Effie said that when she was born she was scrawny and cross-eyed. She said that it reminded her years later of what Quasimodo must have looked like. However, she was her mother's youngest, her mother's favorite. "Mother thought I was beautiful and was going to fatten me up." Effie attributes much to her mother and promised me she would write down some remembrances to share with anyone that might be interested. As soon as she does I will pass them on. She did tell me that her mother was smart and wise. To make pliable and remove the hair off seal skins for the making of mukluks, leggings, and shirts, "She would give each one of us a skin, showed us how to fold it, and send us outside to sled down the hills during the winter."
This apparently loosened the fur and made it much easier to peal off. Tom Sawyer and his fence was not a new idea. Effie told me that another way to loosen the fur was to bury the skin in the corner of the hut and let it stay there for a week or so. Apparently there was some sort of chemical reaction with the fats, meat, and fur so that after digging it up enabled the fur to be pealed off easily. The trouble is she said, "It smelled terrible, you had to wear seal skin pants or an apron, and gloves, but the stink would never go away. You could wash and wash and the stink just stayed around for what seemed like forever." "But it was something that needed to be done. All needed mukluks, pants, and parkas."
Effie recalls that the men of the village use to make a pumgayuq, loosely translated as a bobsled because it was made to be close to the ground. It was sort of a boat that could be taken out along the ice and shallows while looking for seal. The kill would be brought back to the village, distributed, and the pumgayuq would be used as fuel.
"Our people needed to survive."
I had heard the expression 'harsh survival' used many times when listening to the elders talk about the days long ago," said Effie Hadley, herself now an elder. "A group would take their wives, kids, and dogs, everything they owned and walk the land hunting for food and trying to select the best place to spend the winter, or what place would provide them the most food, or protection. Sometimes they would find a place and then another group would come along and they would have to leave, fight, or welcome them."
Effie says that at a place called Inuktag a girl saw a group of people coming out of the fog carrying logs. These people looked strange to her so she turned and ran to tell her people. But as she was running the other group's shaman threw a feather with a sharp point that hit her in the neck. By the time she reached her people she had forgotten what it was she was going to tell them. All of the people of Buckland were killed.
Shamans had great power over people even when Effie was small. The wise ones would have a vision and would tell people what they should or should not do. Effie remembers very well that the shaman told a friend of hers not to braid anything. Not grass, not hair, not sinew--nothing. No reason was given however and after a time the girl forgot.
One day her friend started braiding some grass for a basket. She was just about to finish when she saw a lot of people running towards her sod home. She then remembered what the shaman had told her, but it was to late. Her father had died.
"After that," Effie said, "Her life and her mother's life got very hard. She ended up getting married at thirteen to a hunter. She had no choice. He provided food for her and her mother but he was a cruel man. He would let other men play with her. But my friend did her chores and learned how to be a "good" wife and not complain. Young girls cannot imagine that happening to them today. But strange things happen out here away from the eyes of people."
Effie did say that her friends plight was not typical but it happened often enough. Many don't like to talk about those things. It is embarrassing to them. "But what was is."
Yukon Life & Culture by Conley Stone McAnally
About the Author
Conley McAnally taught school 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Noatak, Alaska.