Wednesday, November 18, 2009

At the time when these traps were being put to use, they were valued for the security and reliability. If the hunt for the day wasn’t so good or the birds were too quick, there was still the fish trap to check in hopes of having some sort of relief. I believe the knowledge of building these is important to pass on because it teaches so much more. To me it symbolizes that there can always be something to look forward to when things don’t go the way that was expected. Even if the net is empty, there’s always tomorrow. One can have an internalized feeling of trust in the object because the materials were carefully picked and assembled by hand. From this comes a feeling of happiness when the tedious work pays off with a net full of fish for all to enjoy as well.


Grizzly bears have their own ways of catching salmon, they don't need a fish net, trap, or rock pool. All they need is their sharp teeth, instinct, and an empty stomach. To me, this is one of the coolest things in nature to witness. I find it amazing that the bears can even stand in the strong current without slipping in. The salmon run has to be the greatest, tastiest treat for the grizzly bears!

Brewarrina Fish Traps

In the video, a significant Aboriginal elder tells a story about the indigenous stone fish traps. The narrator, known as Aunty June Baker, explains that there was a long drought. During the drought a man and his two boys went out and stacked rocks and hard sand in the riverbed into the shape of a large fish net. The rain came and filled the river and the traps. The men would then walk into these pools and spear the fish. This is a very awesome find indeed!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Modern 'Saining'


I came across this video on youtube that shows the main idea of what I explained earlier as saining. In the video, they obviously have a large boat and a mechanical device pulling in the net, making the guys' job look easy. They are also catching smaller salmon, pink salmon as it says in the description. I could easily say that a pully system would make it a lot easier to pull in king salmon rather than using your bare hands. The video clearly shows how the fish are gathered from the net. With a traditional basket style fish trap it would be a lot easier not having to untangle troublesome salmon from the net.

Langdon Says....

In Steve J. Langdon's book, "The Native People of Alaska: Traditional Living in a Northern Land", he explains that at the time of Russian contact, there were an estimated 11,000 Athabaskans. These people were not just in one area and counted. The population of these people was broken down into groups and location.
The main groups consisted of the riverine, upland, and pacific subdivisions. Deghitan, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Tanana, and Tanacross are all riverine groups. The upland Athabaskans were Gwich'in, Han, Upper Tanana, and Upper Kuskokwim. Pacific settlements were Atna' and Dena'ina.
Since Athabaskan settlement was somewhat nomadic, archeologically speaking, the groups are not confined to a specific place, rather areas along rivers and the coast. This differentiation in climate and land corresponds to different sources of food and shelter.
The basket-style fish trap had to be adaptive to the environment as well. Weirs, fencing, and trap size were all different dependent on location. The same idea was used for the insidious fish trap, but there are small differences that make it effective.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Montana Creek Excavation

Loring, Jon. (1994). 49-Jun-453 Montana Creek Fish Trap Site, Juneau, Alaska: the excavation of basket-style fish traps.

Before the Montana Creek fish trap, no basket style fish trap had been recovered in an archaeological context (Loring, 1994, p. 3). A retired fish and game employee named Paul Kissner reported the trap site to the Alaska State Museum. After getting permission from the City and Borough of Juneau, the excavation would then take place. There were two wood samples excavated from the site in 1990 that were dated to approximently 700 years ago (p.4). This comes back to traditional spruce root lashings. They can obviously hold under water and silt for hundreds of years. It is simply amazing, to me, that you can build a trap with everything that nature has given to you and have it excavated still in tact.

The pictures above are actual photographs taken from the site. It clearly shows that the knots and lashings are still in tact. Once again, amazing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Fish trapping has not always been favored by everybody. Traditionally it was necessary. During the turn of the century, commercial fishing in Alaska was an extremely profitable business. There were large numbers of residents against it because of the huge consumption of salmon. And those who were for it believed it was good because it created jobs and enormous incomes.

These traps covered huge parts of rivers and basically collected all the salmon swimming back to their spawning areas. Not only did this suck for the other non-commercial fishermen, but it had a negative impact on the salmon. If the fish couldn't get back to spawn, then how many could return the next year? The efficiency of these traps are unbeatable.

Milotte, Alfred. (1904). Commercial Salmon Trap Operations.


Above the collection name it says "access this item". This will open up a new tab showing a video of commercial fishermen moving salmon from a fish trap onto a boat. This gives you an idea of the number of salmon that were caught in these traps.

Here is a pretty cool video of fish traps in Alaska, then, now and in between. It covers everything from Alaska Natives using traditional traps to canneries coming to Alaska and creating jobs for fish trappers. There is also the political aspect of fish trapping in Alaska and the native peoples input. It ends with where fish trapping stands today. Enjoy!

What else is for dinner?

Madison, C., Yvonne Y., (1981). Bettles Yukon-Koyukuk School District 1981.


Above is a great site where it explains the different types ofAlaska Native traditional foods and uses of animals. The site covers moose, caribou, birds, fish, and trapping. More interesting is that I came across an actual reference to the Fish trap I've been researching. Moses Henzie, from somewhere on the Koyukuk River, explains that he uses a fish trap to get salmon for the winter. He says that theres no fish going up the Koyukuk in the summer so thats why he and his grandma made and used traps.

The different categories explain the importance to the natives. They also include how abundant these animals were and how easy they were to hunt. The use and importance of every part of the animal is also emphasized. This is a great and informative site.

Whoa, What?

Canadian Navy.(n.d.). Canadian Navy: HMCS ATHABASKAN. Retrieved from

The Canadian Navy website has an awesome description of the HMCS Athabaskan and specific statistics and details. There is information about the ship, news and events, ship departments, command teams, sailor profiles, guest book and an image gallery. I think the limits to this website about the ship is some classified information, after all it is the Navy.

Upon doing my research I came across the HMCS Athabaskan. This is a Canadian Naval area air defense destroyer located in Halifax. As it was put on the website the HMCS Athabaskan "has primary weapons are anti-submarine which included mortars, homing torpedoes and two CH-124 SEA KING helicopters armed with torpedoes. The SEA KING is an all-weather aircraft, which can operate at speeds of up to 150 knots. For defense against air and surface threats, HMCS ATHABASKAN originally had the Canadian Sea Sparrow missile system and a 5" 54 caliber gun. Both these systems were radar controlled."

This is pretty crazy for me to come across this because who would have thought to name a warship after a native group. I still could not find if there was some significance to the name given to this ship. Or rather if there was an actual purpose.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rope, Twine, Knots, and Lashings

Dick, Alan. (2004). Alaska Science: Camps, Fairs & Experiments. Alaska Native Knowledge Network.


If there was one thing I didn't learn in the boy scouts, it would be how to find something in out the woods strong enough to hold a knot. I never would have thought to use the roots of any plant, especially not a tree root. I have come to find that you can't just choose any tree to take the roots from. I found a PDF file on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network that explains traditional things such as starting a fire, traditional lighting, spear fishing, and much more. The one thing I was looking for was the traditional spruce lashing.

In the text, Alan Dick explains how to locate, clean, split, and store spruce and other roots. He explains how to split the roots the best way with along with some pictures. There are also a couple of examples of how to make good knots that will hold. The fish trap requires sturdy, reliable, and dependable materials for knots and lashings. If done right, these knots can hold for hundreds of years! Proof is in the Montana Creek Excavation. You will see that up soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Breakdown: Athabaskan

There are now many ways of spelling the word "Athabaskan". There's Athapascan, Athabaskan, and Athabascan. According to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, the name "Athabaskan" comes from the Canadian, Cree Indian word "athabasca". In Cree, the word "athabasca" means "grass here and there". This is the name they gave to a lake in eastern Canada, Lake Athabasca. The Cree Indians lived east of this lake and the people that lived west of the lake were known as Athabaskans.

In Alaska, there are eleven different languages in Athabaskan. These people are not limited to one region though. They can be found in Canada, Oregon, some parts of California, and the southwestern United States. People may not realize that Navajo and Apache languages are in Athabaskan language groups. Since these different groups are in different places, this is where the spelling of the word "Athabaskan" can be obscured.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baack it up. what is this "fish trap" you speak of?

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years fish traps were used to catch multiple fish during a given time. The specific style of fish trap that I chose to work on consists of two parts. There is a net and a cone shaped opening. The cone shaped opening allows fish to swim in and back out. The two pieces are lashed together and the opening acts like a cap to the net. The pieces can be unlashed to collect the fish from the net or there can be a trap door made into the net. This trap style was used widely among Alaska native groups along rivers and the ocean, mainly in the shallow waters during all seasons. Alaska natives may have depended on these traps during times when other methods didn’t work as effectively. To the peoples who had once used these traps to help survive, tradition of the construction and use is very unique and important to pass on .

Sunday, November 1, 2009


There are other ways of catching those kings now days. Drift netting, more commonly known as saining, is pretty common along the Yukon. The last time I went fishing in Nulato, this is the kind of fishing we did.

Since the salmon swim up river, then we take the boat upriver and to one side. The boat is turned toward the other side of the river and the net is let out and the boat goes across the river making the net perpendicular to the bank. The boat flows down along with the net until we start to see the boueys bobbing. This indicates that there are salmon swimming right into the net.

Watching the boueys dip down is very exciting. Although, thats when you realize that you have a lot of work on your hands. A fourty foot net can hold a lot of large, heavy salmon. Pulling it all back into the boat is a brutal test of strength. It has to be done quickly because you're still floating down the river! And its hard to pull in the net quickly because the salmon freak out and get twisted up in the net!

The work doesn't stop there, if the men catch a lot of salmon, the women have to do a lot of cutting and cleaning. I remember my auntie being so mad because we brought back a bath tub full of kings! Even with the help of some friends, it took all day to cut and clean the fish, she was not very happy with us. "You bring me too much work!" she said. Still, in the end, the salmon was delicious ;)

Straight TRAPPIN!

SO, this semester I chose an object at the museum to explore and learn about. I came across the Athabaskan exhibit and I had to choose the "fish trap". You know, the long basket style net with the cone shaped opening? The ones that are hung up at random places in huge buildings? Yeah, THOSE things.. Anyways, this sparked my interests in other clever, insidious traps that have been used by the native people of Alaska. Upon doing some research for the fish trap, a "dead fall trap" came up. It's a pretty simple contraption and is quite effective for catching wolves, martin, and basically anything that doesn't weigh over 100 pounds. Dead fall traps are much like the ones you see in cartoons ( the box with a stick with a string attached holding one side up with some cheese or something under it). This is basically the same concept, except the dead fall trap uses heavy logs instead of a box with cheese under it.
The picture above shows the stakes in the ground in sort of a circle pattern. The two horizontal logs are the ones that catch the eager animals head. So basically, the animal comes along, smells some bate and bites it. The bate is attached to a string that connects to a sensitive stick holding a heavy log. The heavy log is resting on the horizontal piece and comes down on the animals neck or head, very quickly. This is a very smart and simple contraption just like the fish trap, it basically works for itself. The only work that needs to be done with these traps in collecting the catch!