The Old Afognak Village
(Stories have been told that the location of the Afognak village was chosen by the Alutiiq people due to its complex underwater landmarks that provided shelter to the community from those who did not know how to navigate their ships among the rocks.)
The written history began in 1784, when the Russian-American Company arrived in the Kodiak Archipelago:
A sea otter fur hunting post was established on Afognak Island in 1786 that enslaved the Sugpiaq people. In the 1820’s, the Russian-American Company retired many of its employees. Many of the Russian-American workers had married Alutiiq women and did not want to return back to Russian, so alternative locations were chosen for their retirement. One of these retirement locations was next to the Afognak village. The new Russian village was called Ratkovsky and later Derevnia. The village became divided into two sections, Aleut town and Russian town. Even though there were two distinct sides to the village, it all became one Afognak village. Many Alutiiq people learned to speak Russian, and converted to Russian Orthodoxy, but kept their Alutiiq traditions and identity. When Alaska became apart of America, a school was established. Classes were taught in English and the children were forbidden and punished if they spoke either their Russian or their Native tongue. In the 1950’s-1960’s during World War II there was an influx of Scandinavian men to the Afognak village.
March 27th, 1964 the Good Friday earthquake shook the archipelago with a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale that lasted four minutes. The earthquake triggered a series of tsunami’s. This caused the ground to sink 5-8 feet in some areas, and polluted many lakes and water wells with salt water. The town of Afognak had a heavy decision to make, they either rebuilt their community, or relocated. By one vote, the community decided to relocate. The chosen site was picked in Kizhuyak Bay, and was named Port Lions in honor of the Lions Club. Some residents of Afognak chose to move to other villages, Kodiak, Anchorage, Seattle, and other locations. The social make-up of the Afognak village was forever changed.
Nearly all former residents of Afognak have fond memories of the Old Afognak village, they were raised to respect their elders, keep strong family ties, everyone in the family worked hard for what they had, abundant garden beds, herds of cattle, helping one another and sharing what they had, village dances and happy music played by village residents, their traditional foods and culture. Afognak may be an empty town today, but it is very alive in the hearts and memories of those who once lived there.
Today, the Alutiiq Museum conducts intensive studies to preserve archeological sites, and learn more about our cultural history. Artifacts and information can be viewed at the Alutiiq Museum located in downtown Kodiak. To learn more about this dynamic history, see the link to the Native Village of Afognak.