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

About the People
Alutiiq Villages
About this Project
Supplemental Reading

Object Categories
Our History
Our Way of Living
Our Beliefs
Our Family

Kodiak (Sun'aq)

In 1793, Russian fur traders led by Aleksandr Baranov moved their headquarters from Three Saints Harbor on Kodiak Island to the city now called Kodiak. Here there was a good harbor, plenty of space, and a forest of spruce trees on nearby Woody Island to provide wood for building a fort, storehouses, church, factories, hospital, school, and houses. The Russians called the new town Pavlavsk Gavan (Paul's Harbor) after Prince Paul, who at that time was heir to the Russian crown. While Paul's Harbor served as the official capital of "Russian America" only until 1805, it continued to grow as a major center of the fur trade.

Changes came when the United States purchased Alaska in 1867. The U. S. Army and American fur trade companies took over in the town that was now called St. Paul, and later Kodiak. Smithsonian collector William Fisher described Kodiak in 1880. He wrote that its 500 residents included Russians, Creoles, and Alutiit. Most people lived in Russian-style log houses, although there were several Alutiiq barabaras. The town had warehouses and docks for large sailing ships. Most people spoke Russian or Alutiiq and were members of the Russian Orthodox church. Native sea otter hunters, now working for the Alaska Commercial Company and Western Fur and Trading Company, went out in fleets of kayaks each summer. Another American visitor, W. T. Wythe, wrote about the exciting return of the hunters with their precious cargo:

"The news that the hunters are returning soon spreads, and soon every one in the village runs to the bluff to see them enter the harbor. The head of the column pulls around the point of Blisky Island, keeping time to an Indian boat song. There are several hundred bidarkas [kayaks] and large skin boats." (as quoted in Crowell 1992).

Today, Kodiak is one of Alaska's busiest fishing ports, home to more than 6300 year-round residents of many nationalities. Looking back on the 20th century, people remember the rain of volcanic ash from Katmai volcano in 1912, the years of World War II when the town was a Navy base for the Pacific fleet, the destruction caused by the Great Alaska Earthquake and tidal waves in 1964, and the "boom" years of king crab fishing in the 1970s. The Alutiiq Museum, built in 1995, is a center for Alutiiq culture and education.

The Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska, 2000. Photograph by Patrick Saltonstall.

Kodiak, 1892. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-463.

Kodiak, circa 1888-89. Two-holed kayaks of the sea otter hunters. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-253.

Kodiak, Russian Orthodox church, circa 1888-89. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-252.

Volcanic ash at Kodiak, 1912. Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Thwaites 1252.

Kodiak, 1912. Making "ash pies" after the Katmai eruption. Courtesy of the Kodiak Historical Society, P90N.

Woman wearing a waterproof seal intestine parka, or kanagluk, at Kodiak in 1919. Courtesy of University of Alaska Anchorage, Archives and Manuscripts Department, National Geographic Society Katmai Expedition Collection, Box 6, 5210.

End of Page