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

Old Harbor (Nuniaq)

Like many Alutiiq villages, modern Old Harbor sits on top of the archaeological remains of much older camps and settlements. Yet its history is one of migration, typical in the Alutiiq region where for thousands of years people have moved their villages from time to time.

The story begins in 1784, when Russians led by Grigorii Shelikhov massacred several hundred Alutiiq men, women, and children at "Refuge Rock," a small islet by Sitkalidik Island. The Russians held Alutiiq hostages at Three Saints Harbor before moving to their new headquarters at Pavlovski Gavan (Paul's Harbor, later called Kodiak) in 1793. The settlement they left behind at Three Saints now became known as the "old harbor." Its Alutiiq residents still had to work for the Russians by hunting sea otters and producing foods such as dried fish, whale meat, and berries. By the late 1800s, Old Harbor had been moved several times, finally ending up in its present location at the north end of Sitkalidik Strait on eastern Kodiak Island.

Old Harbor has been a refuge for people from many other villages, so that its families have widespread kinship ties. Survivors of the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1837-38 were sent to live there, and people from the old villages of Aiaktalik and Eagle Harbor resettled at Old Harbor during the 20th century. Old Harbor residents worked at canneries and at the whaling station at Port Hobron. Today many are commercial fishermen. The village was heavily damaged by tidal waves after the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, but the 19th century Orthodox church was spared and residents were able to rebuild their homes. The population of Old Harbor in 1990 was 284.

The village of Old Harbor, Kodiak Island, 1997. Photograph Chris Arend/AlaskaStock.com.

Old Harbor, circa 1888-89. People standing in front of an Alutiiq ciqluaq with the hatch raised to release smoke. A kayak frame lies on the roof of another house. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-266.

Old Harbor, circa 1887-93. Salmon drying on fish racks in front of Alutiiq ciqluat or barabaras. A frame house is under construction behind the ciqluat. Courtesy of Alaska State Library, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Collection, PCA 186-40.

Old Harbor, circa 1888-89. One of the women sitting on the beach wears a ground-squirrel parka. The two men holding kayak paddles and dressed in waterproof gutskin parkas are probably sea otter hunters. Like the Russians, American fur-trading companies provided hunters with waterproof clothing and other provisions for hunting. An extra paddle is stored on the deck of the kayak. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, 22-FFA-268.

End of Page