Yalik Village, Nuka Bay

Yalik Village, Nuka Bay

by | Mar 4, 2022

Yalik was a historical Alutiiq village in Yalik Bay on the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula, in present-day Kenai Fjords National Park, about 61 miles (98 km) southwest of Seward and 47 miles (76 km) east of Nanwalek, Alaska. Yalik Bay is at the southwest entrance to the West Arm of Nuka Bay and was named for the village in 1911 by Ulysses S. Grant and Daniel F. Higgins of the U.S. Geological Survey and Northwestern University. The bay is about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide at the mouth and extends west for about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) into the Kenai Mountains. Nuka Bay is a prominent embayment along the southeast coast of the Kenai Peninsula that trends northward from the Pye Islands for about 8 miles (13 km) where it splits into two deep narrow fjords. East Arm extends northeast for 21 miles (34 km) deep into the rugged Kenai Mountains. West Arm extends north-northwest for about 5 miles (8 km) where it splits into North Arm and Beauty Bay. The mountains surrounding Nuka Bay are part of the Chugach-Prince William composite terrane, an accretionary complex that is exposed for about 1,370 miles (2,200 km) along the Southcentral Alaska coast and is inferred to be one of the thickest accretionary complexes in the world. Most of the Chugach-Prince William composite terrane is comprised of trench-fill turbidites deposited over a relatively short period about 75-52 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous and Early Paleogene on the geological time scale. The sedimentary rocks were then uplifted and strongly folded, and at about the same time, igneous intrusions resulted in many smaller bodies of crystalline rocks. Greywacke is the predominant rock type in the area, ranging in color from light to dark gray, and in grain size from fine to coarse. The country has an extremely rugged topography. Vertical to near-vertical cliffs on many of the mountain slopes throughout the area make overland traverses extremely difficult. The mouth of Nuka Bay opens directly into the Gulf of Alaska, and much of the area within the bay is susceptible to rough water during periods of storm and strong onshore winds. Alpine glaciers still occupy many of the larger stream valleys, and icefields and snowfields cover much of the more gentle terrain above 2,000 feet (610 m). A dense spruce forest mantles most of the bedrock from the high-tide level to an elevation of about 500 feet (152 m). There are few ice-free flat areas with freshwater that would allow human habitation, but one such place is tucked behind Yalik Point at the entrance to Yalik Bay.

The Sugpiaq Alutiiq are one of eight Alaska Native peoples that inhabited the coastal fringe of Southcentral Alaska for over 7,500 years. Their traditional homelands include Prince William Sound, the outer Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Alaska Peninsula. Sugpiaq means ‘real person’ and it is the way these Alaska Native people described themselves prior to European contact. At the time of Russian colonization, there were distinct regional groups of Sugpiaq Alutiiq people, each speaking a slightly different dialect of the Alutiiq language. Sugpiaq Alutiiq people 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. Anthropologists believe these cultural similarities reflect a distant but common ancestry. Alutiiq is a name derived from the word ‘Aleut’, the name that Russian fur traders, or promyshlenniki, historically called all of the Native peoples of Southwestern Alaska despite regional differences in language, cultural practices, and history. Aleut means ‘coastal dweller’ and it is derived from a Siberian Native language. Russian traders introduced the term, using it to describe the Native people they encountered in the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Kodiak Archipelago. Aleut is still frequently used to refer to the Native people of the Aleutian Islands, although the word ‘Unangan’, which traditionally means ‘we the people’, is now commonly used. The name ‘Alutiiq’ is the way Sugpiaq people pronounce the Russian-introduced word ‘Aleut’ in their own language. Russian subjugation of the Alutiiq began in 1784 following the massacre at Awa’uq, also known as Refuge Rock, off the east coast of Sitkalidak Island near the present-day village of Old Harbor on Kodiak Island. The Sugpiaq Alutiiq people traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, living in semi-subterranean homes called ‘ciqlluaq’ or barabaras, and subsisted primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whales hunted from skin-covered boats. They supplemented these maritime foods with berries and land mammals.

The number of villages that existed historically along the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula is not well documented. Known villages sites on the outer coast west of Seward include an unnamed settlement in Aialik Bay at Verdant Cove, Yalik village in Nuka Bay, and Nuna’tunaq in Rocky Bay. Yalik village is the only settlement on the coast to survive by name into the historic period. In the 1830s, a trading post and Russian Orthodox chapel were established at Yalik village. Church records provided lists of people who were christened and other activities of the clergy. In 1867, the Alaska Purchase transferred the territory from Russia to the United States. In 1872, the Alaska Commercial Company opened a store or trading post in Yalik Bay and employees from English Bay continued to visit and stock the store into the 1880s. The specific location of the store is not known. It is probable that the Yalik store was built near the village or it may have been across Yalik Bay on the north shore or possibly farther into the bay. The Yalik store probably stocked a portion of the merchandise found at the station in English Bay. This included a selection of general dry goods, cloth, shoes, cooking utensils, religious objects, toiletries, specialty items, and all types of hunting and fishing equipment. Company records indicate that employees at the English Bay station regularly made trips to Yalik Bay probably on fur buying expeditions. The station also paid wages to the village chief on a monthly basis. Yalik village residents were called ‘yaleymiut’ and were an independent band with a population of 32 in the census of 1880 by Ivan Petroff. Yalik village was abandoned by 1890, probably as a result of declining sea otter populations, an influenza epidemic in 1884, and the efforts of the Russian Orthodox church to consolidate remote villages. Owing to the devout following of the Native people in the Russian Orthodox Church, and the difficulty of servicing such a distant and inaccessible locale by clergy headquartered in Kenai, Yalik residents were requested to move to English Bay to be near the main church. Slowly the population of the outer coast diminished, and by the 1950s, the last community to be abandoned was Port Chatham. Almost everyone moved to either Nanwalek or Port Graham. Read more here and here. Explore more of Yalik Bay and Nuka Bay here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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. 

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