By Jean Craighead George
The story, “Julie of the Wolves,” by Jean Craighead George is a fascinating tale of Old World traditions, courage, and strength. In her small Eskimo village she is known as Miyax; to her pen pal in San Francisco she is Julie. When Miyax must decide on the life she wishes to have or the one that has been chosen for her, Julie chooses to set out on her own across the Alaskan wilderness in search of a new world where she can live her dreams. Her “trip” quickly escalates into an adventure when she becomes lost in the wilderness. She must survive on her own without any supplies but her common sense and knowledge of the wilderness that her father has taught her. Slowly Julie is accepted by a pack of wolves and they become her family. The day finally arrives when she must once again make a decision that will transform her life.
When Miyax was four years old her mother died. She did not remember her very well, but she did remember the day. That was the day when Kapugen took Miyax and walked away from everything. He had left an important job, a fine house, and all his possessions. Kapugen and Miyax walked all the way to the seal camp where they set up a new life. For Miyax, the years she and her father, Kapugen, spent living together at the seal camp were wonderful. Kapugen and Miyax hunted and fished, made fishing nets, mended boots, made boats, and carved walrus tusks. The evenings were spent singing songs and dancing. All the songs were about the sea and the land and the creatures. Kapugen told her about the spirits of the animals and taught her the ways of Eskimo life. The Eskimos from Mekoryuk spoke English and called her Julie. During the summers many families from Mekoryuk came to the seal camp to hunt and fish. She did not mind when these people called her Julie until one day her father called her that. “She stomped her foot and told him her name was Miyax. “I am Eskimo, not a gussak!”
One day Kupugen’s Aunt Martha appeared at the door. She and Kapugen had a loud disagreement. Miyax could not understand the conversation, they were speaking in English but, Aunt Martha did look over at her a number of times and then took out a piece of paper and showed it to Kapugen. After some time she left, promising to return. The next morning Kapugen held Miyax and told her that she must go to school. She was nine years old and there was a law that required her to attend. Also, he had to go and fight in a war. Before she left Kapugen told her that if anything happened to him and she was unhappy, she could leave when she turned thirteen. At thirteen she would be permitted to marry Daniel, Naka’s son. Naka was Kapugen’s partner and Kapugen assured her that he would agree, he also had old time Eskimo traditions.
At Martha’s house she was no longer Miyax, but instead Julie. She went to school and learned English. One day Martha told Julie that Kapugen had been missing for a month and would not be returning. Eventually, Julie pushed her memories back and accepted her life in Mekoryuk. A while
Later as Julie was walking home, a man pulled up along side of her and introduced himself telling about his daughter, who was about the same age, that lived in San Francisco. His daughter, Amy, wanted him to find a girl who would like to exchange letters. Julie like the idea and accepted. Soon she and Amy were writing back and forth telling about their lives, families, and homes. Julie was enchanted with Amy and her life. In one of the letters Amy asked Julie to come and live with her.
In Mekoryuk there was no high school and only the children from wealthy families were sent to the mainland to continue their education. Martha could not afford that and Julie spent her days doing chores and waiting for Naka to call. Julie thought that if she did marry Daniel Naka would send her to school. One day the call came and Julie was sent by plane to live with Naka and his family. When she arrives and is introduced to Naka’s wife Nusan and Daniel, she instantly notices that Daniel is not “normal.” Nusan detects Julie’s disappointment and reassures her by saying that Daniel is a good boy and will be like a brother to her. This makes Julie feel much better. However, this is short-lived when Julie and Daniel are married the next day. To make matters worse, Naka is an alcoholic and becomes very abusive with Nusan. Julie works with Nusan sewing boots for the tourists and life become routine. One evening when Nusan leaves to bail Naka out of jail Daniel comes home and tells Julie that she must be like a wife with him and mate. He attacks her and Julie falls to the floor with Daniel who is kicking her. He is frightened too and quickly gets up and leaves telling her tomorrow “he can.” Sick and dizzy Julie gets up and decides to leave immediately. Grabbing some clothes and a few other necessities, she walks out.
Julie is no longer Julie, but Miyax. She has decided to travel to the airport, far away, where she will go to San Francisco and live with Amy. Miyax must use all the skills her father has taught about the animals, the land, the Eskimos. She must locate the North Star in order for her to find the way unfortunately, the sun will not set for a month this time of year and soon Miyax is lost. After traveling for many days on the tundra, she is hungry and tired. She comes upon a pack of wolves and decides to camp near them in hopes of getting some food. It is clear that there is a leader. She names him Amaroq and spends many hours watching the wolves interact, learning their ways. There are three other adults in the pack and five pups. Miyax names the other adult wolves; Silver, Nails, and Jello. Silver is Amaroq’s mate. Silver and Nails follow Amaroq on hunts but Jello does not. He is the outcast of the pack and forced to stay with the pups until the others return.
After observing the pack for a few days while maintaining her distance, Miyak begins to figure out their language. She soon realizes the different types of stares, head movements, and nuzzling are the way to communicate. At one point Amaroq approaches her. On all fours, like the other wolves, Miyax crawls over to him and nuzzles him with her head under his head, signaling to him that she knows he is the leader and accepts that. After this encounter Miyax is slowly able to close the physical distance between herself and the pack. Eventually Miyax tells them that she is hungry and needs food. The request is understood and after an outing Miyax is rewarded when Amaroq brings her food in a “belly basket.” The days drag on and Miyax is now staying with the pack knowing that they are her only hope of survival. Winter is fast approaching and this will make her life even more difficult. The pups have gotten used to Miyax and she notices that one in particular stands out. He has his father’s presence and it is clear that he too will one day be the leader. Miyax names him Kapu and they become fast friends.
As the wolves travel, so too does Miyax. She follows their footsteps while continuing to use all the skills her father had taught so long ago. Miyax still wishes to find the airport and finally go to her pen pal in San Francisco. But for now she must get through the winter and this means staying close to Amaroq and the others.
One day, with the pack nearby, Miyax hears a strange sound. She realizes in horror that it is the sound of and engine in the sky. Miyax sees Amaroq and Kapu out on the tundra just as the plane comes into view. The only planes that come out here are the ones with hunters, she thinks. Miyax calls to the wolves but it is too late. Amaroq and Kapu are both shot. Stricken with grief, Miyax has to wait until the plane leaves. Amaroq lay in the snow dead and the hunters did not even bother to come back and get him. Kapu was alive but badly injured. Miyax decides that Kapu is too heavy to move to her tent, so she builds the tent around him instead. For many days and nights Miyax nursed Kapu. Silver stopped by bringing what little food she could hunt. Then one day Kapu got up and ran over the snow without stumbling and Miyax knew it was time to move. Still following the pack now led by Kapu, Miyax keeps busy hunting, carving, sewing, chopping wood, or making candles.
Miyax continues on until one day she hears footsteps on the ice. An Eskimo hunter and his wife are traveling. After inviting them in and talking for a while, Miyax learns that the hunter has a friend. This friend is Kapugen. When Miyax hears this she is stunned and tries to get as much information as she can about this Kapugen. She learns that Kapugen does not live far from where she is and decides that she must go and see if this is the father that she has thought to be dead for so long.
After traveling a short distance Miyax hears the bark of Kapu. She cannot let them follow her; it is too dangerous for them. Knowing this Miyax commands to them, in their language to stay. Kapu stoops for a moment, almost as if not believing her message, and then turns and head in the opposite direction. She has spoken her last words to them.
Miyax reaches the village where her father should be and finds the house where her father should be. After knocking on the door, Miyax hears Kapugen answer and watches as he opens the door. Kapugen does not recognize Miyax at first and asks who she is. After a warm reunion Kapugen introduces Miyax to his new wife, Ellen. Miyax is horrified as she looks at her and sees a gussack. Her eyes sweep the room and she notices for the first time the radio, cotton curtains, electric stove, coffee pot, and china dishes. Ellen explains to Miyax in poor Upick that she is a teacher. The phone rings and Kapugen explains that he must leave but will return shortly and then they will talk. Kapugen puts on his long American made Arctic field coat and leaves. Ellen goes into the kitchen to prepare some food and Miyax is left alone. Miyax picks up her things and silently leaves the house. She is an Eskimo and as an Eskimo she will live. One day she will find another like herself and marry him, but for now she will go back to the tundra where her home is.
Most people believe that Inuits live only in igloos. The word igloo means, any kind of house. Igloos were only built when there were no other materials to build with. For a long time Inuits have built houses out of wood or stone and turf. Eskimo hunters may still use igloos as temporary dwellings. Am Eskimo can construct an igloo in about an hour or two. First, a circle is drawn in the snow to mark the place where it will stand. Then a long swordlike knife is used to cut blocks from the snow. Snowblocks are approximately two feet long, one foot thick, and one foot high. These blocks are placed one on top of the other in a circle to form a dome shape. Snow is used to cover up any cracks. There is a long, narrow tunnel attached to make an entrance. The inside of the igloo is one small room. It can become fairly warm. With lamps or a fire the temperature can reach sixty degrees. Animal skins are used to cover the floor and provide bedding for sleeping.
During the winter men did much of the hunting. Animals in the Arctic are very important to Eskimos and their way of life. Whales, seals, and walruses were hunted with harpoons. Bow and arrows, nets and hooks for fish, and nets on long poles were used to hunt fish and birds. Throughout Inuit history women and boys did most of the trapping of animals.
Animals that were hunted provided food, clothing, heat, and shelter. Fibers from bird feathers were spun into thread. Sealmeat was eaten and seal sinews or tendons were also made into thread. The sinew swells when it is wet and helps keep clothing waterproof. Oil from various animals were used in lamps. Fur provided clothing while scraps were used to make toys or dolls. Animal skins were made into hooded jackets or parkas. Boots, called mukluks, were made out of sealskin with walrus hide on the bottom. These are only a few examples of the many uses of the animals an Inuit will hunt and kill.
Mothers prepared most of the family’s meals. The stove was a lamp called a “kudlik.” A kudlik was very essential in an Inuit home. Besides its use in cooking, the kudlik provided light and heat, and dried wet clothes. Fish oil, seal oil, or animal blubber were used for fuel. The wick was made out of moss or grass.
Inuits ate raw meat and fish when hunting or traveling but usually boiled it over a kudlik for an evening meal. Vitamins and minerals are plentiful in uncooked fish and meat. Dried greens and seaweed were often added to the pot. Inuits ate almost every part of an animal including the liver, heart, and intestines. “Muktuk,” a thin layer of fat under a whale’s skin was considered a delicacy and a special treat.
Babies spent their first year carried on their mother’s back in an “amaut.” An amaut was a hood on the mother’s jacket made especially for that purpose. Inuit children were played with and cuddled a lot. Toddlers and young children spent winter playing indoors. There were many games for kids that included cat’s cradle, the hopping game, and using an animal skin as a trampoline.
Neighbors would lake care of each other’s children. Occasionally, a family with too many children would give one child to a family that had no children.
Inuits typically lived in small groups but there were never any tribes or chiefs. Leaders were chosen for special skills. If a hunting trip was planned, the best hunter would be the leader. The same went for fishing. Arguments might have been settled by a singing contest. If two men disagreed, then they would have made up songs to insult one another. The man whose song was the funniest, cleverest, or most insulting was the winner.
In the Arctic it is necessary to share. Hunters would give food to widows, the elderly, or others who were unable to hunt. Only clothing, tools, charms, toys, and dogs were considered personal property
In winter, when the waterways were clogged with ice, and long distances were traveled dogsleds were used. “Komatik” is the word for dogsled. The sled usually carried supplies. Komatiks were made out of wood, whalebone, or whatever solid material was available. The runners might have been made out of rolled up sealskin or frozen fish. A family had about five or six dogs. These dogs would have been Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malmutes, or Eskimo dogs. The dogs might have been different sizes and weights but all were specially adapted to the Arctic. Their tails curved upwards so snow wouldn’t drag them down. Adult dogs slept outside in the snow because of their thick fur. There were two coats of fur on these dogs. The outer fur kept them warm while the inner fur protected them from water. Eskimo dogs had pointed ears and oval faces. These dogs didn’t bite, but howled like their ancestors, the wolves.
The driver of the sled usually ran behind or sometimes stood on the back. Woman and children often helped train the dogs. To start the dogs the driver would yell, “Mush!” A team of five dogs pulled a load of around two hundred and fifty pounds and ran from twenty to forty miles per day. Eskimo dogs ran faster when their stomachs weren’t full. They were fed every other day. Traveling over ice was easier than plowing through it, so Komatiks were used whenever possible.