Old Chenega Village, Chenega Island

Old Chenega Village, Chenega Island

by | Mar 8, 2023

Old Chenega is a historical village at the head of Chenega Cove on the southern tip of Chenega Island in western Prince William Sound, which is part of the traditional territory of the Chugach Sugpiaq people, about 82 miles (132 km) west-southwest of Cordova and 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Whittier, Alaska. The name ‘Chenega’ for the village means ‘under the mountain’, and was first reported by Ivan Petrof in 1880. A post office was established there in 1946 but was discontinued after the 1964 earthquake destroyed the village and the population migrated to Chenega Bay on nearby Evans Island. The geology of Chenega Island represents the Orca Group, a formation of sedimentary and volcanic rocks that developed during the Paleocene to Eocene periods, or 59.2 to 38 million years ago. The formation surrounding Chenega Cove is mostly sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, conglomerate, and limestone. The sandstone is composed chiefly of quartz and plagioclase, and the conglomerate is mainly felsic porphyry and granite.

The Chugach Sugpiaq are an Alutiiq-speaking people, and one of the nine Alaska Native peoples that include Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. The archaeological record suggests the Chugach Sugpiaq have inhabited the coastal environments of south-central Alaska for over 4,400 years. Their traditional homelands include Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula. The Chugach Sugpiaq share many cultural practices with the other coastal peoples, particularly the Unangan Aleut of the Aleutian Islands and the Yup’ik of the Bering Sea coast, and they likely share a common ancestry. At the time of European colonization, there were distinct regional groups of Chugach Sugpiaq people, each speaking a slightly different dialect of the Alutiiq language. The people of Chenega spoke a dialect called Suqcestun. The Chugach Sugpiaq traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and marine mammals that were hunted from skin-covered boats. They supplemented these maritime foods with berries and land mammals. Before contact with Russian fur traders, they lived in semi-subterranean homes called ciqlluaq or barabaras.

Old Chenega village was the oldest continuously inhabited community in the area and had a population of about 68 residents. The infrastructure consisted of over a dozen buildings, a wharf, a Bureau of Indian Affairs office, a Russian Orthodox church, a general store, and a small schoolhouse on top of a hill. The March 1964 Alaska earthquake was the strongest earthquake in American history, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. The quake triggered a tsunami that inundated the village to a depth of 50 feet (15 m) destroying the wharf and all the buildings except for the schoolhouse and killing 26 people. In 1971, U.S. Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. This Act granted the original residents of Chenega title to over 70,000 acres (28,328 ha) of land in Prince William Sound, paving the way for the Chenega Corporation, which was established three years later in 1974. Although other communities hit hard by the disaster were rebuilt, the survivors of Chenega relocated to Sawmill Bay on the east coast of Evans Island and started the village of Chenega Bay. The ancestral home at Old Chenega village was never rebuilt. A film was made in 1964 about the village and can be seen here and a shorter version here. Read more here and here. Explore more of Old Chenega and Chenega Island here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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