Sheshalik, Kotzebue Sound

Sheshalik, Kotzebue Sound

by | Sep 20, 2019

Sheshalik is a seasonal community located at the end of Sheshalik Spit on Kotzebue Sound, 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Kotzebue, Alaska. The end of Sheshalik Spit marks the southern boundary of the Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Sheshalik is an Iñupiat village once famous as a trading area for coastal and interior natives. The name of this village was recorded as “Sesualik” by Captain Frederick William Beechey in 1831, but today is spelled “Sisualik” which in Iñupiat means “one that has beluga whales” from sisuaq “beluga whale”.

In the early 1900s, Natives in Northwestern Alaska lived in small scattered communities consisting of one or a few extended families. These family groups migrated seasonally, constantly in pursuit of wild game animals. The people who lived along Norton and Kotzebue Sounds and the western tip of the Seward Peninsula depended on the spring hunts for seals, whales, and walrus and on fishing at other times of the year. Inland people from the upper Kobuk River Valley, and along the Fish River on the Seward Peninsula exploited their geographic position to act as the principal traders between Bering Sea Natives and those farther inland. Sheshalik was the site for an annual trading fair that attracted more than two thousand Native people from throughout the region including Siberia. The trading tradition continued with the arrival of European explorers and New England whalers and by the 1880s, the Bering Strait people had incorporated numerous Western goods into their daily lives.

The promise of Western goods drew people from the far upper parts of the Noatak and Kobuk valleys who took jobs with the whalers. For several years in the late 1890s, perhaps as many as half of Alaska’s Native people north of the strait were seasonally involved in the whaling industry. However, this intensive whaling activity quickly wiped out the primary food source of the coastal Iñupiat diet. In 1890, Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary and head of the U.S. Bureau of Education in Alaska, recruited missionaries who would also serve as teachers. When the agency built schools and stores along the Noatak, upper Kobuk, and Selawik rivers in 1907 and 1908, the people immediately followed and built permanent homes, creating villages such as Kotzebue, Wales, Point Hope but consequently leaving many abandoned communities like Sheshalik along the coast. Read more here and here. Explore more of Sheshalik here:

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