By Shawna Williard-Burke, Calista Intern 2015
Kasigluk is located 20 miles northwest of Bethel along the Johnson River in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. According to a 2010 census, the population was 569 but the estimated number now is about 700. When I lived in Kasigluk as a young girl, the population was about 300. I lived in Kasigluk until I was about four years old. Though you might think that I wouldn’t remember anything from that young, I do.
I remember our brown house in Akula, the new side of Kasigluk. The old side of Kasigluk is Akiuk, and it is located directly across from Akula on the Johnson River. There was one truck in the village at the time. My house had my grandmother, mother, father, my older brother, my two aunts and myself. There were three bedrooms, all touching one another. My grandma had her own room, and my two aunts shared a room. My mom, dad, brother and I slept in a king sized bed all together.
We had no running water. We had to use fresh rainwater to drink and clean with. We would put buckets outside when it rained to collect it. We used a basin filled with rainwater to wash our hands after we used a honey bucket as our toilet. I didn’t use, or even see a flush toilet until I was about five. There is running water in Kasigluk now. People can now flush their toilets, take showers, baths, and use their sinks.
There was a pond directly behind our house. My dad taught my brother and I how to skate there in the winter. The pond is dried up now.
My grandma used to give my brother a dollar and we would go to the store and buy candy, usually a Hershey’s bar or a small pack of gum. We had to share because grandma wouldn’t give me a dollar of my own. There are two stores in Kasigluk now, one is smaller than the other.
I remember riding on our red Honda four-wheeler around the village. Sometimes, we’d have lots of people come over to maqii and we’d pick them up on the four wheeler. Our maqii was directly behind our house.
A maqii, or maqivik, is similar to a sauna. But, instead of using it to relax or do yoga in, we use them to clean ourselves. Having no running water makes showering near impossible. The maqii is great at pulling out dirt from the skin, and toxins from the body. There are rocks on top of and around a wood-burning stove you pour water onto, or “splash” with your dipper to steam up the space. This makes it hot. The maqii gets to about mid 200°F and higher. Since there is running water now, people don’t completely depend on the maqii to clean themselves.
I remember dad took my brother out hunting, and they came back with four white birds. They were delicious. I remember my grandma teaching my aunt how to make akutaq with the berries we had picked that summer. People still heavily rely on a subsistence living lifestyle. This includes fishing, hunting for moose, birds, berry picking, and a lot more.
My first language is Yup’ik, as is my brother’s. My grandma speaks it nearly perfectly, and she taught us. So, our Yup’ik is near perfect as well. People would do a double take when they heard my brother and I speak fluently in Yup’ik. When other kids spoke English to us, it didn’t make any sense. We would tilt our heads in confusion. We didn’t learn English until we were older. Even then, we preferred Yup’ik. I would translate for my brother because he didn’t like English. Kasigluk translates to two rivers merging into one. There are two schools in Kasigluk, one for each side. They still teach Yup’ik in school to this day. Most of the village speaks Yup’ik.
In the winter, the Kuskokwim River turns into the Kuskokwim Highway, just as it did when I lived there.