Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nicholai Joekay: Part 1


I’m Uliggaq, and I’m from Napaskiak, but I live here in Bethel.

My name is Nicholai Joekay. Uliggaq is my Yup’ik name, and I grew up in Napaskiak, but I live here on the lands of Orutsararmiut in Bethel.

The story that I want to tell began in 2003 after my first year of college.

There was a group of us students from different places in the YK Delta who were chosen to travel to Washington, D.C.

To what would be the National Museum of the American Indian

Which wasn’t built until 2006, I believe, or opened in 2006, one of those years.

But our task when we went down there was to take all of the exhibits for the Yup’ik Exhibit

Because they were creating a virtual online exhibit.

So, we had to take each of these exhibit items, take pictures of them, turn it ten degrees, take another picture.

So, the idea was to have a 3D image that you could take and drag and look at all of these different amazing artifacts of our culture.

We had some elders that went with us, and their task was to tell us what is was made of, what it was used for, when they might have made it.

So, there was all kinds of cool stuff we were able to handle, and we were able to take, I mean, and learn about

Things that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do out here, because all of our things have, you know, they’re up in museums, or, you know, left them behind to colonization, and all of that stuff.

So, one of the cool things...

So, one of the cool things that happened that I didn’t really appreciate at the time, was there was a mask

That wasn’t a mask, but you wear over the face.

It was one that was put on like a hat, and it was a king salmon mask.

And what we were told then was that the shaman who created the mask would wear it when he’d pray for salmon on the Kuskokwim.

Using the tide to go out and come back in in his qayaq.

And years later, fast forward to 2002, and I’m back in college after a long hiatus

And I’m doing research about shamans.

And I learned about this shaman who had all of these different masks that originated in Napaskiak, my hometown, that ended up in different parts of the world in museums.

And I learned that his his Yup’ik name is Ikamrailnguq, and his Engish name is Guzma Wassilie, but everyone in Napaskiak knew him as Uassili.

And come to find out, he was my grandpa’s great-uncle.

And so, what was four generations above me, my great-great-grandmother’s brother, was Ikamrailnguq.

And I had heard things about him when I was growing up, but these were things that were related to the church.

I knew that he was an ardent believer of the Orthodox faith.

And he helped to build up the faith in the community in Napaskiak.

But what I didn’t know was the fact that he was one of the last shamans in Napaskiaq.

And it was in this, doing this research, where I was finding out, you know, not only am I a descendant of his bloodline, but his sister, my great-great-grandmother, was also a healer.

And so, it was a family of extremely gifted and talented individuals.

But when we were growing up, a lot of the stoies that we heard about shamans were like, you know, from the colonizers’ point of view, from the church’s point of view

Where, you know, they just said that they were worshipping the devil, they were doing witchcraft, it was all superstition, we just need to let it go

Those were the old things that no longer are relevant to today’s society.

But in doing this research and talking with my family, it got them opening up and remembering and reminiscing about all these stories that their dad, my grandpa, had told them about Uassili.