is about long ago and the times were tough
just like it was written in, "Two Old Women". Long ago they used to
starve when times were tough. That is why it was so important to know
about everything that you could utilize on the land.
"They had everything to eat. Lots of things we eat they eat
(meaning the animals, they notice what the animals eat). I don't know
what it was, but they ate things we don't know about. Some roots and
things we forgot about now. They had lots to eat. Then she said,
'Those were hard times the Indians had in them days. Lots of times
they starved to death. In the spring, especially, when there's no
snow and no birds, that's the bad time. Papa told me how they eat the
inside of the willows then, that white part when you take the bark
Page 50: This is true of the stores and the schools in the
villages. The people started to stay in the village more because the
children can go to school. The stores were o.k. for staples but it
still cost money and so they still trapped and traded for food,
bullets and other items that were provided by the stores.
"When the stores come people like to stay around them. That's the
first time we got villages, because of the stores. People know they
won't starve no more with the store there. Too many hard times in
Page 58, 59, 60: This is all information that Natasha the
elder is teaching Toughboy and Sister about trapping. Good
information from an elder. Elder's know a lot about the land and
animals more than people today because people today life a totally
different lifestyle but it is still go information to teach children
about life living off the land.
"Natasha showed them the places on a spruce tree where a porcupine
had been gnawing. Porcupines could climb trees, she said. Lots of
people didn't know that. If you couldn't catch anything else,
sometimes people could catch porcupines because they move slowly.
'Don't need gun, or nothing. Just club them with a stick. Good
eating, too.' She'd set the trap with a piece of the bait fish and
cover it carefully with a little dried grass. Natasha said some years
the rabbits were everywhere, and in those years they would catch lots
of lynx with wire snares."
Page 60: The old people are stronger and wiser. This is
because they have stayed physically active there whole life. This day
and age children are in the technology era. When Toughboy and Sister
went to set the traps on the trapline they walked seven miles one way
and Toughboy thought he couldn't take another step.
"They looked at Natasha, who was over seventy. May be nearly
eighty. She didn't look even a little bit tired."
Page 63 & 64: Here Natasha talks about the importance
of checking your traps every other day and why. This is very
important, it shows that the work is hard and you cannot be a lazy
trapper. You could never survive in the wilderness if you were lazy.
"Natasha said you had to check your traps every other day. If you
left the fur in the trap for longer than a day the shrews might chew
on it and ruin the skin. Only lazy trappers let their fur get
Page 65: This whole section is very important because
Natasha explains about the waterways in their area. She talks about
overflow, the importance of knowing the ice and where the thick and
thin areas are. Natasha was always teaching the children. Many times
in an elders life they are teaching and a child doesn't even know it,
but it is important knowledge that they will remember. Some of the
information passed down from an elder may some day save their life.
"As they walked along the short line Natasha would stop at the
grass lakes and sloughs and creeks to teach them about the ice. Grass
lakes were shallow ponds full of marsh grass, and so the water froze
differently there than the water in creeks. Sloughs were branches of
the river and their ice was different from the ice on the river or
the creeks or the grass lakes. Every day the ice would change with
the weather. You had to know what you were looking at and what the
sounds of the ice meant. You had to know where the swift places in
the river were, because the ice would always be dangerous there. You
must test the ice with a stick or your ice pick, and listen for the
dull sound of sturdy ice. There might be an open place in the river
and a thin layer of ice would form over that water. Then it would
snow on top of that and you would think there was thick ice under
that snow. Lots of people drowned that way. You had to learn to read
the signs on the snow cover, and to be careful. After it had snowed
and you couldn't see the ice anymore, you had to be careful of
overflow. That was the most dangerous thing of all. Water would ooze
out of cracks in the ice when there was a heavy snow or if it got
very cold or very warm all of a sudden. The slush would lie under the
snow and you couldn't see it. If you stepped in overflow you'd get
your boots wet and then our feet might freeze. Natasha said if their
boots got wet through n they must stop and make a fire right away and
take off their shoepacks or mukluks and socks and get them dry before
they went on. She knew a lot of people who had frozen their feet
trying to get home first. If your feet were badly frozen they might
have to be cut off in the hospital."
Page 67: I remember long ago when I was little being told
about the owls. I was told that if an owl lands near you and starts
to talk to you or make noises that something bad was going to happen
to someone close to you. This I believe in. Also I remember long ago
when a fox or wolf ran through the village of Nulato crying and there
was a terrible accident that night or early morning, a death. So the
Native people do have respect for the animals and their spirits.
"Natasha finally stopped on the trail and talked to it in Indian.
Then it flew off the trail and left them, as if she'd told it to go
away. Owls could speak in Indian, but when they did they would tell
you something bad. Maybe somebody would be going to die or an
accident was going to happen. This owl didn't say anything, but still
it had made Natasha nervous, the way it just flew along ahead of
them. Owls knew too much."I will conclude here. I have shown in the
review of this book that it was very truthful and well written and
shows respect and the knowledge of the Native elders of the Koyukon
area. All children should look up to their elders and show respect
and I think this book does a good job of showing this.
The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course
Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik
in the Spring of 2004.
The book reviews are written by the students and are a reflection of their
own analysis of the books and have not been altered in any way. The reviewers
have given permission to share the book reviews on the HAIL website.