Napakiak, Kuskokwim River

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Napakiak, Kuskokwim River

by | May 18, 2019

Napakiak is a village of Central Alaska Yup’ik maintaining a fishing and subsistence lifestyle. The village is located on the right bank of the Kuskokwim River at the confluence of Johnson Slough in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, about 10 air miles (16 km) southwest of Bethel, Alaska.

The Yup’ik people have lived in this region for at least 1,000 years and probably much longer. The village was first reported in 1878 as “N apahaiagamu te” by E.W. Nelson of the U.S. Signal Service, although it was then further downriver at the mouth of the Johnson River. The village was moved between 1878 and 1884 when Moravian missionaries mention Napakiak as being close to the village of Napaskiak. In 1926, the Moravian Church had a lay worker in the village who began constructing a chapel with funds raised by the Ohio Moravian Association. It took three years to complete the work, and in August 1929, people came from many villages in the area to attend the dedication ceremony. In 1939, a Bureau of Indian Affairs school began operating, and in 1946 a Native-owned village cooperative store was opened. In 1951, the Napakiak post office was established and formalized the current name.

Napakiak is experiencing severe erosion along the Kuskokwim River. The riverbank has eroded over 800 feet (244 m) over 22 years, or about 36 feet (11 m) per year. This extreme rate of erosion is due to several contributing factors including the village location, unstable and readily erodible soil type, all exacerbated by ice gouging and floods. In 2013, concern was expressed by residents for the safety of the school, which at that time was only 400 feet away from the Kuskokwim River. Fuel storage tanks were even closer, at 350 feet away from the river, and with the current erosion rates, the site will be eroded by 2023. Read more here and here. Explore more of Napakiak here:

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