Anchorage-mek tai’akamta plane-gun Suu’aq tang’rtaarpet. - When we come from Anchorage by plane we can see Shuyak Island.
huyak Island, the seventh largest of the Kodiak islands, covers sixty-nine square miles at the northern end of the archipelago. Just twelve miles long and eleven miles wide, this small island features a lush blanket of spruce forest and hundreds of small lakes. Unlike surrounding areas, Shuyak is relatively flat, rising to only 660 feet above sea level. However, a complex system of bays and inlets forms the Island’s western coast, creating more sheltered waterways than any other place in the archipelago. Throughout the day, twenty-foot tides change the look of these waterways, exposing reefs and clam beds or filling channels and lagoons. Elders believe that the word suu’aq means “rising out of the water.”
Today, most of Shuyak falls within the boundaries of the Shuyak Island State Park, a wilderness recreation area that attracts sea kayakers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and wildlife photographers. Although the island is quiet, with no modern communities, it was once an integral part of the Alutiiq nation. Archaeological sites illustrate that Alutiiq families lived throughout the coast of Shuyak, and historical records suggest that it was home to at least two Alutiiq communities in the eighteenth century. Early historic accounts suggest that Russian entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikov established trading relations with the chief of one of these villages. However, when villagers killed two Russian workers and a Native interpreter sent to Shuyak to trade, Shelikov retaliated by destroying the community. Rumors suggest that the inhabitants of the other Shuyak village fled out of fear of the Russians. By 1796, there were no Alutiiq communities on Shuyak.
In the twentieth century, Alutiiq people returned to Shuyak to harvest fish. In the 1920s, Fred Sargent, Christ Opheim, and their sons salted salmon on Shuyak for human consumption and as animal food for the growing fox farming industry. In the 1930, entrepreneurs converted a family-run herring saltery in Port William on Shuyak into a salmon, herring, and halibut processing facility, which operated as the Washington Fish and Oyster Company until 1976.
Image: Topographic map of Shuyak Island. Courtesy the USGS.
Sun’all’men agyugtua. - I want to go to Three Saints Bay.
Three Saints Bay is a narrow, 8.7 mile long embayment on the southeastern side of Kodiak Island. The shores of this productive waterway have been home to Alutiiq people for millennia. Nestled between larger Kaiugnak Bay and Sitkalidak Strait, at the foot of some of Kodiak’s tallest mountains, the bay is known for its ancient settlements. Its name, however, reflects Kodiak’s Russian history.
Three Saints Bay was the location of the first permanent Russian settlement on Kodiak Island, and Russian traders named it after the flagship in entrepreneur Gregorii Shelikof ’s fleet of sailing vessels. In August of 1784, Shelikof landed in the bay and started to build a fort. After a brutal assault on a large group of Alutiiq people hiding at a nearby settlement, Shelikof took Native women and children hostages as a means of subjugating local communities. The hostages were brought to Three Saints Bay, whose name paid homage to the patriarchs of the early Christian Church, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. Widely considered fathers among the saints, these men were known in the Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican faiths for sharing Christianity.
Photo: Aerial view of the entrance to Three Saints Bay.
PaRaguutakun uguaq kiturtaarpet. - We always pass Ugak island on the boat.
Ugak Island lies at the entrance to Ugak Bay, on the far eastern edge of Kodiak Island. Exposed to the open ocean, Ugak Island is small and mountainous. It is just 2.7 by 1.7 miles, and yet rises to over three hundred feet above sea level. This creates a precipitous shoreline with few landing spots. Nonetheless, Ugak Island was once home to an Alutiiq village. In April of 1805, Russian trader Uri Lisianki visited a settlement with four sod houses on the island’s northern coast, and in the 1930s anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička learned the location of this settlement in discussions with Kodiak residents.
What did people do on Ugak Island? It is likely that they visited in the spring and early summer, moving to Kodiak’s outer cost to fish for cod and pollock and to hunt sea mammals. The waters southeast of Kodiak are a major migration route for whales moving through the Gulf of Alaska, and gray whales and humpback whales are known to swim through the channel between Ugak Island and Narrow Cape. From the island, hunters could have watched for these economically valuable animals.
Ugak Island is also home to several sea mammal haul-outs. Harbor seals rest on the island’s southeast coast, and Steller sea lions on the northern shore. The sea lion haul-out is typically used from late June to early October by about four hundred animals. Historic sources indicate that the residents of Eagle Harbor, an Alutiiq village in Ugak Bay’s southern shore, visited the haul-out regularly to harvest sea lions for skins and sinew.
Photo: View east from Ugak Bay toward Ugak Island.
Gui ataaqa unganuuni suullria. - My father was born at Uganik Island.
Uganik Island is a large, mountainous landmass on the western coast of the Kodiak Archipelago. It is the eighth largest island in the Kodiak region, covering approximately fifty-seven square miles. The island trends northwest to southeast, forming the northern limit of the Uganik Bay region and creating the southern coast of Viekoda Bay.
Uganik Island’s environment changes from north to south. The northern end of the island is mountainous, with steep peaks flanking the shore. This part of the island has a relatively straight, exposed coastline with long stretches of rock cliff and only a few protected bights. In contrast, Uganik Island’s southern third is lower and more protected. Here, mountains give way to rolling hills, tidal flats, lagoons, and small freshwater lakes.
Although the island’s protected shores may appear more inviting for settlement, archaeological data indicate that Alutiiqs used Uganik’s outer coast extensively. Cod fishing was their central activity. The waters at the mouth of Viekoda Bay and adjacent Kupreanof Strait support a cod nursery, an area where fish are abundant throughout the year. About 3,400 years ago, fishermen camped on Uganik Island to harvest this resource and dried quantities of cod for later use.
The name Uganik comes from the Alutiiq placename Unganuut, and it was first recorded in 1805 by Russian explorer Uri Lisianski. Linguists believe Russian traders spelled this name incorrectly. They probably should have written either Uganuut or Uganuuk, not Uganik.
Photo: Village of Uganik, ca. 1914. Dennis Winn Collection, Courtesy March McCubrey.
Tangirnaq cuumi suut amlellriit. - Woody Island once had many people.
Woody Island is a small piece of land that lies at the northern entrance to Chiniak Bay, just two miles from the city of Kodiak. It is part of a cluster of islands that provides shelter for Kodiak’s harbors. Woody Island is four miles long and two miles wide. It has seven small lakes and about thirteen miles of coastline. By Kodiak standards this is small island, yet it has a rich and remarkable history.
Archaeological data indicate that Alutiiqs occupied the island for millennia. Prehistoric sites are common on Woody Island, and when Russian traders arrived, the major Alutiiq village in northern Chiniak Bay lay on Woody Island’s western coast. Known by its Alutiiq name Tangirnaq, this village was home to hundreds of residents who called themselves Tangirnarmiut, the people of Tangirnaq. The Russians called this settlement Ostrov Leisnoi, or wooded island.
In the late eighteenth century, Alutiiq residents of Woody Island were forced to hunt sea otters and process food for Russian traders. This was the first of many western enterprises on the island. In the early 1800s, Russian entrepreneurs processed salt on Woody Island, made bricks, and harvested ice. In 1893, Baptist missionaries established an orphanage and school near the village. In the early 1900s the navy built a wireless station on the island, and during the Second World War, the army erected a sawmill and the Federal Aviation Administration built a communications station. In the 1960s, when the community’s public school closed and ferry service to Kodiak was discontinued, many families moved to Kodiak. While no Alutiiq families live on the island now, people still harvest subsistence foods around Tangirnaq and consider it their home.
Photo: Shore of Woody Island that faces the City of Kodiak.
Quteq Pas'rsami cucunartuq. - The beach at Pasagshak is beautiful.
Place names are like the layers of an archaeological sites, an accumulation of cultural information reflecting local history. Overtime, as events shape communities and cultures change, the names used to describe the landscape evolve as well. Some names stick, others fade. The resulting accumulation creates a cultural mix. Pasagshak Bay and its surrounding features are a great example.
Pasagshak is a deep u-shaped bay on the north shore of Kodiak Island’s Ugak Bay. Kodiak residents love the region for its beautiful black sand beaches, salmon-filled river, scenic lake, and dramatic peaks, all accessible by road.
Archaeological deposits illustrate the Alutiiq people lived along the bay’s shores for thousands of years, hunting and fishing from its productive waters. The name Pasagshak comes from the Alutiiq place name–Pas’rsaq. The meaning of this word has been lost to time, but Elders recall it as the traditional term for the region.
In contrast, we no longer know the Alutiiq name for the large lake at the head of the bay. Today it is called Rose Tead, reflecting the World War II buildup of Kodiak. This includes the road that leads to Pas'rsaq and the remnants of an airstrip and bunkers near the lake’s shore. The name of the lake honors Rose Cecelia Teed Wohlstetter, a Chicago-born beauty who became a Broadway dancer. During the war years, she served as a USO Camp Show performer, and was one of Kodiak’s favorites.
Photo: Aerial view of Pasagshak from Shaft Peak.
ARapagka nag'art'lliik mararmi. – I lost my (2) boots in the bog.
The Alutiiq word maraq can be used to talk about any low lying, wet piece of land–a swamp, bog, marsh, or even a muddy meadow. The rainy Kodiak Archipelago is unofficially full of such places, but if you consult a map of Kodiak habitats, maraq is particularly common on the south end of Kodiak Island. The Ayakulik river flats are a good example. Here, numerous shallow ponds are surrounded by grasses, sedges, and small shrubs, forming a habitat classified as wet tundra.
Kodiak’s bogs contain a multitude useful plants harvested by Alutiiq people. These include a variety of berries collected for food, a coarse ‘swamp grass’ once woven into mats, and the medicinal plant narrow-leaf Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum Harmaja).
Known in Alutiiq as atsaqutarpak, or by the newer word nunallaq caayuq (wild tea), Labrador tea is a low-growing, evergreen shrub with narrow, leathery leaves. It is commonly used to treat lung and throat ailments–from coughs, colds, and fevers to asthma and tuberculosis. Alutiiq families brew tea from the plants aromatic leaves. They boil the leaves in water, steep them in hot water, or even chew the raw leaves and swallow the juice. People use the plant fresh and dried, but are careful to consume it in moderation. Large quantities of Labrador tea can be toxic.
Photo: Wet lowlands of southern Kodiak Island.