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Life in Manokotak


Beloved elder Aluska Nanalook of Manokotak has been living in her community for over 60 years. In the kitchen she checks on the cooking she has prepared for her family's lunch.

Elder Aluska Nanalook of Manokotak is now 78. She was born in born in Togiak before moving to Manokotak in 1947 when Manokotak first became a community. She was a commercial fisherwoman for over 50 years, drove a dogsled, and traveled by kayak fishing, hunting, trapping, and living the subsistence lifestyle. She spoke about her life in her village and how it used to be in the past.

“I was a little girl, nasaurlullraulua, when we moved to Manokotak,” she said. “And now I am an old woman.”

She said she came with my older sister along with all the people who came together to live. They were building a church and a school.

“We came together so that we could worship together and fellowship together,” she said.

Aluska spoke completely in Yup’ik and said that she does not speak English.

She was raised by her two older sisters and their father, who hunted and provided for them. Aluska said that she used to closely watch her older sisters as they worked on preparing food, cutting fish, and other work – and that is how she learned.

Aluska and her husband, who has passed on, had 10 children.

How did you travel?

Qimugterlua ayagaqlua. Yes, I had dogs and I used to go by dogsled from my earliest memories. There were no snowmachines. I remember kayaks and dogsleds – those were our transportation. And I used to run dogs with my 3-dog team. I used to gather wood with my older brother with my team and use my father’s kayak.

What did you do when kayaking?

We used to qugtaq gather wood and go fishing and for other subsistence activities. We used to travel by kayak before there were palayat (boats). That was in the summer. In the winter we used our dog teams.

Do you remember the changes?

Yes, wiinga takumni cimingluni. Changes were happened and I saw it all. As I said before, we moved from Togiak. They used motors on boats – 9 hp motors. To us they moved fast at the time, although now they don’t seem so now. And then when we moved here, people started getting new things to use.

What kind of house did you live in?

We used to live in sod houses in Togiak and then when we moved here we had canirtanek – log cabins, not very big, 10x12. And those with large families yugyalriit had sleeping areas one right across from the other. My older sister and I had a small house, smaller that this house, but alas, it burned down so we moved to our cousin’s home. And now today, tuskat ivgangluteng, they have plywood houses nowadays, ukaqvakun. Today things are easily accessible cat nurnairulluteng, and when we wake up we can do laundry - just now I just did some laundry (laughs). And we can cook without burning wood for fuel with woodstoves. Back then we would wake up to a freezing house qerrutepiarluta, our stoves would be lit and we would feel better mugtanqeggi’irrluta. Qaciggamta piyaurrluta.

Did you attend school?

I am not educated, we had no school teacher. Many teachers had died at the time and we had no teacher.

Do you remember the first airplane?

There was one plane that would fly overhead by the time I was living here, we called it “red-acualler’” because it was a small red airplane. Once in a while it would land in the water on the river, it was a floatplane. There was no airport or roads.

Do they still speak Yup’ik here in your village?

Wiinga yuugua, I only speak Yup’ik all the time. There are fewer and fewer speakers of Yup’ik here today. People are not speaking Yup’ik to their children anymore and I can’t even understand my grandchildren.

Can you tell us about fishing?

Kanani Ikusik-aami (Igushik) we used to fish June July and in August we used to go upriver to the lake up there and we used to fish camp there filling up our fish racks. We used to fish all day and have fun working. Then we would pick berries for akutaq. By September we would come back home to our village so our kids could go to school. This was before I became older.


The view of the village of Manokotak while walking down the road. Photo taken last Wednesday.

Sarah Nanalook, Aluska’s daughter-in-law, moved with her husband to Manokotak to help their mother in 2008. Sarah is originally from Akiachak.

“There are a lot of places to go and do – going to the lakes, berry picking, ptarmigan hunting, fishing for trout and northern pike, gathering wood, and traveling to Igushik to cut fish,” said Sarah. “We have been helping her, which is why we moved. I have been learning a lot about the traditional subsistence of this area.”

She said she cut her first seal and made seal oil and the smelt are big.

“This fall we went to Togiak, the trail was good. Iqsagluta for smelt – they are big here. We prepared them for drying,” she said. “I have learned a lot from my mother-in-law. I even went clamming for the first time with them. Anglanaqluni.”


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Reader Comments

tknell writes:

Thank you for posting this! This is my grandmother, of whom I am so proud. She says she is not educated, but she is the wisest woman I know.

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