By Vivian Faith Prescott
Thaleichthys pacificus, also known as hooligan, candlefish, saak (Lingít), ooligan, or oolichan.
Smoking Hooligan is a fishcamp tradition! Hooligan run in the Stikine River region around mid-April when the migratory birds arrive on the river flats. Locals catch the hooligan on the Stikine River with nets. The fish are then gifted to Elders and other locals. It’s common to receive a five-gallon bucket gift of hooligan fish.
Hooligan can be frozen, pickled, fried-up fresh, or smoked. To begin the smoking process, hooligan are brined in salt water in a tote for a few minutes. Then the fish are set out on the racks. The racks are loaded into the smokehouse for a few hours to smoke. We sit by the smokehouse while the fish smokes, often checking on the alder fire, the texture, and the appearance of the fish. This can take several hours. We tell stories while we wait. “Once, when I was out fishing with your grandfather…” When the fish are finished smoking, we remove the racks from the smokehouse and carefully take the hooligan off the racks. We take the smoked fish into the house, and the house fills with a wonderful smoky scent. (The final step is a family secret!)
Our gift economy is essential for our survival on the island – receiving hooligan and then sharing it with others in our community is a part of this interconnection. Gifting is a value important to the Tlingit culture and is now shared by all the island residents. Hooligan season is an exciting time in Wrangell!
“Haa atxaayí haa kusteeyíx sitee” (“our food is our way of life”) is a value inherent in the Tlingit culture.
Attáldat is a Sámi word meaning our community. It is a way of living that thrives on giving and sharing to sustain the community.
Home is Hooligan
Vivian Faith Prescott
Home is biting the head off the small
hooligan fish, eating belly and bones,
the crisp, salty tail.
Home is a pot full of shrimp dumped
in the middle of a table, my hands bending
shrimp spines, pinching tails, pulling heads.
Tiny red eggs cover my hands, my plate heaps
This is what home is—a red dungy crab,
floating to the surface in a boiling pot of water,
foam rising, bubbling over.
We dip the crab in butter.
Home is halibut slime on my pants,
a fat slab of halibut meat on a tray,
another sizzling in the cast iron pan.
Home is blueberry-stained lips,
green fiddlehead stains on my shirt,
salmonberries in milk and sugar.
There are clams in a bucket, muddy boots,
bloody sleeves, sparkling silver fish scales
stuck to my arms.
This is what home is—smoke curling
from the sides of the smokehouse drifting
around the neighborhood.
I peel back salmon skin, put a hot piece
of smoked salmon in my mouth
and I could—I really could—die
right then and there, happy as a full smokehouse,
with hands reeking from smoke scent
and the soft, red salmon flesh on my tongue.
Spruce Tips: Shéiyi ghitghaa
By Vivian Mork Yéilk’
One of the most interesting traditional Alaskan foods is spruce tips. Spruce tips are the small new growth on the end of the spruce tree branches. Spruce trees in Lingít (Tlingit) are called shéiyi, and the big trees are called seet. The needles are called ghítghaa.
In Southeast Alaska, spruce tips bloom from the end of April through May. Harvesting enough spruce tips in the spring for your winter needs is an important part of our Alaskan food traditions. We typically freeze them in quart-size baggies and put them in the freezer for year-round use.
As an Alaska Native, it’s interesting to watch our traditional foods become popular among non-Native foodies. This can be problematic for our Elders because they were often shamed for eating our traditional foods. Harvesting traditional foods is an act of decolonization.
Harvesting spruce tips for our Elders is an important part of many Alaskans’ traditions. Consider taking an Elder with you or harvesting for Elders who cannot get out anymore. It’s also important to pass on ways of living off the land respectfully, so consider taking children so they can learn too.
When we go out harvesting spruce tips, there are protocols we follow. We typically say Gunalchéesh (thank you, in Lingít) several times while picking. Also, springtime means bears are waking up and could be in the area, so you should announce your presence with something like, “Grandmother or Grandfather, we are just out gathering today. Thank you for giving us space.” We don’t typically say “bear” out loud in the woods. I have many happy memories of harvesting, and eating spruce tips is one of my first memories.
If you’re new to trying spruce tips, make spruce tip water. It is refreshing and amazing. Cold soak spruce tips or infuse them with water on low heat or a boil. Strain and add sugar or honey to taste. You can also put it in a soda machine and make yourself a spruce tip soda.
Harvesting Spruce Tips
Vivian Faith Prescott picks spruce tips in Wrangell, Alaska. Video by Vivian Faith Prescott.