Hooper Bay is a Central Yup’ik community located on the northern shore of an embayment also named Hooper Bay in the Bering Sea, between Dall Point to the north and Nuok Spit to the south, about 154 miles (248 km) west-northwest of Bethel and 28 miles (45 km) south-southwest of Scammon Bay, Alaska. The Yup’ik name for the current village is ‘Naparyarmiut’, and it was known as ‘Askinuk’ when visited in 1881 by Edward W. Nelson of the U.S. Army Signal Corp, referring to the mountainous area between Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay. The embayment was named after Calvin L. Hooper who was the captain of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin while exploring much of the Bering and Chukchi seas and who later established the Bering Sea Patrol. In 1934, a post office was established in the village and adopted the name of the bay. Hooper Bay has a subsistence-based economy and functions as a hub for nearby smaller villages such as Chevak and Scammon Bay. Several smaller villages in the area no longer exist such as Paimiut meaning ‘people of the stream mouth’ which is about 15 miles northeast in Kokechik Bay and is now used as a summer fish camp by residents of Hooper Bay.
Commercial fishing and subsistence activities are fundamental to the economy and lifestyle of Hooper Bay residents. The subsistence lifestyle requires the Yup’ik people to be very mobile, using seasonal camps to follow the migration and seasonal availability of traditional foods, mostly fish, seals, and birds. In the winter, hunters travel far out onto the ice to hunt seals and historically, failure would often mean starvation. Eider ducks and emperor geese are important during the fall and spring. Salmon are caught from late May through mid-July, mostly Yukon River Chinook, chum and pink salmon, but also Kotzebue and Norton Sound chum salmon. The ancestral Yup’ik of Hooper Bay included the Nuvugmiut, Miluqautmiut, and Nenerrlugarmiut people who were involved in the Bow and Arrow War, a centuries-long conflict among Yup’ik people living along the Bering Sea coast south of the Yukon River and riverine Yup’ik people living along the Yukon River and Pastole Bay on Norton Sound. These groups often banded together for defense and offensive raids against enemies. The tribal skirmishes continued until the arrival of Russian explorers in the 1840s. This shared history still links the present-day villages of Chevak, Scammon Bay, and Hooper Bay.
Western Alaska comprises numerous isolated rural communities spread along an extensive coastline, and high winds have the capacity to cause widespread damage by storm surges that elevate sea height above normal. Storms tend to occur in fall or winter when temperatures are below freezing and there are minimal daylight hours, compounding hardship during the aftermath. Sea ice can reduce storm surge but the rapid decline in sea ice extent has left coastal communities vulnerable for periods longer than those observed in the historical record. Even the smaller and more frequent storms now cause significant flooding and erosion damage in many coastal communities; however, flood history is poorly documented. Land use at Hooper Bay has been largely dictated by physical factors, including presence of permafrost, drainage problems, loss of sea ice, wind direction, and potential for erosion and shoreline change. In the 1990s, a survey found that the Hooper Bay area is underlain by an extensive, continuous layer of permafrost. Village elders observe that the climate in Hooper Bay is warming, and that the permafrost is melting resulting in land subsidence and increased frequency of flooding and erosion. Read more here and here. Explore more of Hooper Bay and the Bering Sea here: