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Seeing a bear, catching a salmon and learning about Yup’ik culture

August 4, 2014

We have all come to Alaska to dig but on our one weekly day off we get to join in with local residents and visitors in the fishing! A group of us were taken out by Mike to the Kanektok River, just a 10-minute quad ride out of Quinhagak. We arrived at the river and found a plane on the beach, there to pick up tourists who’d been fishing. Not what we expected on this tranquil part of the Kanektok. This is a very short beach to land on, and the plane only just made it out ok.

We all stood alongside other people from the village, who had also turned up on their quad bikes, piled high with families and fishing rods. Next thing we knew someone was rushing off with their shotgun. A bear had been sighted right across the river from where we were fishing. We all saw it for a few minutes before it disappeared back into the tundra. Bears are becoming a problem; more and more each year venture into the village and often have to be shot. This one managed to get away with only a warning shot fired.

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Bear sighting (from the safety of the opposite river bank)

After the excitement of the bear sighting we all got back to our fishing. A few of us had never tried it before, so this was a completely new experience. This was my first time, so I was definitely a bit surprised to find a fish flailing around on the end of my line. Ella, who’d fished before, started shouting for me to ‘reel it in’, which I did, and a silver salmon was successfully caught! Next, I learned how to gut it, following Mike’s instructions. This consisted of: cutting off the head, cutting down the belly of the fish, pulling out the innards and removing the kidneys with a flat rock by scraping down the inside. Traditionally, the heart is meant to be eaten, but I passed on this (I am a vegetarian, after all). It is also customary to eat the bottom tail fin. Mike told us it would ward off the bears – it seemed appropriate given we’d just seen one.

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Mike showing Alex how to gut salmon

It was a real pleasure to spend the afternoon with Mike. He told us about other Yup’ik costumes, such as the tradition of giving your child a bracelet made with a part of an animal attached, as a way to propitiate a certain skill: for example, a mouse foot for speed or a piece of bear fur for becoming a good hunter. The bracelet is given to the baby at birth and stays on his or her arm until it becomes too small for the growing child and it falls off. This skill is then with the person for life. All and all a very good Sunday: seeing a bear, catching a salmon and learning more about Yup’ik culture.

Alex

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