Vince Kunnuk

Anchorage | King island

Kunnuk in his carving shop at his home in Anchorage.

Kunnuk in his carving shop at his home in Anchorage.

life skills on king island

Oh boy, I was there [on King Island] seventeen years, till I was seventeen, until we move our family to Nome. 1949. I was 18, maybe. Well, I think I miss mostly the ways of hunting. They taught us how to hunt. None of us even know how to make rawhide. Rawhide harpoon lines, heaving lines to retrieve the seal, we don’t even know how to do that. I used to watch the men make retrieving lines… And one I watched, one day: amazing. Making a heaving line. You had no flaw whatsoever, all the way to the end [of the line]… It was so beautiful. I cannot even do that anymore. Same with harpoon lines. There are two kinds of harpoon lines: harpoon lines for walrus are thicker, and harpoon line for oogruk were a little smaller, but same length. And they’re strong. I think I find out, when they make walrus line, when they make harpoon lines, they made them out of baby walrus. But oogruk hunting, they use yearling oogruk, they cut in half and then make harpoon lines out of them. Amazing, how they do it. They use human pee for the lines. When we [would] go in the club house, they make us pee in this half barrel, barrel filled with pee. And they use it for making lines, or seal skins--the women used to make them real white. They did everything. I miss those. But there’s no way… I don’t know.

"When we were kids, Grandpa would tell us, ‘Don’t be the smartest man in the whole village, just be who you are. You did something better than someone else, don’t promote yourself to be better than anybody.’ That’s what we learned from him, so I still use his tradition."


How people have changed 

Discipline. Discipline. Kids got no more discipline whatsoever. When we were young, we can’t even talk back to our parents like they do now. Now they argue with their parents. The change of life-- you can’t blame white people, because it's their own. Our parents couldn’t speak English; none of the guys I grew up with [had] their parents speaking English. Few have. Very few have. Father [Bellermine] LaFortune, [a Jesuit missionary on King Island], taught us in the Eskimo language. He knew how to speak our language better than we did. ... Anyway, that’s the change of life. White people changed our life when we learned how to speak English. ... Language, white language, changed everything.

at school in seattle

I went to high school in Seattle, vocational school. And the funniest thing happened: I was taking literature, and here was Howard Farley, you remember him? He was in my same class, I didn’t even know him. He came to Nome and married my sister! One day [in Nome], we were having dinner. [I said,] "I went to high school in Seattle, my teacher was Mrs. Peckett." He said, "Who? Mrs. Peckett." "That was my teacher too!" He was in the same class as I was, [and I] didn’t even know him! Amazing. ... First day [of school in Seattle], they introduced some guys from a farm, that his dad owned a farm. I sat there thinking, "What the hell I’m gonna say?" I said, "My name is Vincent... And my dad owns walrus herds!" But I never got any questions after that, they all said what they said. They didn’t even know what a walrus herd was!