When Schools Shut Down In Alaska, These Students Went Moose Hunting
In the remote Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska, many families practice subsistence hunting to get food on the table. Three students reconnected with that tradition during the pandemic.
Jamin Crow waited silently for the bull moose to turn and face him. In the cold, the teen stood in an open meadow, his gun resting on a branch. He waited and waited and waited.
Then the moose turned, and his brother started to yell, "Shoot!" If Crow didn't shoot, his brother would. So Crow took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.
"Your ears are ringing after the gunshot. And I look at my brother and he's giving me the happiest look I've ever seen," he says. "Everything is perfect at that moment ...You know you succeeded in what your goal is."
Crow lives in Bethel, in the remote Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska. For generations, his family has practiced subsistence hunting to get food on the table. The process hasn't changed much, except that these days, the Crows use motor boats and snowmobiles to get to their moose camp, which serves as a home base while they're on hunting trips.
"Food is very expensive here. You have to ship everything up," Crow says. "We don't go out just for the antlers. We're not looking for trophies; we're not hunting for something big. We're looking for meat to feed our families."
Crow is one of three Alaska Native students — along with Kaylee King and Ethan Lincoln — who made a podcast about their hunting tradition. The students are from different towns, but met as interns at NPR's member station KYUK in their senior year of high school. Right before they graduated last spring, their podcast was chosen as a finalist in this year's NPR Student Podcast Challenge.
The three students say hunting helped them get through the isolation of the pandemic, when their schools and many other activities, like sports, were shut down because of COVID-19.
In the podcast, Crow went hunting with his 17-year-old brother, Peter, but sometimes the whole family goes, including his father and grandmother. King and Lincoln — who are cousins — also go hunting with their families.
"Nowadays, you see everybody go out and hunt. Dads will take their daughters," says Crow. "It doesn't really matter what your gender is."
COVID-19 did not hit Bethel until August of 2020 — when people started to travel to and from other cities. The virus quickly spread, closing schools through March of this year. Meanwhile, King's village of about 250 people managed to make it through with very few cases, and she was allowed to finish out high school in person; she was the only graduating senior in her town this year.
The students explain that, as time goes by, fewer and fewer people are practicing subsistence hunting. King, especially, feels a pressure to keep the traditions alive.
"It makes me really sad because the way we used to do things is so different from how we do them now," King says. "Even our language [Cup'ig] is slowly fading away."
For the students, the practice of hunting allows them to connect with older generations.
"Whenever I go out hunting with my granny, I'm always hearing past stories about when my dad was a kid and he went hunting or my late grandpa [and] how he would just take the family up," Crow says.
He sees peers like King practicing cultural dances, speaking the language and hunting, and he's hopeful the traditions he grew up with will last. He already knows he wants to share the hunting experience with his own children some day.
"If we keep at this pace, I think our younger generation can pick it back up again because we have pride in our culture and we love where we are from and we don't want to see it fade away."
Sneha Dey is an intern on NPR's Education Desk.
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