“Let’s go fishin’!”
For the Native bush villages of the Yukon River basin and its tributaries, there are probably no other three words which better announce the arrival of summer in the Alaskan Interior.
Parts of June and August and all of July are dominated with the sights, smells and feels of Fish Camp. The constant squeaking of the fishwheel, the slapping of the salmon as they are unceremoniously pulled out of the river, the smell of fires smoking fish meat along the river’s edge amidst the low murmurs of elders relaying stories as children squeal with laughter nearby…
It’s summertime along the Yukon and the living, though not at all easy, is warm (sometimes too warm – it can hit 90 above Fahrenheit some years!), familiar, and rich with a lifetime of memories.
For so many of our Interior communities, the river is the center of activity year-round. It is our highway, our supermarket, our rec center.
But in the summer when the salmon are running, the river is the center of all activity and purpose. Our villages become virtual ghost towns as everyone heads out. For those brief few weeks, we are on the land, with our families, away from the offices and schools and demands which are becoming a part of our lives more and more each day.
For many Alaska Native villages in the Interior, Fish Camp is the highlight of the year. It is the symbol of summer, and the time for our families and communities to get away and to spend extended time together on the land.
And yet, by early August, as we begin to shuttle back and forth between camp and the village bringing our belongings back home in our flat-bottomed motorboats, one cannot help but look up along the banks, to the stands of moose-chewn willow, to see that the leaves are already changing to oranges and yellows. The sun is lower, the days shorter, the nights cooler.
Early August, and Autumn is already around the next river bend in the Athabascan Native villages and communities of Interior Alaska. Soon – too soon perhaps – it will be time for the major period of hunting to begin…