This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About ANKN Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Yup'ik RavenMarshall Cultural Atlas

This collection of student work is from Frank Keim's classes. He has wanted to share these works for others to use as an example of Culturally-based curriculum and documentation. These documents have been OCR-scanned. These are available for educational use only.





White Out!


I'd been in white outs before but this one was the wildest of them all. The wind was howling at 50 miles per hour with horizontal snow and I couldn't see more than three feet ahead of me. I was carrying one of my students behind me and his dad had somehow disappeared into the swirling maelstrom ahead. Then suddenly my machine went dead and we were left in total darkness with only the rushing sounds of the storm whistling across our parkas. We both wondered if we'd make it home to Scammon Bay alive.

It all started on New Year's Day in 1987 when Francis Charlie invited me to come along with him and his two sons, Glen and Richard, on one of his regular treks over to Black River to check his mink traps and, while he was at it, to visit with John and Carin Barber. The Barbers were mutual friends who had been living there in their sod hut since 1982. We had known them since we had come to live and teach in Scammon Bay. I didn't see them more than a few times a winter and I was looking forward to being with them again So I took Francis up on his offer and we set out ear!y in the morning.

Now early in the morning in January meant about 11 o'clock. Scammon Bay is located at 62 degrees latitude and does not have much sunlight at that time of the year. It is also located on the edge of the Bering Sea not far from the mouth of the Yukon River and is in the middle of one of the biggest weather producing areas in the world, especially in winter. So I was hesitant to go off by myself. With Francis who had been trapping in that neck of the tundra all of his life though, I felt totally confident about travelling over there in any type of foul weather.

I prepared my gear and heated some tea water, then started up my trusty little water-cooled John Deere snow machine and left it running while I went in to dress. I had just finished sewing a corduroy overjacket on my parka, so I figured I would be warm enough in any kind of weather that blew our way. After filling my pack with all of the gear and food I would need, including a healthy supply of dry fish, I was ready to say goodbye to Jen and Steven and head on down to the Francis' place.

When I arrived at the Charlie's, Glen and Richard were just getting their sled ready with all their gear and grub box and covering everything with a tarp to keep things from falling out over the rough terrain. They invited me in for a last minute cup of tea and some fry bread. Inside the house there was a hubbub of activity since Francis and his wife, Theresa, had a very large family composed of both their own kids and a number of others they had generously adopted. Not long after sitting down to munch on Theresa's bread though, Richard was standing in the door saying his dad was ready to start.

We set out across the airport which was located just to the northwest of the village and then drove north up the Khun River a ways where we turned west and followed a tidal slough in the direction of Black River and Barber's sod house on the Kayanglivik ("place where birds' eggs are found") Slough. We travelled slowly, stopping here and there to check mink traps that had been set either by Francis or Glen or Richard or another son, Elia, who wasn't with us. I was constantly amazed that Francis could find these traps with the limited visibility the way itwas. It must have taken him years to get to know this flat land the way he knew it. And it would probably take his sons even longer what with their interruptions from school.

Along theway we checked 19 of the chicken wire trap sets. None of them had mink in them since by now they had stopped moving through the narrow channels the weir traps were placed in. After checking and cleaning them of detritus and mud and accidently trapped Black fish, Francis stamped the traps flat and then stashed them on high ground in a nearby willow for safekeeping until next year.

After four or five hours of checking mink traps, we decided to head in the general direction of Black River where the Barbers had their place. If we hit it right, we would make it there just about dusk. And so we did. They had started up their gas generator and put up a bright light in their window to guide us in, and we reached their little sod oasis of warmth and friendship just in time for dinner.

And what a spread they set out for usl With the moose soup and half-dried salmon they served us, and the goodies Jennifer had sent along, we feasted to our stomachs' content. Added to these were the store-bought delicacies that Francis had brought over from his little store in Scammon Bay to pay off his debt to the Barbers for feeding the dogs he had left with them several months back.

While we adults gossiped about what was happening on the two sides of the Yukon Delta, the two boys played with Rubik's latest 'Magic Puzzle." They had the greatest time with that little game. And so did we, since we were all so tightly packed in the little sod house. In between conversation we played with it ourselves. And we ate. And I ate.... especially Carin's half-dried salmon which had been prepared a lot like limburger cheese. It had a fine white powder mold on it that bit my tongue like picante sauce, and I couldn't resist its delicious oily flavor. Finally, after chattering and smiling and snacking the whole evening away, we went outside to check the weather. We noticed it had cleared off a bit and the moon was visible, although there was a ring around it which did not augur well for the next few days. Yupik elders always said bad weather was just around the corner from a moon halo and to prepare for the worst. I went back inside with that on my mind but decided not to worry since I was traveling with probably the best compass in the Delta, Francis Charlie. By midnight we had exhausted our gossip and folded ourselves into our sleeping bags, that is, all except Carin who was still in the mood to chat and went on and on until I nodded off to sleep.

In the morning we were up at the crack of dawn, which in black River meant about 10 AM., then had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and dry fish. After enough chat to kill the rest of the darkness, Francis and his boys took off to check another bunch of their traps. He told us they would be back by nightfall, adding that it was necessary to gather up their traps to make sure no other animals or fish got caught in them outside the prime mink season.

Meanwhile John and Carin and I continued to visit and share war stories about recent events in the Delta about Martin Adams' attempted murder of his uncle Edward Adams on Christmas Eve in Sheldon Point about our mutual friend, Jim Gaskin's tragic death in Emmonak a recent suicide, also in Emmonak about our ex-principal, Fred Wolf's knock-down drunken drag-out with his wife Joan in front of their quarters one night the previous December, and their "fortunate" banishment to Sheldon's Point (fortunate for us in Scammon Bay but unfortunate for the students in Sheldon Point) how the current principal in Sheldon Point, John Hayden, and his wife, were going bananas there, partly because of Fred and about how good it was going for Jen and me in Scammon Bay with our new principal, Pat Brady. Carin mentioned how she had put up more fish that year than ever before, especially King salmon and Cisco white fish (referred to in Yupik as "lmarpinaraq") in the form of strips and "half-dried" and a whole range of other varieties. John also told me about his carving and writing and further building plans, especially his new maqi (steam) house which he was going to build of drift logs. It sounded like he and Carin were going to be out here for some time to come. And that was good, I thought, because they were certainly tough enough for it, and they deserved the high quality life style they had in Black River. In the afternoon they had me take a picture of them in front of their sod house so they could use it for next year's Christmas cards. Carin explained that her own camera had been smothered in seal oil during yet another of their recent adventurous trips around these immense flat lands of the lower Yukon Delta.

During a walk out into the snow-drifted tundra with John, he showed me a new discovery of his. They had recently had a north wind with freezing rain and it had frozen everything pointing south, including willow leaves and grass stalks. It was something he could use as a natural compass, he said, when he was out in bad weather. I had heard of this many years before from some of the elders in Hooper Bay, and on the way over Francis Charlie explained it to me again, but here was the real thing for both of us to marvel at. Which brought us naturally back to the topic of Francis himself and how knowledgeable he was about this part of the Delta.

The day had turned rather foggy and when darkness had sealed us into night and Francis and his boys had still not arrived, John put his bright light up again on the window ledge above the kitchen table. Just then it seemed we saw a smudge of light in the gloom and we went outside to double check. Sure enough, it was Francis and the boys returning from their day's outing. They had taken up 18 traps in all and had caught only two mink for a whole day's work. It was indeed time to store away their traps.

After a dinner of moose stew and dried beluga whale meat, we chatted about the day's trapping activities, the meaning of certain Yupik language terms, and about how Francis first learned English in Sheldon Point when he was 13 years old. Then we listened to the weather on KNOM Radio. The forecast was not favorable for the next day when we would be returning to Scammon Bay. But we decided we'd try for it anyway. By getting an early start, maybe we could beat the worst of the coming storm and get home sometime in the afternoon. Little did we know how bad the storm would be.

Early the next morning I woke up a little apprehensive. I could hear the wind beginning to pick up outside and somehow sensed this was a mild prelude to what was to come later in the day. As the morning advanced, the plaintive sound of the wind became even louder as it bounced and careened off the earthen walls of the Barbers' sod house. I was getting more and more anxious to leave for home. I had confidence that Francis would find our way back but the combination of wind and snow on the flat tundra of the Delta I also knew to be a daunting force to deal with and I only wanted to hedge our bets against the tremendous odds. When we finally did hit the trail around noon the wind had picked up a little more, and blowing snow began to obscure our visibility. Even though John and Carin invited us to stay with them till the storm blew itself out, Francis decided it was best to get back so the kids wouldn't be late for school.

As we wended our way over to the summer fish camp at Black River to fill up with gas at Francis' store, we could feel the wind speed increasing by the minute, and the air filling with sharp driven particles of icy snow. "Natquvigtuq," he told me, as he pointed to the blowing snow across the surface of the ground, and it would have been a serious situation for me alone. Visibility was very quickly shutting down and by the time we got to his store it was only 50 yards. After we gassed up and started for home it was even less. But we set out anyway, even checking four of Francis' mink traps in spite of the poor visibility. Much to our surprise, two of these traps had mink in them, and Francis seemed in no hurry in caring for the carcasses after extracting them from the underwater wire traps. He first shook the dead animals of most of their water, then he pressed their fur carefully in the drifted snow, using it as a form of blotter for the remaining water. In this way there was less chance the frozen fur would be damaged while being transported in cold weather. Needless to say, I was fascinated at Francis' ability to find these traps in such weather. One of them was marked only by bent grass.

After checking and storing his traps for the winter, Francis decided it would be a good idea to head for home. The wind velocity had by now increased to gale force, still from the north, and visibility was down to about 30 feet. At this point we still had about 25 miles or more to cover over featureless tundra. But I had no doubt we would make it back with Francis as our compass. I only hoped our snow machines would hold up. At around 0 degrees, the ambient temperature was warm enough but with the wind blowing at between 40 and 50 mph the chill factor took it down past -50 degrees.

As it was, every time we stopped, my clutch belt almost instantly froze up and my gas line was beginning to foul with ice. I guessed that the gas we had filled up with at Black River was laced with water. It would have been easy enough to fix in calm weather, but in a storm like this, impossible. So every time the engine hesitated, I just choked it as hard as I could. Only once did it lose power entirely, and even then it was back in operation again after about three minutes. I was a little anxious though because Francis continued on ahead, not noticing that my machine had conked out. After getting us (Glen was still traveling with me) back on the trail again, I had a hard time following Francis' trail because of the blowing snow. Also the wind had changed direction and was now careening at us from the east and cutting across the trail and obliterating it faster. Meanwhile Francis had discovered we weren't with him anymore and had doubled back to search for us. When he found us headed true along his old trail, he picked up the lead again, with me and Glen dogging close at his heels.

It wasn't long afterward that Francis found the almost totally obscured coastal firewood trail and we began to follow it. At that point Glen and I felt a little closer to home. But then suddenly Francis's snow machine and sled stopped dead on the trail. It happened so abruptly that my right ski slammed right into the back of the sled and punched a hole through the plywood. No damage to the ski, but I would have to replace the piece of wood later. It didn't take long to figure out why everything had come to a halt. On closer examination Francis found that one of his rear idler wheels had burned out its bearings and was now hanging there by only a thread of charred plastic. So that's what I had been smelling on the trail for the past quarter hour!

It didn't take long to fix though since Francis had another idler wheel in his repair sack. It wasn't exactly the same size as the old one, but it would have to do till we got home. I remember the expression on his face when he finished. In spite of the cold cruel sting of the racing snow, he managed what can only be described as a cherubic smile. With that, he said simply, "Now we can go."

Then we were on the trail again, a trail by now totally blanketed with drifts of thick snow . This began to seriously slow down the sled which was heavily laden with the Charlies' four dogs plus all of the gear and Francis's other son, Richard. Twice we had to push and pull for all we were worth to extract the sled from the depths of the drifts. And then my own machine started to act up again. But just as it seemed it was going to go down from all the clogging choking ice in its carburetor, the welcome glow of the lights of Scammon Bay suddenly appeared before us. We were home! And none too soon, I thought out loud. Six and a half hours of this wind and snow was long enough for anybody!

The next day when someone asked me how I found my way home without a compass, I replied only that "Francis Charlie was my compass." And, I might add, the best compass anybody could ever find out there in that kind of weather!


Frank Keim


Fair Weather Hunting

- Nick Fitka Sr./Carmen Pitka

Blown off the Airstrip

- Palassa Fitka/Chris Fitka

A Fun Slide/A Big Wheelie

- Frances Evan/Garrett Evan

Stuck in a Snow Storm

- Leo Fitka/Chris Fitka

A Week In Togiak Bay

- Florence Peter/Tanya Peter

A Bad Blizzard

- Natalia George/Theresa George

Excitement on the Yukon

- Ellen Alstrom/Fred Alstrom

Walking Back to Marshall

- Joseph Peter/Tanya Peter

Lost In The Ocean

- Juliana B. Fitka/Gerilyn Fitka

Lost On The Flats

- Liza Busch/Ben Peteroff

Circling Marshall

- Nus Turet/Olga Moxie

Lost in a Blizzard

- Frank Coffee/Carmen Pitka

When Angeline Said Her Prayers

- Angeline Coffee/Fred Alstrom

Deep Snow

- David Evan/Ben Peteroff

Dave's Snowy Trapping Trip

- David Fitka/Fred Alstrom

The Whiteout

- Lena Sergie/Gerilyn Fitka

A Rough Ride to Boreal

- Roberta Fitka/Tanya Peter

Big Waves

- Jacob Isaac/Olga Moxie

We Forgot!

- Annie Hunter/Theresa George


- Nick Isaac/Carmen Pitka

The White Out

- Terri Manumik/Gerilyn Fitka


- Richard Olsen/Chris Fitka

Two Days in the Fog

- Andy Boots/Tanya Peter

Paul Survived to Tell the Story

- Paul Boots/Theresa George

White Out!

- Frank Keim


Authentic Student Stories


Stories by Parents
and Community


Stories by Elders


Stories by the Elementary


Creative Student Stories

Christmastime Tales
Stories real and imaginary about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 1996
Christmastime Tales II
Stories about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 1998
Christmastime Tales III
Stories about Christmas, Slavik, and the New Year
Winter, 2000
Summer Time Tails 1992 Summertime Tails II 1993 Summertime Tails III
Summertime Tails IV Fall, 1995 Summertime Tails V Fall, 1996 Summertime Tails VI Fall, 1997
Summertime Tails VII Fall, 1999 Signs of the Times November 1996 Creative Stories From Creative Imaginations
Mustang Mind Manglers - Stories of the Far Out, the Frightening and the Fantastic 1993 Yupik Gourmet - A Book of Recipes  
M&M Monthly    
Happy Moose Hunting! September Edition 1997 Happy Easter! March/April 1998 Merry Christmas December Edition 1997
Happy Valentine’s Day! February Edition 1998 Happy Easter! March/April Edition 2000 Happy Thanksgiving Nov. Edition, 1997
Happy Halloween October 1997 Edition Edible and Useful Plants of Scammon Bay Edible Plants of Hooper Bay 1981
The Flowers of Scammon Bay Alaska Poems of Hooper Bay Scammon Bay (Upward Bound Students)
Family Trees and the Buzzy Lord It takes a Village - A guide for parents May 1997 People in Our Community
Buildings and Personalities of Marshall Marshall Village PROFILE Qigeckalleq Pellullermeng ‘A Glimpse of the Past’
Raven’s Stories Spring 1995 Bird Stories from Scammon Bay The Sea Around Us
Ellamyua - The Great Weather - Stories about the Weather Spring 1996 Moose Fire - Stories and Poems about Moose November, 1998 Bears Bees and Bald Eagles Winter 1992-1993
Fish Fire and Water - Stories about fish, global warming and the future November, 1997 Wolf Fire - Stories and Poems about Wolves Bear Fire - Stories and Poems about Bears Spring, 1992



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer, educational institution, and provider is a part of the University of Alaska system. Learn more about UA's notice of nondiscrimination.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 24, 2006