Nikolski, Umnak Island

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Nikolski, Umnak Island

by | Jan 1, 2021

Nikolski is a community located on Nikolski Bay, on the north coast and at the southwest end of Umnak Island, one of the Fox Islands in the Eastern Aleutian Islands, about 910 miles (1,468 km) southwest of Anchorage and 116 miles (187 km) southwest of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Nikolski has an unlighted gravel runway that provides passenger, mail, and cargo service. The airstrip was built during World War II and is still owned by the U.S. Air Force. The village has no wharf or port facilities for ships. Barges deliver cargo once or twice a year, and shallow water in Nikolski Bay requires that goods and passengers are lightered 3 miles (4.8 km) to shore.

Nikolski may be the oldest continuously occupied community in the world. Archaeological evidence from nearby Anangula Island has been dated to 8,500 years ago. In the village of Nikolsk, the Chaluka archaeological site indicates 4,000 years of continuous occupation. In 1834, the village was the base for Russian sea otter hunting and was called “Recheshnoe” meaning “river”. In 1880, the village name was “Nikolsky” and in 1939, this had been changed to the current spelling. In 1920, a boom in fox farming occurred and the resident Aleuts owned a communal boat called the “Umnak Native” which was wrecked in 1933. In June 1942, the Japanese attacked Unalaska and seized Attu and Kiska, and all Umnak Island residents were evacuated to Ward Cove near Ketchikan. Locals were allowed to return in 1944, but exposure to the outside world brought about many changes in the traditional lifestyle and community attitudes. In the 1950s, the U.S. Air Force constructed a White Alice radar communication station on High Hill about 2.5 miles (4 km) north of the village and this provided some local jobs, but it was abandoned in 1977.

Today, most residents support themselves by working outside the village at crab canneries and on processing ships. Income is supplemented by subsistence activities, which provide a substantial part of the villagers’ diets. Salmon, halibut, seals, and ducks are caught. The lack of a harbor and dock has limited commercial fishing opportunities. The village is part of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Inc. which is the federally recognized tribal organization of the Aleut people in Alaska. They own 4,000 to 7,000 sheep, as well as 300 head of cattle and 30 horses that graze over much of the island. Read more here and here. Explore more of Nikolski here:

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