In Iirgu’s Time

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 20min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1974

As his two grandchildren listen, Samuel Iirgu, an elder from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, recounts events in the community from the time the first missionaries arrived. His story is known as an ungipamsuk or true historical narrative. Traditionally, a storyteller’s integrity was based on the accuracy of his ungipamsuk; exaggeration was considered a sign of weakness.  Iirgu describes how the missionaries succeeded in converting people and the problems that visiting people from Siberia caused the missionaries.

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At the Time of Whaling

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 40min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1974

“When our ancestors hunted a whale,” elder Lincoln Pelaasi from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, tells us, “They harpooned it right on each cheek. Attached to the harpoon was a walrus skin rope and at the end of each rope was a small bag of water.  If the whale went to the right, they shook the bag on that side and he would go to the left, turning away from the sound of the water. Those big whales, just like dogs they would steer them to the land. This is how it was done.” From the roof of a snow-covered house men with binoculars scan the ocean for signs of whales.  It is April and the Bowhead whales are beginning their summer migration to Arctic waters. For generations, St. Lawrence Island hunters have waited in this very same place for their arrival.  The hunters launch their skin boats under sail and soon an exuberant voice on the CB radio shouts the news of a strike. The boats power up their motors and join the others to help corral and tow the whale back to shore where the three-day task of butchering and distributing the meat begins.

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On the Spring Ice

A film by Leonard Kamerling, Sarah Elder,
Country: USA,
Duration: 45min,
Language: Siberian Yup’ik,
Subtitles: English,
Year: 1975

Elder Lloyd Oovie, from the village of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, recounts the mysteries of sea ice, “Long ago, people were drifted by the pack ice. It took them far away and they were never seen again.  Nothing is too big for the ice to move.  When seen for the first time, it is a mysterious thing to watch”.  A cluster of men stands on a rooftop scanning the sea.  A walrus hunting party is in distress far out on the ice.  The weather is bad and they are being drifted towards Siberia. Long ago, there was nothing that could have been done to save them.  Now they have options.  The men discuss the situation and finally decide to call the Coast Guard.  A rescue helicopter is dispatched from Kodiak, 650 miles away.  The next day, the men prepare for another walrus hunt.  They travel through leads in the pack ice where they spot two walrus sunning themselves on the ice.  Back in the village, the meat is cut, distributed, and hung to dry.
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