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<v John Active>[wind blowing] [man singing] In the time before there was man, there was only raven, <v John Active>circling above the vast northern tundra. <v John Active>One day on a beach in a peapod, man began to <v John Active>develop. <v John Active>For 4 days, he lay still, growing. <v John Active>On the 5th day, the pod burst open. <v John Active>Man rolled out and stood up. He looked about him with curiousity. <v John Active>?inaudible? into the sky, the first man saw a dark object flying <v John Active>towards him. Raven landed in front <v John Active>of man and began to question him about who he was and from where he had come. <v John Active>After hearing man's story, the raven flew away. <v John Active>He returned 4 days later with salmonberries for the man to eat. <v John Active>Raven then began fashioning all the animals man would need to survive
<v John Active>the caribou, the bear, the seals, the <v John Active>salmon, the whales, and all the other creatures <v John Active>of the land. <v John Active>The air and the water that would sustain him. <v John Active>Raven taught man all that he needed to know about these animals. Then, <v John Active>taking some clay and grass, raven created woman <v John Active>and gave her to man as mate. <v John Active>Soon thereafter, she gave birth to a child. <v John Active>This was the origin of my people. <v John Active>The Yu'pik Eskimo of Alaska's barren sea coast. [man singing] <v John Active>In the ages since that time, our lifestyle evolved as slowly as it takes 10,000 years to pass. <v John Active>During those 100 centuries, we learned the techniques of survival
<v John Active>in a bleak and foreboding environment. <v John Active>[dogs whining] [people speaking] <v John Active>We subsisted almost entirely off of what the tundra, the
<v John Active>rivers, and the oceans stubbornly yielded up to us. <v John Active>[drums play] [man <v John Active>singing]
<v John Active>Our numbers were always few.
<v John Active>We gathered together in small settlements located near good <v John Active>fishing and hunting sites. <v John Active>Our lives were based upon the rhythm of the season, <v John Active>we depended upon the resourcefulness of our men who fished <v John Active>and hunted. <v John Active>[hammering] [dogs howling and barking]. <v John Active>And we relied upon the industriousness of our women who kept
<v John Active>our homes. [drums playing] <v John Active>[man singing] In our great flat land, the sky overhead
<v John Active>dominated our lives. <v John Active>The most powerful forces, however, and the ones on which <v John Active>we depended heavily, were the great tundra rivers, the lakes <v John Active>and the ponds, and the oceans which beat against our shores. <v John Active>These waters provided food for us in all seasons. <v John Active>Our two great rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim are frozen over for <v John Active>half the year and are alive with salmon the other half. <v John Active>The lakes and ponds are home for the many fish we catch through the ice <v John Active>during the winter. And those of us who live on the coastline, count <v John Active>on the taking of seal and walrus. <v John Active>In the spring, while the weather was still cool, but before breakup,
<v John Active>those of us who lived in the interior traveled to our outlying <v John Active>camps. <v John Active>We carried with us our food stores, hunting supplies, and our skin <v John Active>boats for the return trip. <v John Active>Inland, we hunted ?inaudible? and caught the first of the migratory birds which came <v John Active>back to the tundra each year to nest and breed. <v John Active>At our coastal camps, we hunted the many sea mammals who inhabit
<v John Active>our shores. <v John Active>We use all parts of their bodies. <v John Active>Later, when the rivers were finally clear of ice, we traveled back
<v John Active>to our settlements in skin boats. <v John Active>We began preparing for the summer salmon runs.
<v John Active>Our kayaks were taken out of storage. <v John Active>As the weather warmed, we moved again from our settlements, this time <v John Active>to our summer fish camps. [squeaking] [seagulls] <v John Active>There, through the long Arctic summer days, almost without
<v John Active>rest, we fish for salmon. <v John Active>They thought of a winter with little food in reserve drove us to work <v John Active>hard and long. <v John Active>The men fished and the women cut and dry the salmon. <v John Active>Some seasons when the salmon runs were small <v John Active>or when the stormy weather kept us off the river, we knew the winter would be difficult. <v John Active>So we fished until there were no more salmon to be caught. <v John Active>In the autumn, we took our dog teams into the mountains in search <v John Active>of game. Wolf, squirrel, and beaver. <v John Active>If we were fortunate, we were able to kill a bear. <v John Active>And if we were very lucky, we took a caribou. <v John Active>[gun fires] <v John Active>We have always had a special relationship with our dogs.
<v John Active>They were our constant companions. <v John Active>After freeze up, they've moved us quickly and easily over the tundra <v John Active>and on the rivers. <v John Active>As the cold spread across the land, we returned to our main settlements <v John Active>to wait through the long winter night. <v John Active>During that season, life was calmer. <v John Active>The great fishing of salmon and the intensive gathering of summer
<v John Active>were replaced by quieter activities. <v John Active>We added to our food stores by taking fish through the ice with traps <v John Active>or ?inaudible?. <v John Active>In this manner, we caught Pike, Lush, Blackfish, <v John Active>Needlefish, Whitefish, Eel and ?Tom? <v John Active>cod. <v John Active>At the beginning of winter, we set the traps with the open end facing the tundra <v John Active>lakes to catch the fish as they returned to the rivers and ?inaudible?. <v John Active>[man singing] The short days and cold weather kept us closer to our villages.
<v John Active>Men and boys passed most of the winter hours in the qasgip, the men's communal <v John Active>house. <v John Active>For us, the qasgip was school, <v John Active>church and council chambers all in one. <v John Active>We spent the days carving masks for our dances or <v John Active>preparing tools for hunting and fishing. <v John Active>For the young boys, the qasgip was a place to learn at the feet of <v John Active>their elders. [man singing] <v John Active>Towards dusk, the fire pit was stoked with wood.
<v John Active>The ritual fire bath occupied us for the remainder of the evening. <v John Active>Following the bath, we might visit our wives and families <v John Active>only to return later to sleep in qasgip. [man continues singing] <v John Active>During this quiet time, we enjoyed our great yearly celebrations, <v John Active>the messenger feast and the bladder feast during which everyone gathered <v John Active>in the qasgip for storytelling, dancing, and sharing. <v John Active>The bladder feast was celebrated to give thanks for our hunting and to ensure that <v John Active>next year's food gathering and fishing would be successful.
<v John Active>[man singing] <v John Active>Although we struggled dealing with our environment, we understood it and accepted <v John Active>it for better or worse. <v John Active>
<v John Active>So it was in our land, the seasons <v John Active>past, we lived our lives in constant battle with the elements <v John Active>much as our fathers had lived. <v John Active>Hunting, fishing and gathering. <v John Active>Thus, for 10000 hard winters and 10000 short <v John Active>summers. <v John Active>Then one day, about 100 years ago, everything <v John Active>changed. <v William Weinland>My name is William Weinland. <v William Weinland>In 1884, Henry Hartman and I were sent to this corner of <v William Weinland>southwest Alaska by our brethren from the Moravian Church
<v William Weinland>located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. <v William Weinland>We had been charged with the task of locating a proper site where the <v William Weinland>establishment of a new mission for our church. <v William Weinland>With the help of our 4 Eskimo guides, whom we paid <v William Weinland>25 cents a day, we made our way up the Kuskokwim River. <v William Weinland>We traveled up this huge meandering waterway for several days. <v William Weinland>On all sides of us, the tundra extended out to the horizon. <v William Weinland>Then on Friday, June 20th, 1884, <v William Weinland>we came around the bend and away in the distance to the left, <v William Weinland>there appeared a stretch of high land. <v John Active>They call themselves Moravian Missionaries. <v John Active>We were curious about what they intended to do in our land.
<v William Weinland>This place is called Mumtrekhlagamute. <v William Weinland>It is a station of the Alaska Commercial Company in this situated <v William Weinland>about 150 miles up the Kuskokwim. <v William Weinland>The agent here is Nikolai Komolkoshen, a native Eskimo, <v William Weinland>a man of good business qualities. <v William Weinland>Another local trader who helped us is Reinhold <v William Weinland>Separe, a Scandinavian who had been in the area for <v William Weinland>many years. <v William Weinland>But the most helpful to us, by far, was Edward Lind, <v William Weinland>whom they referred to as traitor Lind. <v William Weinland>Mr. Lind owns one of the largest boats in the region. <v William Weinland>He lighters goods to Bethel from the Down River Warehouse.
<v John Active>Even before the coming of these Moravians, we had experienced some contact <v John Active>with other Europeans, Russians, whalers and traders. <v John Active>We bartered for glass, iron, cloth and other goods. <v John Active>We gave them furs in exchange. [music plays] <v William Weinland>After several days in Mumtrekhlagamute, we continued
<v William Weinland>on our search for the best site for the construction of our church and school. <v William Weinland>Mr. Lind, the company ?does? <v William Weinland>several hundred miles further upriver to the old <v William Weinland>Russian fortress of Kolmakovsky. <v William Weinland>This place is a long established trading station. <v William Weinland>Mr. Lind urged us to settle ourselves at this site. <v William Weinland>Probably because he could then place his children in our care. <v William Weinland>But after careful consideration, we judged Mumtrekhlagamute <v William Weinland>to be certainly the most favorable place we have yet seen <v William Weinland>for the commencement of our mission. <v John Active>After they returned from upriver, the two men departed.
<v John Active>But the next summer, another small group of Moravians arrived by <v John Active>boat. <v William Weinland>Following our initial expedition to the Kuskokwim in 1884, <v William Weinland>5 of us returned to Bethel to begin permanent work <v William Weinland>on the establishment of our mission and school. <v William Weinland>Brother John Kilbuck and his wife Edith, Brother <v William Weinland>Hans Torgersen, our carpenter. <v William Weinland>And my wife, Caroline Weinland <v William Weinland>and I. <v Caroline Weinland>Our work was extremely difficult and was made all the more so when tragedy <v Caroline Weinland>struck very early after our arrival. <v Caroline Weinland>While hauling freight from downriver to Bethel, Brother Torgersen <v Caroline Weinland>fell into the Kuskokwim and was drowned. <v Caroline Weinland>This tragedy left us without a skilled carpenter, and with winter quickly approaching,
<v Caroline Weinland>we were hard pressed to get our first home built. <v Caroline Weinland>But my husband, William Weinland and brother Kilbuck worked hard throughout the <v Caroline Weinland>summer and finally got the building closed in. <v Caroline Weinland>Through the first winter, the struggle was to keep warm. <v Caroline Weinland>The days were spent in getting up enough wood to burn through the night, and the next <v Caroline Weinland>day. The entire party settled down to learn the native language. <v Caroline Weinland>The evenings were spent in comparing the words each one had learned during the day <v Caroline Weinland>and in exchanging words, each one kept a list of all the words the entire party <v Caroline Weinland>had gathered. <v Caroline Weinland>The recognized leader of our small party was Brother John Kilbuck, <v Caroline Weinland>who for several years directed our work and wrote back to Pennsylvania with <v Caroline Weinland>his long range plans for the area. <v John Kilbuck>It is evident that the time is rapidly drawing near when we must have more workers. <v John Kilbuck>This station can be made headquarters for missionary work on this river.
<v John Kilbuck>That is, if the work is to be carried on according to the following plan. <v John Kilbuck>Established preaching stations up and down the river, which can be reached <v John Kilbuck>easily from the home station, also over the tundra. <v John Kilbuck>At these preaching stations place our educated Eskimo men as teachers. <v John Kilbuck>By this plan, we think that we can have the command of the river within <v John Kilbuck>75 miles around us without a separate independent station and at less <v John Kilbuck>cost. <v John Active>Within a few short years, the Moravians had firmly established themselves <v John Active>in our land at the same time, other Europeans settled <v John Active>around the trading posts in Mumtrekghalamute, now renamed <v John Active>Bethel, the town started growing. <v John Active>[music plays]. <v John Active>Although we had known about and felt the influence of other white cultures,
<v John Active>the impact of the missionaries and traders was tremendous and irresistible. <v John Active>They introduced a new way of looking at the universe. <v John Active>New ideas, new tools for hunting and gathering, new foods, <v John Active>new languages, new forces began to reshape in decades <v John Active>what had taken 10,000 years to mold. <v John Active>[music plays] [dogs barking] <v John Active>
<v John Active>The changes that were made were far reaching, some helped us, <v John Active>some did not. <v Speaker>[sawing] [hammering] [stomping]. <v Speaker>[hammering] [dogs barking] <v John Active>The health of our people improved as doctors and nurses came to the area.
<v John Active>[dogs barking] <v John Active>We began to enjoy something we had barely experienced before, <v John Active>leisure time. [music plays] <v John Active>One major change was in the foods that we ate.
<v John Active>Red meat became more available with the development of the reindeer industry <v John Active>by the Moravians. <v Speaker>We write asking for reindeer for our mission stations on this river <v Speaker>and for the native villages wherein our stations are located with <v Speaker>a view to supplying eventually the whole river basin with the deer. <v Speaker>[yelling] <v John Active>Around the turn of the century, herders from Lapland were brought to teach <v John Active>us how to tend these domesticated caribou. <v John Active>We butchered our meat and stored it.
<v John Active>We were able to sell meat to miners in Ididarod and Canyon Creek. <v John Active>We also supplied reindeer meat to the children's home near ?Gwi Took?. <v John Active>Our ties to the outside world increased greatly when it was discovered
<v John Active>that there was a channel in the Kuskokwim deep enough to allow oceangoing boats <v John Active>access upriver. [music plays] <v John Active>And in the late 1920s, aircraft began flying into the delta.
<v John Active>[music plays] [plane engine starts] <v John Active>Getting in and out of Bethel by air was never an easy task.
<v John Active>These new forces caused our lives and our beliefs to <v John Active>change. Some of the old ways were not suitable, we <v John Active>were told. <v John Active>Once we believed what our shamans taught us, we communicated <v John Active>with the spirit world through our mass dancing. <v John Active>But the Moravians found that these practices did not fit into their belief system. <v John Active>[group singing] <v John Active>The qasgig, our communal house, was replaced by the church.
<v John Active>[man singing] [woman joins singing] <v John Active>We began attending church and we celebrated Christian festivals and
<v John Active>American holidays. [kids playing] <v John Active>[bell ringing] The introduction of Western education was another powerful change.
<v Speaker>In this section of the Western district, there are at present 4 fully established <v Speaker>United States public schools in Bethel, ?Quinhagak?, Goodnews, and Akiachak. <v Speaker>Each school has its own peculiar conditions to contend with the principal <v Speaker>one being the inadequate force. <v Speaker>The majority of the teachers had too many scholars in crowded rooms to do good work. <v Speaker>The teachers, however, did their best, and it is to their credit that they were not <v Speaker>altogether discouraged. <v Speaker>The attendance was good and regular at all the schools except at Bethel, where the <v Speaker>scholars were more tardy, in spite of the efforts of the teachers. <v John Active>Attending school on a regular basis changed the way our young people thought <v John Active>about life. Our seasonal hunting and gathering cycle conflicted <v John Active>with the school year. <v John Kilbuck>In our second year, we opened a school, we had a great deal of trouble getting
<v John Kilbuck>scholars, parents said that they would not send their children to school, they would <v John Kilbuck>die if they dwelled in our house. <v John Kilbuck>Besides the many schools we established in the area, we also founded the Moravian <v John Kilbuck>Children's Home in 1926. <v John Kilbuck>It was built near the village of Kwethluk, about 25 miles up from Bethel. <v John Kilbuck>The site was sheltered from the northerly winds by Willow alder and spruce <v John Kilbuck>here along the bank of the Kwethluk River, a tributary of the Kuskokwim, there <v John Kilbuck>seems to be fair garden soil. <v John Kilbuck>Within easy walking distance are some foothills and beyond the mountains can <v John Kilbuck>be clearly seen. The site suggests permanence, practicability and pleasing <v John Kilbuck>scenery. <v John Kilbuck>The children's home could accommodate 50 young people with a girls' dormitory
<v John Kilbuck>and later a large boys' dormitory. <v John Kilbuck>The home operated continuously until 1973, when <v John Kilbuck>increased costs and declining attendance forced us to close it. <v John Kilbuck>We had operated there for 46 years. <v John Kilbuck>The high point of those years occurred in 1951 when we celebrated the
<v John Kilbuck>25th anniversary of the founding of the children's home. <v John Kilbuck>Many of the children we helped raise came back for that special day. <v John Active>All of these changes, some good, some <v John Active>bad. <v John Active>Some bringing the promise of a better and easier life.
<v John Active>Some forcing us to break with our ancestors <v John Active>and with our traditions. <v John Active>All these changes so sudden, so <v John Active>permanent. All these new faces joining <v John Active>our lives, bringing the outside world to our <v John Active>land. [man singing] <v Speaker>This program was partially funded by The Lower Kuskokwim School District.
We of the River
Producing Organization
KYUK-TV (Television station : Bethel, Alaska)
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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"In 1885, Moravian missionaries arrived in the Lower Kuskokwim and helped establish the town of Bethel. 'We of the River' chronicles their arrival and the emergence into the 20th century of the Yup'ik Eskimo people who have lived in this area for more than 12,000 years. "This program is the first video/film history of this corner of North America. It was produce from old films donated by many of the original pioneers. The Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta is still one of the most traditional areas in the U.S. Europeans came late to settle the North, when photography was already well established, these first settlers got the first 'film' look at a crucial transition period of a primitive people. "Because of the remoteness of the area and the recent introduction of television, most people had never seen moving pictures of their old villages and ancestors. Many community leaders came and reviewed these films, and helped with putting this local history together. There was a direct link between the footage and the people who helped to fashion the product, a true community effort."--1986 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Producing Organization: KYUK-TV (Television station : Bethel, Alaska)
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
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Duration: 0:57:49
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Chicago: “We of the River,” 1986-10-08, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 2, 2024,
MLA: “We of the River.” 1986-10-08. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 2, 2024. <>.
APA: We of the River. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from