Island Culture Today
During 2007, students at the schools on St. Paul and St. George Islands agreed to share their perspectives on what it is like to grow up on these remote islands. Three student essays are presented in their entirety. Excerpts from other essays are also included.
Some people think growing up in the Pribilofs isn’t as advanced as living in a city. Although I have not lived on St. George Island, the smaller of the two populated islands, all my life, I have collectively lived in St. George for four years. I have also lived in other small rural Alaskan communities and large cities in America and Australia. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to compare and contrast village and city lifestyles. Out of these I would have to say St. George is one of my many favorite places. I don’t think cities are worse than villages, and comparing between each other, really just depends on your own opinion. I will share with you several reasons to support my opinion that village life can be very satisfying.
The pollution in larger cities is more concentrated so your lung health is impacted. In villages, there is less air pollution because there are less cars resulting in more people walking around and enjoying a more active lifestyle. Many people also live a subsistence lifestyle and hunt reindeer and seal.
The local village does not have any fast food restaurants and the store is limited, so junk food isn’t always at our fingertips. Therefore, people tend to prepare homemade foods such as breads, meats, and desserts. This type of food preparation brings friends and families together for meals, as this is often a form of entertainment and sharing. In contrast, city people are often too busy for each other, too rushed to cook and there is less time for entertaining and sharing as days are full of lining up and commuting from here to there.
In cities, you basically go to school, come back maybe picking up something to eat on the way and stay home. There is no freedom for most kids beyond their street or suburb. Sure there are malls and restaurants to eat at, but when you live in the city, you either take it for granted or the novelty wears off. “Home, school, store. Home, school, store, home”… you get the picture.
It’s debatable whether this similar “home, school, store” process occurs in village life, because many village-dwelling kids take their unique way of life for granted.
It’s not every day in a suburbia lifestyle that you can walk down to the beaches and see a fur-seal rookery teaming with fur seals; hike up a bluff and watch 80% of the world’s kittiwake seabird population spiral and glide around you; or just take a hike to see endangered sea lions play in the surf.
Although every place has flaws, to me the experience of living in a village is something to treasure and remember. With nature all around you, the freedom of a bird, and plentiful resources, there are few limits in St. George.
My name is Leilani. I live on St. Paul Island located in the middle of the Bering Sea. Living my life as a teenager on St. Paul is both interesting and fun. Could you imagine what it would be like living on an island so small that there is only one store, one school, and one post office?
This island is fun. I like to go walking a lot with my friends. Most of the time I like to go walking on the beach with my dad. I like walking on the beach with him because I really like spending time with him. I also like walking on the beach because you never know what you will find. There is a lot of stuff like, crab, fish, jellyfish, driftwood, seaweed, walrus tusks, and seashells. I like to go out for rides all the time because it’s fun to look around and see the island. During the winter here I like to go ice-skating. Here on this island there is no skating rink so people have to find a natural flat place to skate. It’s not that hard to find one because there’s a few lakes around here.
In the wintertime, there are really strong blizzards. The winds get up to sixty miles an hour. Sometimes it is hard to see outside and it is hard to walk. When the blizzards get really bad school cancels because it’s so bad that no one can get out of their house. In the summer time it mostly rains or sometimes it’s foggy. I like it here in the summer time because the air is fresh and the weather is always nice.
Most teenagers here like to go the Ilassan Center. The Ilassan Center is a place where kids could go to play board games, watch movies, go on the computers, and play video games. The Ilassan Center belongs to IRA (the IRA is our island’s tribal government) but they allow kids to go there most of the time.
This island is interesting because of the natural resources, like the fur seals, the wind, and seabirds. Native people here use the fur seals to make dresses, pouches, hats, boots, and dolls. We use the wind to run the electricity here. We use the birds to get rid of the waste because the birds usually eat the garbage.
This island has changed a lot over the years. Long ago when my parents were growing up here they didn’t have as much as we now do. They didn’t have telephones, vehicles, television, and computers. The only way of communication with the ‘outside’ was by letter writing. We now can use the telephone to call our friends or email them.
Our parents were more fortunate in many ways because they communicated verbally with their families more than we do now, i.e., storytelling by elders and visiting with the community members. Whereas now, we are all so busy playing games on the computer, and playing video games because it’s what kids do these days.
This island is neat. It is really fun to live here because it’s really different from a city. The weather is really different and the wild life, the school. The school here is interesting. There are only a total of one hundred kids in the school. This school is really fun because the teachers here are nice they don’t give us too much homework all the time. One thing good about this school is that you don’t have to worry about shootings or anything like that because here everyone knows everyone.
This island is really fun because you could do anything you want. You could go out of town and have parties on the beach, and be with your family or friends. You could always go camping here too.
What do you think of St. Paul Island now? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live anywhere else. My most favorite thing about this island is it’s a very peaceful place and it’s very small and safe. There is a lot of stuff to tell about this island but most of all I think the best part about this island are the memories I have here. I will never forget this island.
The Bering Sea is the most deadliest sea in the world. My name is Brandon Merculief, and I’m going to tell you about the three generations of family that fish for halibut on our boat. There is my grandpa, my dad, and I. We are the only boat on the island that has three generations of family working side by side. I enjoy every moment that I spend on that boat.
On my family’s fishing boat the Tamarri, which measures 26 feet long and 10 feet wide, we fish for halibut. We also catch other fish, such as rockfish, pacific cod, octopus, and etc. We use long line process. A really long line that lies on the bottom of the ocean with hooks spaced about 12 feet apart. Sometimes we fish with a jig line—it’s a line with a weight and a hook just like normal fishing, in a pond, or a harbor—after we set the long line.
I have been fishing for four years, and it is the best. I always look forward to summers so I can fish. My dad, Chris, has been fishing halibut for 25 years, and he still loves it. My grandpa, Anthony, has been fishing for 40 years, and it has been rewarding in the way of family experience, and the profit that we get out of it.
On our fishing boat we make an average of 20,000 pounds per season at $3.50 a pound. This calculates to $70,000 a year. The IFQ (individual fish quota) we carry is 22,000 pounds. The IFQ we own is usually not caught because the season is usually over too soon.
This fishing season, I will be part owner of the boat. It is exciting because I will be able to pass on the fishing throughout the family, generation to generation. I will also be able to have a fishing license, and own my own IFQ.
Excerpts from Student Essays
“Some jobs for kids are…working for the tour boats by giving tours, there is sealing where you kill the seals during the harvest season, there is blubbering seal pelts, and babysitting...”
--Charissa Philemonof, St. George Island, age 14
“The real reason why I live on this island is because my dad grew up on this island. He really didn’t live anywhere else but here. This is his hometown.”
--Chelsea Lekanof, St. George Island, age 14
“Some people think that living on the Pribilofs is hard today, but try back then when my parents were growing up. They didn’t have all the technology we have today, and today we’re not so alone on this island. They had radios and friends, but nowadays we kids have TV, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, etc.”
--Matthew Kashevarof, St. George Island, age 13
“I like learning about this island. I have learned so many stories here from the elders. I learned about our history and how Russia came to the Aleutian chain. I also learned that we used to have horses, chickens, and cows.”
--Tess Lekanof, St. George Island, age 13
“I’m a seal hunter on St. George Island… The harvest is pretty easy because I have worked for the Traditional Councils for three years. It is fun, but sometimes I get scared because there is the bull seal. They are bigger than me and have sharp teeth. The bull seals fight for everything: females and land space, where they like to sleep everyday.”
--Nathaniel Lekanof, St. George Island, age 16
“Another place to hang out is the Ilaasan center. You are probably wondering, “What is an Ilaasan Center? Well, the word Ilaasan is from the Aleut language meaning Family. The Ilaasan Center is open for the teenagers, and the younger kids. It is open 7:3010:00 P.M., at least three-four times a week. The Ilaasan center is located in the white Tribal Government building. It has two open rooms that we could hang out in, a room where we either watch movies, or just sit around and have fun, and there is the computer room where we can surf the Internet and chat using Yahoo! Messenger.”
--Daria Isaac, St. Paul Island, age 15
“I think this island is very interesting because there are a lot of things you can do, you just have to be creative about it. Some things that you can do up here are go four wheeling, ride your bike in some puddles, mud bogging (playing in mud, such as riding your bike through puddles and mud, in general, just getting all muddy and wet.) playing basketball at men’s open gym night, hanging out with your friends, and just having a good time….Playing in the wind can be very fun. You can just have fun by unzipping your jacket and pulling it up and letting the wind catch your jacket.”
--Brandon Rukovishnikoff, St. Paul Island, age 16
“The thing I don’t like about St. Paul is the drugs and alcohol because it is a bad influence in our community. I think it is a bad influence because teens in high school can be doing good in school and trying to graduate to get scholarships and those drugs and alcohol can bring them down or make their home lives harder.”
-- Neon Krukoff, St. Paul Island, age 17
“…I live on St. Paul Island, and it’s not as big as normal islands you would think of. There’re no cement roads, no big buildings, no football fields, and there’s no restaurants on St. Paul either.”
-- Alexia Lestenkof, St. Paul Island, age 16
“The weather is interesting because it changes instantaneously. For example, it could be sunny then it could snow. The wind would be calm then the wind could pick up. It can be clear out then the fog could roll in.”
-- Matthew Lestenkof, St. Paul Island, age 17
“I believe that living on St. Paul is the best because you know everybody and everybody knows you. People treat each other like family up here. Everybody waves at each other when they pass one another. We are all just like one big family.”
“When somebody gets hurt badly, they send a plane to take whoever is in great danger to Anchorage, Alaska. If it’s just a simple wound, or a simple illness it can be fixed on the island. If you have a broken ankle or broken arm, you’re going to be sent out to get a cast.”
-- Amanda Owens, St. Paul Island, age 16
NOAA created this product in partial fulfillment
of a memorandum of agreement between it and the Alaska State Historic