Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature
NAME OF BOOK: Winter Walk
AUTHOR: Loretta Outwater Cox
ILLUSTRATOR: Bob Crofut (cover illustration)
YEAR BOOK WAS PUBLISHED: 2003
IS THE BOOK PART OF A SERIES (DESCRIBE)? No
WHAT IS THE SETTING OF THE BOOK (TIME AND PLACE)? 1892,
Alaska's Seward Penninsula area. In an area upriver from their home
village of Chaqtuliq (present day Shaktoolik) on the Bering Sea
The author is the great-granddaughter of Qutuuq and retells the
family's oral history. Cox is Inupiaq born in Nome and raised in
various villages on the Seward Penninsula. She has a BA in education
and masters in education administration. She has taught school in
western Alaska for 23 years and how lives in Fairbanks. She thanked
those who told her the story and helped with the editing. Her mother
first told her the story when Cox was pregnant and said that it had
been handed down for generations and that now it was time to share
with her. With her family's permission and support she is now telling
the story to the public. Loretta Outwater Cox was honored by HAIL at
the 2004 BMEEC in Anchorage.
The prologue of the book talks about the author's great
grandmother in later life and sets stage for her memories of the
story. On the book cover review by Velma Wallis, she said that she
couldn't put it down, and it was a story told with pride and love.
The story's main charcters are Qutuuq, the author's great
grandmother; Kipmalook, her husband; Savokgenaq, her nine year old
son; and Keenaq, her seven year old daughter.
The book includes Inupiat words such as:
Akutuk-Eskimo ice cream
Qumaq-bug from a duck
Serra-willow greens were preserved in seal oil
Siqlaq-digging stick for roots
Qutuuq also often sang to daughter in Inupiat.
There were also a few generic terms used such as kuspuk (which is
spelled incorrectly) and mukluks. The author also uses the term
Eskimo rather than Inupiaq. The few generic terms and the use of
Eskimo, rather than Inupiaq are the only criticisms I have of the
The book begins at the point Kipmalook dies, but we learn what the
family's life was like as Qutuuq thinks back. She describes how they
traveled to their winter camp, how she taught her daughter by having
her watch, which was the way her mother taught her. They plucked
ducks together and she described chewing on ugruk soles, and how to
sew various garments. We also learn how they built their sod house
and meat cache at winter camp, used hot rocks in a birch bark basket
to heat water, made rain gear from ugruk intestines, used sinew net
for fish, how the oil lamp was used, how to tell the weather,
gathering roots and other plants, making akuquk, smoldering birch
fungus to keep bugs away, willow and stinkweed for medicine, the
sewing of squirrel skin under garments, and how Kipmalook took his
soon out on the trap line and worked with skins. Food preparation and
eating is also described. The hunter was always provided with the
best parts, such as the breast of the geese, and the son got legs and
head to make him a good hunter. Moose hunting and the cutting and
drying the meat was described and it was interesting to note that
they said they didn't eat moose stomach contents, but did eat caribou
At the winter camp Qutuuq and her husband worked together skinning
and stretching furs. They worked as a team and Qutuuq's expert sewing
kept her family well clothed.Qutuuq was very proud of the two blue
beads that her father had traded for and she said that they were a
sign of status and made the wife want to be the best she could at
taking care of her family. They meant you could have a good life
because you can provide everything.
There was also a lot of traditional spirituality in the book. As
they taught their children, Qutuuq and Kipmalook talked about the
spirit of the berries and that everything had a spirit and was
important to leave behind a little of what they were hunting or
gathering to say thank you. It was also important to use the right
arrows for each animal to honor their spirit. Qutuuq also talked to
spirit of rabbit while she was cooking it. Kipmalook's father was a
shaman and so the book also described some of his powers and healing
methods. Qutuuq didn't believe in shamanism but was still respectful.
The family also sang and danced in the evenings and was working on a
new song telling about their winter trapping.
This book is excellent in showing the love and cooperation between
the Inupiat family. The father is portrayed as a kind and loving
father and husband who was a good provider. The marriage was arranged
but was a very good match. Kipmalook took his son out and showed him
how to trap to teach him to become a good hunter and trapper and
about respect and spirit of the animals. He also described how he
planned to trap and then stop for a year to give animals a chance to
rest and to not be greedy.
Traditional discipline was also illustrated. Small children were
distracted when they misbehaved; for older children, a lot of time
was spent with them, observing how things were done and telling them
what was right and wrong; for teenagers, an uncle would teach them
how to hunt, or in the case of this family out at winter camp, the
father taught his son. Children were taught with love and respect to
become useful members of society. The family unit was very important.
Qutuuq also described going out trading with her family when she was
The last third of the book describes the very difficult journey
from their winter camp to their village after Kipmalook died. He had
a growth on his neck (probably cancer) and died when they were in
winter camp. Qutuuq was pregnant at the time, but they were out of
food and she asked her son if they should stay there and die or try
to live. When he said that he wanted to live she decided the only way
they would survive was to walk back with her two young children.
The family walked on the frozen river, made camp at night with
furs on bottom and over the top of willows. They chewed on willows
for food. The time comes for Qutuuq to give birth and she has to go
away from her children to give birth alone. Even when they were in
their village women delivered their own baby. She had to go away from
her son to have the baby so it wouldn't affect his future hunting.
She delivered the male baby by herself, catching it, and cut the
cord with her teeth. Qutuuq realized she could not feed the baby as
they were all starving and she knew she could not produce any milk.
She made the very difficult decision to smother him and buried him in
the snow. On her way back to her children she found rabbit droppings
which she made into a broth by heating her smooth cooking stones
which were used to heat water in her birch basket pot, and added in
the droppings to cook. They also stopped and ate snow.
A day later her son, Savokgenaq shot a rabbit which probably saved
their lives. Qutuuq took that one rabbit and divided it into four
meals for the three of them.
As they go on Qutuuq tells her children that when a son dies,
everything is given to his parents and that the furs they were
carrying would have to go to their father's parents out of respect
and that they would have to live with her mother or others when they
got back to the village. She also tells her children that she expects
them to treat their relatives with respect. Since children are named
for relatives, if they did anything that was disrespectful, their
spirits would leave them and life would be hard with no helping
spirit, so she expected her children to behave and be respectful.
When they are near the village, hunters find them, as the village
had seen their fire the night before. Eventually Qutuuq explains the
terrible thing she has done. Her act is especially bad because she
killed a male baby. Girl babies were sometimes killed because of
certain circumstances but boy babies were not killed, as they were
the future providers. When Qutuuq told her story to the family they
were staying with, they were very concerned. After her relatives
heard the whole story they felt that Qutuuq truly felt that she could
not feed or take care of the baby in the circumstances they were in.
They knew that some people might look down on her but that most would
understand. She took on the job of seamstress for the family and
later remarried, which gave her status in the village again. Later
she lost her daughter and her daughter's son and husband to TB.
Qutuuq's son who was renamed John in the Covenant church took on
his Inupiaq name for his last name, Savokgenaq, which was shortened
to Savok. The family's adoption of the Covenant religion also helped
Qutuuq deal with her guilt and ask for forgiveness. She died in 1934.
Several times Qutuuq talked about how her inlaws were shamans and
how she didn't believe in it and didn't want them to pass on their
powers to her son. Later in life her son became a member of the
Covenant Church and rejected shamanism. Being a member of the Church
also helped Qutuuq to deal with her guilt.
The book ends with real photographs of Qutuuq as an elder, her
children and their families, as well as Loretta Outwater Cox and her
This was an excellent book and can be used as a good text even at
the high school level. It is useful in studying the Inupiat of the
Shaktoolik region around the turn of the century. The use of this
book could also lead to interesting student discussions on
traditional spirituality, child rearing, and how the family worked
together during subsistence activities. Students could also be
inspired to research their own family histories. It is an excellent
book written by a Native author who tells her own family story.
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.