Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Recalling Gwich’in Indian Elder Hamel Frank


Hamel Frank preparing the skull of a caribou for roasting over a fire.

©Bert Gildart: Recently I have seen images on Kenneth Frank’s Facebook page recalling his father, Hamel Frank.  His images also stir strong memories for Janie and me, for our experiences in the Arctic created lasting friends, and one of them was  Kenneth’s father.

Hamel was a great man, and we got to know him over a period of about ten years.  During a portion of that time, we taught school, but then later returned as journalists, which also enabled me to gather information about one of North America’s most remarkable group of people. As well, we hiked the Arctic Refuge and then another summer, spent four months living out of a wall tent as we journeyed along the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers in our johnboat. (I think this epitomizes the ultimate form of freedom.)

The group of people I’m referring to are known  as the Gwich’in, and they live further north than any other group of Indians,  specifically, they live just south of the Brooks Ranger in Alaska.  Hamel Frank was one from that group, and we got to know him through our friends Kenneth and Caroline Frank.  (Kenneth, incidentally, says he was graduated from the college at Gold Camp, which really means he is a student of his environment and has the knowledge to help preserve the ways of his ancestors.)

While I taught school Janie would visit elders such as Hamel and jot down the stories these people related.   One of those stories tells of a hunting experience, but more importantly, it recalls the importance of caribou to this group, many of whom still work as subsistence hunters. From Hamel’s recollections, I provide the following, a recollection which tells of a time of near starvation:

Several days later Hamel recalled that his older brothers, Nathaniel and Elaa, lashed on their snowshoes and sought help at Christian Village, some 30 miles away.  They took with them one blanket and the hind leg of a porcupine. Their timing was just right, and that, according to Hamel, was luck, because in those days people were scattered and could have been out hunting or trapping.  But Jim Christian, Ambrose William and Moses Sam were there, and for Nathaniel and Elaa that was even more good  luck.

During the winter, the three young men had been camping over by Tt’oo tthoo van (Brown Grass Lake), and next day, they returned for some of the food they had cached. They stayed the night and in the morning, they hitched up their dogs, put a little food in their toboggan and returned to Christian Village.  Nathaniel and Elaa then snowshoed back to Ch’at’oonjik (Crow Nest River), taking with them what little food could be spared…

“Now we are better,” said Hamel with a nod. “And now, it’s going on to spring. But the only place there was caribou was over on the Sheenjik.  So now everyone was going over to the Sheenjik and started killing caribou. People from Arctic Village go to the Sheenjik. But not us,” said Hamel.

CaribouHooves HamelFrank

L TO R:  The Gwich’in use everything from the caribou, even the hooves, which they boil  to create
a broth, eaten when times were hard; Hamel Frank with pair of snowshoes which he made.



Hamel explained that that summer they stayed in Arctic Village. But later that fall they went to Big Rock Mountain [just north of Gold Camp] and with the help of Arctic Village residents, they built a cabin.  Here, they waited for the caribou, which soon began their return from the north.

“Then the caribou were going back south there were so many,” exclaimed Hamel. “At first, we just watched the caribou migrating.

“That was a better year!  That year,” smiled Hamel, “there were lots of caribou trails…”

Janie and I both believe that the opportunity to work with these people has provided us with some of our most memorable experiences, and we hope that the ways of the Gwich’in will always be respected. To learn more about this group you can check out Kenneth Frank’s  Facebook page, and the website of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.  You can also see more of my experiences with Kenneth by following this link which tells of an incredible ice fishing trip.




*In A Field Where Camas Grows (This story tell about Chief Joseph, the famous Nez Perce Indian)



4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

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