8 Pages

Eskimo Story-Knife Tales: Reflections of Change in Food Habits

WithSusan Lippe-Stokes

Modernization has led to new economic adaptations in Eskimo villages in Alaska. Changes in subsistence and dietary patterns are believed to be accompanying these adaptations. Children’s story-knife tales in the Kuskokwim River Delta Region of Alaska were found to reflect economic and dietary changes taking place.

In 1966, 83 story-knife tales were gathered in seven Kuskokwim River villages. The traditional food quest pattern for this region is described and those stories which deal specifically with food procurement are evaluated. Stories are divided into three categories—traditional (reflecting no modern influences), transitional (reflecting some modern influences) and modern.

Traditional and transitional stories occur most frequently in villages which have been subjected to less intensive Western acculturative forces and tend to reflect the least departure from traditional subsistence pursuits. Modern stories, the most common type found in Bethel, a large trade and administrative center on the Kuskokwim River, indicate a decline on reliance on the natural environment to supply subsistence needs and a greater utilization of high carbohydrate and low nutritional value store foods.

The implications of the changes in dietary patterns for the nutritional status of Kuskokwim River Eskimos are discussed. Suggestions are made for use of children’s stories or other indigenous narratives as an aid for collecting information on dietary patterns in areas where communication with inhabitants is difficult.