Nuniarmiuq-qaa ellpet? - Are you an Old Harbor person?
The community of Old Harbor (Nuniaq) has its origins in the era of Russian conquest. In 1784, Russian traders massacred several hundred Alutiiq men, women, and children at Refuge Rock, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Sitkalidak Island. In Alutiiq, this sacred place is known as Awa’uq: to become numb. To many it represents a dramatic turning point in Native history, the loss political sovereignty and traditional lands under Russian subjugation. After the battle, Russians traders established a settlement in nearby Three Saints Bay, where Alutiiq people were forced to hunt and prepare food for Russian use. In 1793, the Russian colonists moved their settlement to Pavlovskaia Gavan—Paul’s Harbor—the present location of Kodiak. The Native community they left behind became known as Starrie Gavan or Old Harbor. The community’s Alutiiq residents moved several times, finally settling in the present location of Old Harbor. In the mid nineteenth century, Old Harbor also had a Russian trading post that was located near Gull Light at the Sitkalidak Narrows.
Old Harbor has long been a refuge for people from other villages. Survivors of a devastating smallpox epidemic joined the community in 1838, and in the twentieth century, people from the villages of Aiaktalik and Eagle Harbor resettled here. Even the village’s own residents have been forced to resettle. Old Harbor was badly damaged by the tsunamis that followed the1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. Only the community’s Orthodox church survived the flood. Families had to rebuild their homes.
Throughout its history, Old Harbor residents have made their living from the sea. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, residents worked in area canneries processing fish for western markets, and they participated in whaling at Port Hobron. Commercial fishing became an economic mainstay in the late nineteenth century and is combined with tour guiding and sport fishing today. Old Harbor residents enjoy sharing Kodiak’s environment with visitors and their hospitality is renowned.
Photo: The Alutiiq village of Old Harbor.
Nuniamek ag'llriakut Uusenkaamen, paRaguutakun. - We went from Old Harbor to Ouzinkie by boat.
Ouzinkie lies in the forests of Spruce Island, just ten miles from the city of Kodiak. Derived from the Russian word uskiy, meaning narrows, the name Ouzinkie refers to the slender strait that separates Spruce Island from Kodiak Island. It also reflects Ouzinkie’s origin in the nineteenth century as a retirement community for Russian traders. Russians traders built ships and raised cattle on Spruce Island. Alutiiq people lived in the community, many as the spouses of traders, and in a tiny, nearby community located a Monks Lagoon known as Elovoe. Twentieth-century residents continued to raise cattle, worked for a variety of local companies, and supported efforts to protect Kodiak during World War II. In 1964, the tidal wave associated with the Great Alaska Earthquake destroyed the community store, cannery, and some homes. Today, Ouzinkie is home to about 160 people, many of whom fish for a living.
Spruce Island is also known for its connection to Father Herman. This Russian Orthodox monk is beloved for his devotion to the Alutiiq people. In 1818, Father Herman moved from Kodiak to the southeastern end of Spruce Island. He established a school, an orphanage, and a garden in a place now called Monks Lagoon. In 1970, Father Herman was recognized as a saint in the Orthodox Church. In commemoration of this event, the church leads a pilgrimage to Monks Lagoon every August, an event aided by Ouzinkie residents.
Photo: Dories in the Ouzinkie harbor, ca. 1940. Photo by Hender Toms. Malinda Lamp collection.
Masrilumi arwarsurtaallriit. - They used to hunt whales at Port Hobron.
Today the derelict hull of a wooden ship, rusting tanks, and building remnants are all that remain of the whaling station at Port Hobron. Nestled against the shore of Port Hobron Bay, a narrow fjord on the northern coast of Sitkalidak Island, the now-abandoned station was an active commercial enterprise run by the Alaska Whaling Company from 1926 to 1937. The station lies at the mouth of Fugitive Creek, a sheltered spot that provides easy access to the deep waters off eastern Kodiak and the migration path of the Pacific Ocean’s great whales.
From Port Hobron, whalers pursued animals along the eastern coasts of Afognak and Kodiak islands between May and October, intercepting animals as they moved toward summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Whaling focused on blue, fin, humpback and sperm whales, although right, sei, and grey whales were also taken. The hunt was effective. With sturdy ships and explosive harpoon guns, even large, fast-swimming whales many miles from shore could be harvested. During its eleven years of operation, the station processed more than 2,300 whales.
Alutiiq laborers assisted with the catch. Photographs show that they staffed whaling ships, retrieved dead and wounded animals, and butchered carcasses at the station. Whale meat was salted and packed in barrels and sold for ten cents a pound at Port Hobron. Alutiiq families continued to eat whale steaks and to use whale oil as a dipping sauce for fish and bread into the early twentieth century.
Photo: Aerial view of the remains of the Port Hobron whaling station. Photo by Rick Knecht.
Paluwigmek taigua. - I am coming from Port Graham.
Port Graham is one of three communities located on the southern tip of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. This small village of about 178 people rests on the inner coast of a narrow fjord, also known as Port Graham. The communities of Nanwalek and Seldovia lie to the west and the north respectively.
Russian settlers from a trading post at nearby Nanwalek formed Port Graham. In 1850, the Russian American Company established a coal mine in the area, but it was not profitable and lasted only a few years. Alutiiq families began settling in Port Graham in the late 1800s and early 1900s, moving to the area from Yalik and other villages on the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula. The community grew in the early decades of the twentieth century as job opportunities at a local cannery attracted people.
Today, the residents of Port Graham continue to work in the commercial fishing industry. A cannery provides employment for many residents, including some from the nearby village of Nanwalek. Other people make their living fishing or working in the timber industry. Whatever their jobs, the residents of Port Graham continue to feed their families from the land and sea. Harvesting wild resources remains an economically, socially, and spiritually important activity for people of all ages.
Map: Location of Port Graham at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula Courtesy Wikipedia.
Elltuwaqa masiqsirami skuuluqutartuq. - My granddaughter is going to go to school in Port Lions.
Ungalarmiut yaksigtut. - People of Prince William Sound are far from here.
Prince William Sound lies at the center of the Gulf of Alaska, between the Copper River delta and the Kenai Peninsula. Steep, glaciated mountains rim this wide, forested embayment, filled with fjords and islands. Like Kodiak, Prince William Sound is known for its plentiful marine resources, but furbearers, sheep, and goats also abound. And like Kodiak, the sound is home to Alutiiq communities.
Archaeological data indicate people first colonized Prince William about 4,400 years ago and that they shared many traditions with Kodiak islanders. It is not clear whether the sound’s earliest inhabitants came from Kodiak or the nearby Kenai Peninsula, but they used tools and structures similar to those in neighboring areas, suggesting ancestral connections. Moreover, through time, changes in the archaeological record of Prince William Sound mirror changes on Kodiak, suggesting that residents of both regions were closely related.
Although the Native population of Prince William Sound appears to have always been relatively low, historic accounts reveal that eight distinct Alutiiq groups lived in the sound. Collectively, the members of these groups called themselves Chugach, and they spoke a regional dialect of the Alutiiq language. Although part of the same culture, each Chugach group was independent, with its own political leader and central village. Today, the principal Chugach villages of the region are Chenega Bay, Eyak, and Tatitlek in Prince William Sound, and Port Graham and Nanwalek on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Chugach people also live in the Prince William Sound communities of Cordova, Seward, Valdez, and Whittier.
The Kodiak Alutiiq word for the people of Prince William Sound, Ungalarmiut, literally means “people of the east or northeast.” It is derived from ungalaq, the word for an east or northeast wind.
Illustration: Man of Prince William Sound by engraving by John Webber, 1784.
Nagaayuq Ikani et’uq. - There is a refuge rock over there.
Naata guangkuta skaulurluta. - We should all go to school.
Russian entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikhov established the first European-style school in the Kodiak region in the 1780s. Young boys taken hostage by Russian traders or enrolled in the school by their fathers learned to speak, read, and write in Russian and studied mathematics, carpentry, and navigation with the goal of becoming sailors. In 1794, Russian Orthodox clergy took over the school.
By the turn of the twentieth century, American missionaries also had established schools on Kodiak. The Baptist mission school on Woody Island is the best known, but there was also a mission school in Ouzinkie. Federally funded government schools, designed to educate children through the eighth grade, developed in the early twentieth century. Like mission schools, these institutions sought to acculturate Native youth, teaching a largely foreign, western curriculum and forbidding the use of the Alutiiq language.
Students who wished to continue their education beyond the eighth grade had to leave home for boarding school, most commonly the Mt. Edgecombe school in Sitka. Although the federal government paid for boarding school, many students did not have the money to return home for vacations and did not see their families for years. An entire an Alutiiq generation grew up far from their communities. When they returned home, they felt like outsiders. There were few jobs that required the skills students had acquired in school, and they had not learned the traditional skills that teenagers once acquired in village settings. Today there is a school in every Alutiiq community, allowing most children to complete their high school education at home.
Photo: Karluk school house. Clyda Christiansen Collection.