Our ambassador families learned the art of Hooligan Oil preparation earlier this month from their language teacher, Marsha Hotch. As Marsha recalls her early memories of this ancient practice, the following is a compilation of her knowledge.

“Hooligan fish has been a staple to the Tlingit people and all along the Northwest Coast, for centuries and many other places of this region. However, communities have not been practicing the centuries-long harvesting of hooligans and hooligan oil-making because of modern ways of living that occurred in our region and even our local area, the Chilkat Valley.

Hooligans are the second fish to come up the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers. The elders used to watch for the pinfish/needlefish to come into the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers. This was the indicator that hooligans were not far behind. It is not as prevalent as when I was a child to actually see needlefish in abundance in the rivers. My dad used to go to the river in Klukwan by 19 or 20 mile with a dip net and dip for pinfish or needlefish. We can see seagulls come that far up the Chilkat River.

When the snow is gone, my grandparents Tom and Annie Jimmy along with my parents Willie and Maggie Lee, my sister Frances Diane and I would begin cleaning the area for cooking and prepare the pit by fixing caved-in areas and gathering the tall long dry dead grass that may be around the area of the pit or haul it in. We then would line the pit with the tall long dry grass. Keeping extra near the pit so that as the hooligans are put into the pit they would line the pit with more grass. Some pits had a slant so the grass would stay up the sides but not much. Later, the pit was lined with cardboard boxes with the grass on the ground first, then the flattened cardboard boxes lining the pit. Later, my family started using boards to line the pit. We found that it worked better in keeping the processed hooligans cleaner and with no grass or dirt to remove as the hooligans were cooking in the vat. The hooligans need to go through the fermentation stage to go through the molecular change to release the precious oils in the fish.”

Enjoy the photo gallery that shares snippets of their time together.