Ilaten Kangiyarmiuwat. - (Some of) Your relatives are from Kaguyak.
The village of Kaguyak lies on the Aliulik Peninsula at the head of Kodiak Island’s Kaguyak Bay. Today, this once-flourishing coastal village is overgrown with brush and few remnants of its habitation remain. The fourth tidal wave generated by the Great Alaska Earthquake flattened the village in 1964 and killed two of its residents. Kaguyak was never resettled.
Prehistoric people lived in Kaguyak Bay and were among the first Kodiak Islanders to encounter Russian traders. However, the historic village of Kaguyak developed in the 1860s when people displaced from the nearby village of Old Kaguyak by the smallpox epidemic returned to their homeland. The nineteenth-century village was large, with many homes and several stores. The community rested on a small spit fronting a freshwater lake at the head of the Kaguayk Bay. Here, residents enjoyed an abundance of salmon, ducks, and ptarmigan. Kaguyak was also a destination for Alutiiq hunters, who traveled to the village to trade their furs for food, tools, and household supplies. Kaguyak’s population declined with the decimation of the sea otter population. By the early twentieth century, the village had less than one hundred residents. In 1964, only thirty-four people lived in the community.
Following the destruction from the 1964 tidal wave, the residents of Kaguyak relocated to Anchorage and then Kodiak, before settling permanently in the communities of Old Harbor and Akhiok. Villagers considered resettling Kaguyak, but opted to move into large neighboring communities where many had family ties. However, Kaguyak has not been forgotten. Alutiiq people continue to use the area as a seasonal fish camp, there is still a Kaguyak Tribal Council, and the village corporation that represents the Alutiiq people of southern Kodiak Island — Akhiok-Kaguyak Incorporated — bears its name.
Photo: Kaguyak Village, courtesy Tim nd Norman Smith.
Kal’uni sullianga. - I was born in Karluk.
The Alutiiq village of Karluk lies on the southwestern shore of Kodiak Island. Tucked between treeless rolling hills, the community rests on the banks of Karluk River. This is the longest fresh watercourse in the archipelago and once was the region’s most productive salmon stream. All five varieties of Pacific salmon still spawn in huge quantities in the Karluk, with fish continuously available from late May until late October. The river also supports steelehead trout.
Today less than forty people live in Karluk. This is perhaps the lowest population in a millennium or longer. Archaeological data indicate that the area has been intensively occupied for at least five thousand years. The fish resources that supported Alutiiq communities also drew Russian and American colonists to this corner of the archipelago. In 1786, Russian traders established a workstation (artel) with salmon drying racks and later a saltery on the north side of Karluk Lagoon. Here, fish were processed for shipment to other Russian posts. In 1878, the Karluk Packing Company built Kodiak’s first cannery on Karluk spit, which was followed quickly by many others. By the later 1800s, millions of salmon were processed annually at Karluk. This intensive fishing seriously depleted salmon stocks. Efforts to bolster the population with a hatchery failed, and the canneries were forced to consolidate. The surviving cannery eventually moved to Larsen Bay.
With careful management, Karluk’s salmon runs rallied in the twentieth century. Although the fish population has never returned to historically observed levels, the area still supports huge fish populations. Village residents continue to make a living from these runs, both as subsistence fishermen and as guides to the many sport fishermen who visit each year.
Photo: Aerial view of the village of Karluk, ca. 1985.
Qayaq miktuq. - The kayak is small.
The Alutiiq kayak is a wood-framed boat covered with sea lion skins. Carved from driftwood, craftsmen once built each lightweight frame to fit the specific proportions of its owner. In the past, single-holed and double-holed boats were the most common, although Alutiiqs developed triple-hatched boats during the fur-trading era to carry gear for long-distance hunting trips and transport people. These larger baidarka, as Russian traders called them, were more stable but required greater strength to propel.
Alutiiq kayaks have a distinctive split prow designed to slice through the waves and limit sea spray. Paddlers propelled their boats with narrow, single-bladed wooden paddles with a diamond-shaped cross-section. These paddles were specifically engineered for Kodiak’s windy weather, where quick stabilizing movements are often necessary.
Men lashed their hunting implements to the deck of their kayaks within easy reach. This gear included darts, harpoons, throwing boards, a spare paddle, a wooden quiver, and a bailer. Hunters also carried a patch kit so that tears in the kayak’s skin covering could be quickly mended.
In the winter, when stormy weather limited travel, Alutiiq men removed the coverings from their kayaks. They oiled the skins to maintain their water resistance and allowed the skins to rest while they repaired the boat’s frame. Kayaks are still seen in local waters, although people use them for recreation more often than hunting and traveling.
Photo: Sven Haakanson kayaking in Womens Bay. Photo courtesy Eric Waltenbaugh.
Cuumi, siinami taangapet puckaani et’aallriit. - Before, in the kellidor we kept our water in barrels.
In northern climates where people rely on heavy clothing, stored foods, and sophisticated technologies for survival, storing one’s supplies is always a concern. Northern peoples manage this problem by creating special storage areas in their homes.
In addition to piling supplies along the walls and filling the rafters with dried fish, Alutiiqs once used their entryways to keep belongings safe and dry. Most sod houses had a small entry, an antechamber known today as a kellidoor. In prehistoric times, these chambers were wide tunnels leading from the main room of the house to the outdoors. In later times, when people added western-style doors to their homes, the kellidoor was more like a small room, similar to a modern entry room. A smart craftsman made sure the door to this small room opened inward. Then, when it snowed, his family would not be trapped inside!
Historic sources indicate that Alutiiqs stored outer garments and barrels of berries, oil, and dried fish in the kellidoors of their sod houses. Today many Alutiiq homes continue to have kellidoors. These are often small plywood shelters added to the back of the house. These rooms contain modern versions of the traditional kellidoor items, including coats and rain gear, Xtratufs, and often a freezer stocked with fish, berries, and deer meat. The kellidoor is also where polite guests leave their muddy shoes.
Photo: Kellidoor on a house in Karluk, 1950s. Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Kenaayut taugkut. - Those are Kenai Peninsula people.
Although it is separated from the Kodiak Archipelago by miles of open ocean, the Kenai Peninsula shares many features with the Kodiak region. Geologically, the two are formed of the same rocks, squeezed and folded into a continuous set of mountains. The Kodiak Mountains are the westernmost extension of the Kenai-Chugach Mountains, the steep-sided ridges that form the spine of the Kenai Peninsula and her fjorded southern coast. As on Kodiak, glaciers carved deep narrow valleys out of the Kenai’s bedrock, creating its rugged topography. Glacial ice is also responsible for separating the Kenai from Kodiak. Massive tongues of ice cut channels between the regions, which the sea flooded when the earth’s climate warmed and the glaciers retreated.
The biological and cultural histories of the region are also similar. Although the Kenai has been forested much longer than Kodiak and supports a wider variety of terrestrial mammals, its sea life is quite similar. Salmon, shellfish, sea mammals, and sea birds abound, especially along the southern coast. Archaeological data suggest that Alutiiq ancestors colonized this region, particularly Kachemak Bay, at least six thousand years ago. They were not alone, however. Indian societies also thrived on the Kenai, although in more northerly regions. Today there are two Alutiiq villages on the Kenai Peninsula: Nanwalek and Port Graham. Alutiiq people also live in Seldovia, Homer, Kenai, and Soldotna.
Image: Map of the Alutiiq world showing Kenai Peninsula communities.
Cainiik kallaqsiituq. - The kettle didn’t boil yet.
Drinking tea, a favorite pastime in Alutiiq households, has ancient roots. Alutiiqs have long steeped medicinal plants in hot water to create healing infusions. In the nineteenth century, Alutiiqs began drinking black tea obtained in trade from Russian colonists. With European tea came a variety of teapots, cups, saucers, and samovars. Samovars are tall, brass urns that burned spruce cones or charcoal to heat water for tea. Historic sources suggest that Alutiiq families often fired up their samovars when a guest arrived for tea, sharing a hot drink, cube of sugar, and bits of dried salmon and brown bread. Samovars fell into disuse in the early twentieth century, when collectors bought up many of these remarkable pieces. At this time, Alutiiqs appear to have switched to simpler teakettles.
A copper kettle in the Alutiiq Museum’s collections belonged to the Matfay family. This heirloom reached Akhiok in the early nineteenth century with a load of lumber from Woody Island. Elder Larry Matfay recalled that the kettle was a centerpiece at many family parties: birthday celebrations, parties honoring a boy’s first kill, and evenings of storytelling.
Mr. Matfay also described how some families suspended their kettles above wood fires built on the floors of their sod houses. Small posts placed on either side of the fireplace rocks held a pole for suspending pots and kettles. Sometimes a kettle was set into another, larger pot to bring it closer to the flames.
Photo: Historic kettle in an archaeological site near Cape Alitak, Kodiak Island.
Unuarpak angli aRastuup'kaalillianga. - This morning I made alot of kindling.
Starting a fire in wet, windy Kodiak requires both skill and help from some good tinder. Alutiiq families use a variety of natural materials to capture a flame. In forested parts of the archipelago, the small, dead lower branches of spruce trees stay dry in the rain. They are easy to gather and make excellent kindling. Other good sources of tinder include dry grass, birch bark, spruce bark, and even spruce pitch and bird down. Some Alutiiqs also make fine shavings of wood for kindling. Any dry wood can be used, although cottonwood works especially well. The practice of igniting wood chips is quite old. Russian histories note that Alutiiqs used hand-held fire drills to ignite wood shavings.
Gathering tinder is often a job for women and children. While men harvest larger wood, and may travel far from home to collect it, women and children gathered kindling and small pieces of wood from nearby beaches and thickets. In the forests of northern Kodiak and Afognak, women gather dried bark or cut it from spruce trees. They place this material in burlap bags and carry it home for kindling to start fires that heat the steam bath.
Photo: Elder John Pestrikoff makes firestarters from driftwood. Photo by Priscilla Russell, KANA Collection.
Aamasuut cuklliuluteng taitaartut ugnerkami. - King salmon are the first to come in the spring.
King salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), also known as chinook, are one of five varieties of Pacific salmon that spawn in the Kodiak region. They are the first salmon to arrive in the archipelago each year, heralding the beginning of the salmon fishing season. Kings may be present in ocean waters by mid-March, but don’t usually enter streams until mid-June. According to Alutiiq lore, the first fish captured each year had to be eaten completely, with the exception of its gills and gallbladder. This showed reverence for the animal and ensured an abundant future supply of fish.
The largest of the Pacific salmon, kings require streams with a lake at their headwaters for spawning. Although they have been introduced to some streams, they are only indigenous to the Karluk and Ayakulik rivers, both on southwestern Kodiak Island. Fish headed for these streams migrate through Shelikof Strait, with a peak returns in late June. Given their very limited distribution, kings are the least abundant of Kodiak’s salmon. Only about 13,500 of these fish return to the archipelago’s streams each year.
The large size of king salmon and their rich, oily meat make them a highly coveted wild food. However, this delicious fish was thought to interfere with the effectiveness of some plant medicines, so an Alutiiq healer might advise her patient not to eat king salmon while being treated with herbal remedies.
Photo: Sven Haakanson, Sr. with a king salmon. Rostad Collection.