Stories from Our Elders

Developed as a collaborative effort between the Pre-Elementary Grant, funded by the Alaska Dept. of Education - Office of Indian Education. Artwork, photographs, and interviews by Beth Hill.

Paul Boskofsky: Words of Wisdom

Paul embeds five distinct words in his narrative that he believes are important to success: Desire, Knowledge, Common Sense, Wisdom, and Gratitude.

I'm Paul Boskofsky, born in Egegik but raised up in Kenatik as a child. Now I'm living in Naknek

My granddad was our chief. Our guide going back and forth. We'll get up to rapids, stop in the beach, and walk up and look at the lake. And I was with him and just the two of us, and he looked at... And all he says -- not now.


So I says -- Grandpa, it's flat calm. He says, "not now." So I didn't question it. So I went back to the boat and waited. And an hour later, then I understood. He could see the wind coming. And it was really blowing hard. So we looked for a nice shelter. Wait it out. He taught me a lot of good things.


We didn't have no stores to buy stuff. So we have to think of ways to make things work. We had a little stream there, had a lot of fish. Building some boats. And I didn't see no Bristol Bay boats then, until I came down. But I was seeing seiners from Kodiak Island used to come in. So I built a seiner and made another big boat for a tender. Then during the summertime we have this small salmon, and when we catch big salmon we save the eggs and you feed them, and they just go wild, grab, eating the salmon eggs. And I would literally take, I made a little seine and I found leads in the beach and I cut them and I twisted them, and made my own deadline. My mom had a curtain that she threw away. And there's, like mesh size, curtain. So I took that and made a little cork line and lead line and I'd throw the little eggs, and I'd have a long pole, pulled round. I’d catch real fish. Small ones. And they were good eating. But sometimes I would get a whole bunch and I would bring them to my mom, and she'd cook them for us. And so that was the toys that we had.


-- the stories I told at science camp. I'd tell a story. And then mainly it was kind of geared for myself. Or where I grew up where there was no school. I was -- what do you call that word -- illiterate growing up there. And there was no school and I was messed out. And finally when I finally left here, it was very difficult for me to find work. I was 18, and I registered for... At that time you were required to register for armed services. So I went to Anchorage and they learned couldn't read or write, and they said go home, I was just dismissed.


But from that point on I realized my need, and that kind of drove me, so I was able to get a job where I didn't have to know how to read or write. I was working in the laundry, just lifting sheets. That's what I was doing all day long in the hospital.


But there was a lady that was teaching patients in the evenings, and we got acquainted in the mess hall, and she asked if I was interested, and I said I need help. So she's the one that got me started in my education. And from that time on, I kind of took off. And made sure I was able to go to high school and finish high school.


And then I had seen the needs of what needed to do, so I went through more education, I went to barber college and I went to carpenter training. And I kept on going.


And at the point I wanted to make to the students is that, if you have a desire, the sky is the limit. You could do what you'd like to do. That desire, you have to have a desire.


And so that's what I push on other students. And I told them all of schooling I went through. And it was not only carpentry and barber college. But I thought about my life, you know, living in Alaska, carpentry is pretty cold work from day to day. So I thought about that. So I wanted to find something to do inside. That's why I took Barber College. And I got my license and I worked in barbershops.


I was fishing every year. Cut my own boat, and all the luxuries that, you know, I was able to gain from good fishing seasons. I had a good skiff. Had a good boat. All pleasures. Plus my fishing boat. They go to get their snow machine, car, pick up. And took up flying lessons. Got my own airplane. And went to bible school. And I just kept on going.


And the thought came to me, maybe the kids are wondering what I told them. I started my 1st grade when I was 19. My 1st grade I was19 years old.


So, after one or two years being with them, it started making me think of how can I better tell stories. So, I had some sleepless nights thinking about it. Then I start thinking just one word that would guide me telling a story -- and that word is "wisdom." Because people, they were there for learning. I said, we need wisdom, how do we get wisdom? We need knowledge, and that's why the students are there to gain knowledge.


But knowing things is not enough. You could know lots of things, and if you use it, what good is it? So we need wisdom to how to use knowledge. So I'll tell our students that, what they're interested in, and maybe help them in the future to gain knowledge. And use that as wisdom.


But there's another word that probably could really be of help. It's all about common sense. So, when we're traveling, I used common sense of traveling the lake. I learned that from my granddad, when he told me, like I said, "not now." He knew it was going to do blow. So he put it into practice and used common sense not to go out to the lake when you get caught in that storm in the middle of the lake. And he knew that. So he used common sense.


Then knowing all of this, I told the people at science camp, I thanked them for my part. And another word came to me is "gratitude." So I came up with -- knowledge, wisdom, common sense, gratitude.


So, when we put these all together, it's going to help the students.

4 of 8 Stories

Listen to Paul tell his story.



Pride of Bristol Bay: A Conversation with Jerry and Caleb Jacques about their grizzly family

When Jerry Jacques was 17, he ran away from California and hitchhiked to Alaska. He had heard stories of his great-grandfather and grandfather prospecting, trapping and living in the far north and intended to follow in their footsteps.

Read the entire story