Old Harbor (Nuniaq) is an Alutiiq village on the southeast side of Kodiak Island, Alaska, and is located across from Sitkalidak Island. Old Harbor holds a rich culture with spiritual ties to the land, bonds of kinship and belief, respect for Elders and community, and the shared practices of a subsistence lifestyle. The area around Old Harbor is documented through the archaeological record to have been inhabited for early 2,000 years.
The community of Old Harbor (Nuniaq) has its origins in the era of Russian conquest with the arrival of the Russian Grigori Shelikov and his “Three Saints” flagship in 1784. In that year Russian traders massacred several hundred Alutiiq men, women, and children at Refuge Rock, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Sitkalidak Island. This act led to the Russians establishing the Three Saints Bay settlement and the subsequent abuse of the Alutiiq people of the region. In 1788, a tsunami destroyed the Three Saints Bay settlement and two more earthquakes struck before 1792, and the Russians abandoned the settlement and relocated to what is now the City of Kodiak. When the settlement was reestablished at Three Saints Harbor later in the 1800s the name was recorded as “Staruigavan,” meaning “old harbor” in Russian.
Our community has long been a refuge for people from other villages. Survivors of a devastating smallpox epidemic joined the community in 1838, and in the twentieth century, people from the villages of Aiaktalik and Eagle Harbor resettled here. Even our own residents were forced to resettle when Old Harbor was badly damaged by the tsunamis that followed the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. Only the community’s Orthodox church survived the flood and our families had to rebuild their homes.
Throughout our history, our people have made their living from the sea. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, commercial fishing became an economic mainstay and residents worked in area canneries processing fish for western markets. Residents also were whalers at the nearby Port Hobron station.
Commercial fishing as our economic mainstay began to decline in the 1960s primarily due to the documented and negative impacts of state and federal fisheries policy that serve to restrict access to our community’s Alutiiq fishermen. The Old Harbor Alliance which brings together the Old Harbor Native Corporation, the City of Old Harbor, and the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, is working on a number of economic initiatives to re-establish community prosperity. We have been part of KALI’s regional efforts including participation in the Kodiak Archipelago Rural Regional Leadership Forum, since 2005.
Food Security is a very high priority for the Old Harbor Alliance. Beginning in 2008, Old Harbor joined with KALI and other communities in our region to address very low regional food security through the establishment of soil and hydroponic farms for healthy, organic produce. Old Harbor holds an agriculture camp in the summers to connect our Elders and families to our farm and to encourage home gardening. We also own and manage the Sitkalidak Bison Herd, one of only two herds managed by Alaska Natives.