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Wisdom from Alaska Elders

Community elder Betty Segock in her home in Elim, Alaska.

One of the most cherished of cultural values for Alaska Native communities is the reverence of elders. They are looked-to for wisdom, leadership, and knowledge of traditional ways. Elder Voices, KNOM’s extended interview program with respected elders, has offered listeners snapshots of this culture. The show has featured life stories and lessons from Western Alaska’s living history.

Elder Norbert Kakaruk (kuh-CARR-uck) shared the story of his birth in a sod house in remote Mary’s Igloo in 1938 and growing up without his eyesight. In his adult years, KNOM became “Norbie”’s constant companion.

Ardith Weyiouanna (way-oo-WAH-nuh) from Shishmaref told of spending her childhood herding reindeer with her parents. Rodney Ungwiluk (UN-gwih-luck) of Gambell remembered hunting seals and going whaling in skin boats.

94-year-old Frances Wright of Solomon recalled the subsistence lifestyle of her youth; her family lived off the land, and she didn’t learn about the existence of canned vegetables until she moved to Nome — at the age of 19. Davis Sockpick of Shishmaref, born in 1940, remembers doing everything by hand and raising his dog team under the watchful eye of the village elders. Esther Bourdon of Nome recalled her special relationship with her family’s dog team, which even helped transport her mother at the time of her birth.

These programs were recorded and produced to preserve the stories of these cherished community members. For their families, the interviews can mean so much, especially as a record of a loved elder. Thanks so much for keeping these memories alive.