Remember KYUK’s old TV shows from decades past? “Waves of Wisdom” with Yup’ik elders, “Tales of the Tundra” ghost stories with John Active, or “Ask An Alaskan,” KYUK’s game show? Selections of these programs and more are now available online. KYUK has begun adding its self-proclaimed “world’s largest collection of Yup’ik and Cup’ik videos” to the internet. The collection captures glimpses of nearly half a century of life on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and for the first time it’s available to anyone searching the web.
In one video, an elder, Neva Rivers of Hooper Bay, is sitting on a floor strewn with dry brown sea grass. She’s using the grass to sew together stripes of dried, translucent seal gut. She tells the camera in Yup’ik that she takes care of everything that she’s going to use, from the seal to the blades of grass.
John Active has worked for KYUK for 40 years and helped film many of these videos. Watching the screen he said, “When they started talking, we tried to keep quiet so they wouldn’t lose their train of thought. Because they were becoming a lost art. They’re a lost art now. I don’t know of any elders right now who sew seal intestine rain coats.”
Another video opens on a laughing elder in her 80s, wearing large glasses and a red sweater. Mary Worm, from Kongiganak, shared her stories as part of KYUK’s “Waves of Wisdom” series.
In Yup’ik she says, “You know how they tell us when we’re young that you’re going to get married and then the child says, ‘I’m not going to get married.’ That’s what I thought.” Then she talks about her husband. The video tells a story about how elders’ advice to the young is valuable, but often unheard.
John Active remembers holding this interview with Mary Worm at her home.
“I walked into her house, knocked on the door, no answer,” Active said. “So I opened it and heard music in the background. There she was, sitting in front of the TV set watching Jaws. And she pointed at the screen to Jaws and said, ‘That fish in there is very wise. It knows how to catch people and sink boats.’ So I had to watch it with her before we did the interview.”
That’s one of many videos that feature John Active. Another is a New Years segment from the 1980s.
In the video, a young John Active, sporting a full head of black hair, sits at a desk strewn with papers. Looking at the camera, he says, “Burning illegal firewood brings excitement and intrigue during otherwise cold and dreary winters like we have here.”
Active goes on to instruct people downriver on how to steal trees from upriver.
“Because those upriver Eskimos didn’t want us downriver Eskimos to go up and cut their wood,” Active explained, watching the video.
The young Active continues, “The best time to gather these clandestine logs is at night, when most everyone is at bingo, church, watching R-rated programs on cable or satellite TV.”
The video is from “Frost Bits”, small segments used to fill out the half-hour newscast. TV was still new for many people at the time, and the news team used the often irreverent “Frost Bits” to hook viewers.
About 170 KYUK videos are available on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting website. KYUK still has 2,700 hours of video to add and is raising money to do so.
But money is not the only problem; memory is another.
KYUK needs help. Over the decades, labels were lost and we don’t know who the people are in many of the online videos, or where they were filmed. Many were elders who have passed.
One example is a video of a man talking about moose hunting near Kwethluk. He explains how he would store his dried foods in the bluffs where he’d sleep during the August hunt. Unidentified wooden tools lie in front of him. If KYUK knew his name, then his grandchildren could search his name and hear his story, as could schools, villages and others searching for traditional knowledge.
To help identify people featured in the videos, email KYUK’s Multimedia Director Katie Basile at firstname.lastname@example.org.