LOOKING BOTH WAYS: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People of Southern Alaska

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Chignik Bay (Cihniq)

Names often tell of something unique about a place. The huge winds arising from the coastal storms at Chignik Bay inspired the people who named this village. In the Alutiiq language, Chignik (spelled cihniq) means "big wind."

Today Chignik Bay is one of the busiest fishing villages on the Alaska Peninsula. Winters are quiet with about 190 year-round residents in 1990. Many of them have Alutiiq heritage. But the summers can bring up to 1800 people for work at canneries or on the fishing boats that travel the waters day and night.

The first saltery for preserving salmon opened at Chignik Bay in 1883. A large cannery was operating at Chignik Lagoon by 1889. Alutiiq workers were common by the 1900's when people from Wrangell, Unangashak and Mitrofania traveled to Chignik and Chignik Lagoon for summer work.

However, Chignik villagers relied more heavily on trapping and fox farming. Families set up winter fox farms away from the village, only returning in the summer to hunt, fish, and gather plants. Even school shut down for most of the year, because children were off at winter camps with their families. As told by Helen Nielsen:

"Our fox farm was located on Nakchamik, or Fox Island as we called it. We lived on the island for many years.. There wasn't anything else to do at that time in Chignik. People didn't fish for a living, you know, so we had to trap or fox-farm, either wild animals or fox. Papa started building the fox farm around 1925, but as the years passed, the prices dropped so low that we couldn't keep the fox farm going. Everybody had foxes, raised them on their own islands.. While my brothers and I went to summer school in Chignik, my mama and papa stayed on the island and cared for the foxes. In the winter, they would come and get us and bring us back to the island" (as quoted in Morseth 1998:102).

In addition to fox farming, many villagers ran their own trap lines to sell furs to companies or independent traders. They trapped land otter, ermine, wolverine, and mink. Finally, in the 1950's commercial fishing and processing became the principal way for Chignik villagers to make a living.

The village of Chignik Bay, Alaska Peninsula, 1996. Photograph Chris Arend / Alaska Stock.com.

Chignik, circa 1909. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Flamen Ball Collection, PCA 24-97.

Chignik, circa 1909. Ciqluat (barabaras) stand alongside a tent at the top of a small hill. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Flamen Ball Collection, PCA 24-104.

Chignik, circa 1930-38. Chief Alexie and his two sons, Luka (left) and Andrew (right). Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Chisholm Collection, PCA 105-3.

Two women with children at Chignik, circa 1909. Their caps indicate that these Russian Orthodox women were married. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Flamen Ball Collection, PCA 24-103.

Travelers in Alutiiq three-holed kayak in front of the dock at Chignik, circa 1909. Ships that transported canned fish and seasonal workers back to San Francisco are seen in the background. Courtesy of Anchorage Museum of History and Art, B81.64.26.

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