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YUKON DELTA: Yukon DeltaRefuge Embraces Cultural Immersion
Alaska Region, July 1, 2008
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Elder Nick Andrews (right) and WB Eric Wald (left) discuss moose butchering techniques (photo by Amy Wald, 25 June 2008, near Marshall, Alaska).
Elder Nick Andrews (right) and WB Eric Wald (left) discuss moose butchering techniques (photo by Amy Wald, 25 June 2008, near Marshall, Alaska). - Photo Credit: n/a

The Yup’ik people of southwest Alaska have called the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta home for generations.  Each year, once the snow melts and the river ice thaws, families boat to summer camps where they harvest subsistence foods and pass on their traditions.  This summer, in the weeks around the solstice, three Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge biologists had an opportunity to share this experience as participants in the Calista Elders Council’s annual culture camps.

The Calista Elders Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the traditional knowledge of the Yup’ik people.  Early last spring, their leaders contacted former Yukon Delta refuge Deputy Manager Doug Staller and Education Specialist Brian McCaffery, requesting the presence of refuge staff at three different culture camps during June in order to provide scientific information about wildlife ecology and conservation.  Even though June is the heart of the refuge’s biological program field season, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Tom Doolittle enthusiastically embraced this opportunity for his staff to share their expertise with local residents, as well as to learn more about those who practice subsistence within the borders of the refuge.  Fisheries biologist Dan Gillikin traveled to Umkumiut on the shores of the Bering Sea, Wildlife Biologist Lisa Renan boated up the Kuskokwim River to a camp near the village of Akiak, and Wildlife Biologist Eric Wald flew to the Yukon River and visited a camp just a few miles upriver of the village of Marshall.

At each camp, elders hosted about a dozen junior-high students, as well as visiting speakers and teachers.  Camp activities included lessons on edible plants, making and mending fish nets, salmon fishing, moose hunting and meat preparation, uluq (knife) making, beading, sewing, firewood cutting and gathering, and other traditional practices.  Refuge biologists participated in these activities, and also shared their own experiences with wildlife, both here on the refuge and at remote sites around the world.  For examples, students at the Marshall camp had an opportunity to use telemetry equipment to locate a moose radio collar hidden in the woods by WB Wald, while WB Renan provided training in bird identification and the use of binoculars and field guides.  Renan also drew on her experience in Latin America to regale students at Akiak with tales about tropical mosquitoes and bot flies.  Because of her fun-loving interactions with students throughout her several-day visit, WB Renan was given a Yup’ik name by the camp elders when she had to return to Bethel.  She was dubbed Aquviituli, “one who likes to play around outside with people.” 

That name certainly captured the spirit of the culture camps, for the Calista Elders Council has already invited the refuge to participate again next summer.  It seems that both the local communities and the refuge staff appreciated the opportunity to get outside, play around, and learn together.


Contact Info: Brian McCaffery, 907-543-1014, brian_mccaffery@fws.gov



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