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

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Akhiok (Kasukuak)

Akhiok is a small Alutiiq village at Alitak Bay on southwestern Kodiak Island. Many people there are commercial fishermen and also depend on the subsistence harvest of fish, animals, and plant foods. Akhiok's Russian Orthodox church, a center of village life, was built in 1926. Residents are shareholders in the Akhiok-Kaguyak Village Corporation, whose name came about because residents of the ruined village of Kaguyak moved there after the 1964 earthquake. The population in 1990 was 77.

The settlement has a long history. People from villages in this area, probably including Akhiok, were among the first Alutiit to see Russian ships more than two hundred years ago. They fought and traded with Stepan Glotov and other early Russian fur traders who came to Kodiak Island between 1763 and 1780. Alutiiq Elder Arsenti Aminak told about the surprise of seeing a Russian sailing vessel for the first time:

"When we saw the ship far off, we believed it was a giant whale and curiosity drove us to examine it more closely. We went out in baidarkas [kayaks], but soon saw that it was not a whale, but a strange monster, never seen before, which we feared and whose stench [of tar] made us sick" (oral history recorded in 1851, as quoted in Holmberg 1985:57).

During the period of Russian rule (1784-1867), Akhiok was an important sea otter hunting village, and people also fished, gathered berries, and trapped foxes. Like Old Harbor, Karluk, and several other places, Akhiok was a refuge for survivors of the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1837-38. Sometime before 1849, people relocated Akhiok from the east side of the entrance of Olga Bay to the west side, where it is today.

The late Elder Larry Matfay told about growing up in Akhiok, where he was born in 1907. He had eight brothers and sisters. His father and grandfather taught him to hunt and build kayaks. He remembered wash day, when he had to help haul wood for the stove and to scrub clothes on a washboard. His father fished for salmon and his mother had a job at the Alitak cannery in Olga Bay, where almost everyone from Akhiok moved during the summers to work. Mr. Matfay's mother died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-20.

The village of Akhiok, 2000. Photograph by Patrick Saltonstall.

Akhiok, circa 1935. During the 1930's and World War II the village was temporarily renamed Alitak by the U. S. Post Office, to avoid confusion with the Yup'ik village of Akiak near Bethel. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Childs Collection, PCA 37-20.

Little girl on top of a wooden barrel at Akhiok, circa 1908-11. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Greely Collection, PCA 66-471.

Church reader with his wife outside the school at Akhiok, Russian Easter, 1928. Courtesy of the National Archives, Alaska Schools Historical Album, Record Group 75.

The Young Men's Club, Akhiok, Russian Easter, 1928. Left to right, back row: "Phillip"; Larry Matfay; Mike Farsovich; Ivan Farsovich; Willie Stream; Pollycarp Alokli. Left to right, front row: Frank Stream; Nick Phillip; Ivan Iagosha; unidentified man; Pete Qayanguaq ("little kayak"). Courtesy of the National Archives, Alaska Schools Historical Album, Record Group 75.

Ladies outside school at Akhiok, Russian Easter, 1928. Left to right: Mrs. George Stream, Mrs. Natalie Farsovich, Mrs. Stephanida Iagosha, Mrs. Alocalli, Mrs. Shelikof, Mrs. Mary Agnot. Three were midwives: Mrs. Alocalli, Mrs. Shelikof, and Mrs. Iagosha. Courtesy of the National Archives, Alaska Schools Historical Album, Record Group 75.

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