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

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Ugashik (Uggásaq)

The Ugashik region has attracted settlement for centuries because of its rich food resources. Archaeological sites near the Ugashik Lakes tell us that people lived there as long as 9,000 years ago. Native men hunted great numbers of birds, caribou, and bear, in addition to fishing and hunting seals, walrus and beluga whales in Bristol Bay. In fact, William Fisher collected a beluga whaling point during his visit to Ugashik in 1885, as well as carvings made of walrus ivory. Women dried fish, trapped small animals like ground squirrels, collected berries, and prepared plant foods. Hunters also traveled across the mountains to the Pacific coast of the Alaska Peninsula for trade and to hunt sea otters.

When the Russians came, both Yup'ik and Alutiiq people were living at Ugashik village. In the early 1800's, Yupiit had migrated from lands in western Alaska to the eastern shore of Bristol Bay. Some of them settled at Ugashik, others at Paugvik (Naknek). Like people in other villages, Ugashik men and women worked in the fur trade. Men hunted the valuable sea otter for the Russians and Americans who then traded these furs to China. Women prepared food and clothing for the hunters and their families. However, trade in furs declined by the late 1890's, largely due to over-hunting. At this point, the salmon salteries and canneries located along the Ugashik River provided families with more cash than the fur trade.

The story of Ugashik ends with the flu epidemic of 1919 when most villagers died. The people who survived moved to Bear River, Meshik, or Unangashak where they had the chance to begin new lives in new communities.

Women cleaning fish at the Ugashik River, circa 1900. Courtesy of the National Archives, Albatross Collection, RG 22-FFA-2552.

Alaska Packers Association cannery at Ugashik, circa 1918. A traveler described the impact of the flu epidemic at Ugashik: "On May 30, I made a trip to the Alaska Packers Association's Ugashik cannery... It was found that the influenza had attacked the Ugashik natives, that practically the entire native population was stricken." (as quoted in Morseth 1998:70). Courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries, Cobb Collection, 4238.

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