Beyond the Moon Crater Myth
A New History of the Aniakchak Landscape
A Historic Resource Study for Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
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Russian Period (1741-1917)
Father Aleksandr Kedrovskii (shown with his family) was the priest of Unalaska, and made numerous trips to chapels located along the central Alaska Peninsula coastline, including Kanatak and Chignik. Alaska State Library Collection, Michael Z. Vinokouroff Photograph Collection, ca. 1880s-1970s, P243-2-168.

The Russian Orthodox Church:
Bridging the Old World with the New

From Wide Bay, the peaks of the mountains of Kodiak became visible, like little black hats on the sea. We passed the bay of Kanatnoi [Kanatak] and at 7 o'clock in the evening landed on the shore for the night. The sea was quiet, only faintly the surf rustled, presaging a change in the weather...

Father Tikhon Shalamov, Orthodox Priest Describing his travels to the Alaska Peninsula from Kodiak Island American Orthodox Messenger, 1895

Besides promoting himself as an outdoorsman, mountaineer, and geologist, Father Hubbard always identified himself as a jesuit priest. [1] Beyond his persona as the "Glacier Priest," Hubbard saw and consistently described God's omnipotence and beauty in the natural world of Aniakchak. He even said Mass while inside the Caldera, offering communion and spiritual guidance to his faithful companions. Once, while waiting for transportation to Aniakchak at a salmon cannery, his crew and a few employees became engaged in a lively discussion about how salmon manage to return to Alaska Peninsula's rivers. Hubbard, who retold the story in his book Cradle of the Storms, offered this explanation:

For several years, I have been interested in the salmon question myself, and as I am not in the employ either of the Bureau of Fisheries or of any particular canning interest, I can discuss the subject in a disinterested way. Naturally I start at the beginning, and the beginning, of course, starts with God. [2]

Father Hubbard's faith in both religion and science, coupled with his passion for adventure, placed him in a category of men known for their pioneering explorations of North America's frontier. In his exploits inside the Aniakchak Caldera, Hubbard followed a trail blazed earlier by seventeenth and eighteenth century Jesuits who canoed, trekked, and camped across the New World when it was to most colonists an unknown and unexplored land. With their reports, many Jesuits added significantly to the Old World's knowledge of the New. They made innumerable studies of the flora, fish, and fauna, as well as observations of the land and original occupants. As the historian Hubert Bancroft noted in 1886, "not a cape was turned, not a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way." Three centuries later, Hubbard continued the tradition of the frontiering priest. As fellow Jesuit Francis Talbot wrote:

He [Hubbard] seeks to learn what is deep in the interior of a volcano erupting, what residue lies in the crater, where the storms have their origins, whither the salmon migrate, what lies beyond those distant mountain peaks... [3]

As such, Father Hubbard's expeditions assisted Catholic causes in Alaska. "I resolve only to use my camera with full permission..." declared Hubbard, "...when God's honor or my neighbors' spiritual goods, or real charity require it." But his avocation and talent were so strong, notes Hubbard's biographer Kathy Price, that cameras remained by his side throughout his life, and he continually found reasons to use his photography and films. [4] When Father Hubbard visited Alaska villages, instead of preaching from the Bible, the Glacier Priest proselytized his service to the cross through the lens of a camera. In Chignik, for example, Hubbard showed a movie called "The Sign of the Cross." Chignik Lake resident Christine Martin remembers that summer day in 1931:

...It must have been Father Hubbard [who] showed a movie, a Bible movie, 'cause they said he was Father Hubbard. It was a good movie. All about Jesus, from Adam and Eve, to New Testament. I can't forget it. 'Cause it was so real, like my Bible pictures. I think about it lots of times. I look, when I see advertisements, I look for that. [5]

By the time Father Hubbard reached the Alaska Peninsula in the late 1920s, most inhabitants, like Christine Martin, already professed the Christian faith. For nearly 200 years, priests had visited the central peninsula, prompting the religious conversion of many of its people. Over the years, these missionaries braved raging seas and unfamiliar lands. They, along with their parishioners, built new settlements, brought literacy to the region, contributed to improving the general health of the area. The missionary priests made important observations about the physical environment, and described their strong spiritual connection to it. Most significantly, the priests witnessed and documented tremendous technological, material, and cultural change on the peninsula. But unlike the Jesuits of the North American frontier, who traveled from east to west, propagating Roman Catholicism, Russian Orthodox priests followed the rising sun eastward, tending to their Orthodox Christian followers.

Between 1741 and 1867, representatives of the Russian Imperial government occupied portions of the Aniakchak region, and its fur trappers and traders—the promyshlenniki—left a permanent mark on the indigenous population living there. But, as new diseases, environmental degradation, and societal disintegration generated by the Russian invasion eroded cultural confidence, it was the missionaries—priests of the Russian Orthodox Church—who gradually gained a strong foothold within Native communities on the Alaska Peninsula.

Portrait of Veniaminov, Ivan (Ioann, Innokentii), Metropolitan of Moscow, 1797-1879, Russian Orthodox priest, archbishop and scholar. Alaska State Library Collection, PCA 20-31

Besides cultural disruption caused by the retreat of the Russian fur trade, Alutiit had other reasons for converting to Orthodoxy. As the furs began to decline, American businessmen introduced practices that began to upset trade systems long-established during the Russian era. "They told me that the agents of the [Alaska Commercial] company so underrated sales...," noted a priest in Wide Bay, "...that they give for a fox a cup of tea." [6] As it evolved in nineteen century villages, the Russian Orthodox Church began to represent a kind of alliance, formed against the encroaching American culture and economy. Thus, the Russians and the Alutiit together established an institution that they both thought furthered interests generated within their own societies. And, perhaps as artificial as conversion was in the beginning, mutual understanding between priests and parishioners was maintained through rituals and ceremonies based on religious parallels and spiritual commonalities.

Orthodoxy did not pose as a façade, where beneath it lay ancient beliefs and values. Instead, the Church became a place where both Russian and Native people interacted and became equal participants in the conversion process. According to scholars like Sergei Kan and Andrei Znamenski, Native people were able to adapt Christianity to their own needs and were able to transform it into something meaningful to them. In fact, because there were so few actual "Russians" on the Alaska Peninsula, adoption of Orthodoxy by Alutiiq inhabitants could be considered not an imposition, but rather a choice. This accommodation contributed to the formation of what scholars would call a genuine form of Alaska Native Christianity. [7]

Ironically, this significant period of Slavic influence on the Alaska Peninsula did not occur during Russia's tenure in Alaska, but when the Alutiiq people had already lived a few decades under American rule. [8] From the time Russia sold Alaska to the United States to approximately the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church transformed from an agent of change to a physical and social entity, a place where Russians and Natives shared the same space. Ultimately, in Native villages throughout the peninsula, Orthodoxy and indigenous tradition synthesized and transcended into a new form of spiritual belief.

By the end of the nineteenth century, American newcomers to the Alaska Peninsula began to change the composition of nineteenth century village society. By importing innovative technology, modern goods, new forms of transportation, conflicting moral and religious systems, disease, alcohol, and, of course, capitalism, Americans brought significant economic and societal change. As a result, status quo accommodation within villages began to break down. Nevertheless, despite Americanization, the Alutiiq brand of Orthodoxy continues to this day. Indeed, nowhere was Russian influence greater or more lasting on the central peninsula than in the religious transformation that bridged the Old World with the New. [9]

The Transition from Promyshlennik to Priest: 1794-1808

The transition from promyshlennik to priest did not occur over night. The Russian Orthodox mission officially began in Alaska in 1794, as "a frank instrument of Russia's pacification policy," according to historian Barbara Sweetland Smith. [10] In that year, monks from a monastery in Siberia arrived in Russian America and established the Ka'diak Spiritual Mission. The establishment of the mission was due in part to Grigorii Shelikhov, whose exaggerated reports to the government strongly argued that conversion of the indigenous peoples was vital to the new territory for the peaceful exchange of furs.

Shelikhov might well have been more concerned with fur profits than faith. In the early days of Russian occupation, it was common for Russian promyshlenniki to baptize Alaska Natives, ostensibly for the purpose of having the baptized became a servant to the baptizer. Shelikhov observed this activity and from apparent concern that his company would lose Native hunters to competitors, he successfully convinced Catherine II to assign a religious mission to the colony to regulate baptisms and end the competition for converts. [11] Catherine II sent ten missionaries to the new colony with the instructions not to force Christianity, but to attract converts by example. [12]

Although considered an independent institution, the Church received financial support from the Russian-American Company to build chapels and churches, pay salaries of priests, and operate schools. [13] In Russian artels, Christianity was tied to the economic and social activities of the fur trade. The monks increasingly operated as both religious enlighteners of the Natives and moral overseers of the Russians. Not surprisingly, the Russian-American Company, which paid the priests' salary, expressed its wish that the monks confine their work to the task of Native conversion. Village priests continued to preoccupy themselves with company matters and, as a result, clashes between company employees and missionaries frequently occurred. [14]

The missionaries primarily objected to the Company's treatment of the Native population. In 1796, one monk in particular took matters into his own hands. He abandoned his post without authorization and brought the Native cause directly to the attention of the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg. [15] The Church heard his complaint, and consequently commissioned Hieromonk Gideon in 1804 to inspect and report on the conditions of the American colonies and churches. Gideon confirmed rumors that the Russian promyshlenniki took human lives in the same contemptuous way that they slaughtered what had once been Alaska's bountiful sea mammal population. Gideon's reports reached the highest levels of Russian government and were instrumental in bringing about positive modification in the behavior of company personnel. Gideon's formal observations also influenced the decision to remove Alexander Baranov as manager of the Russian-American Company for his abuses of the Native population. [16]

In addition to defending Native people against exploitation by the Russian-America Company, Russian priests also devoted much of their time to describing Native cultures. Gideon's papers serve as the best ethnographic record of Alutiiq people in the early 1800s. In one report, for example, Gideon described a Women's Dance at an Alutiiq feast:

Women and young girls always dance by themselves, without men. They solemnly line up in a row, tightly one behind another, and by slight, almost imperceptible movements, they crouch down, then straighten up in the same manner, now and then swaying to the right and then to the left. At the beginning of their dance they first of all extend slightly forward their left hands, and with fingers bent, hold them in this position as long as the singers sing without words. As soon as those who beat the drums and sing begin to sing about their dead ancestors, the women immediately and in unison, turn their palms downward, toward the ground. During the women's dance, old men who are enjoying themselves make every possible effort to make some of them laugh, as according to their custom the father or husband of the woman who succumbs to teasing and laughs must pay a fine for the benefit of the old and the poor: it is enough for a wife or a daughter just to smile ever so slightly while dancing. I myself was given a gift of a lavtak by a father and a sealskin by a husband when their daughter and wife respectively violated their ancient tradition. I donated these items for the benefit of the poor and received from the old men then present much approval and gratitude. [17]

With the transfer of the Russian-American Company headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka in 1808, priests slowly began to replace promyshlenniki as the dominating Russian presence on the Alaska Peninsula. Within the first few decades of the nineteenth century, a relatively small group of ecclesiastics, three of the original ten clerics converted much of the aboriginal population of the Aleutian Chain and the Alaska Peninsula to Christianity. About that time, Archimandrite Ioasaf Bolotov reported that missionaries had baptized 6,740 Natives from Kodiak, the neighboring islands, and the Alaska Peninsula and performed 1,573 marriages. [18] Three priests would not have been able to convert such an astounding number, had it not been for the role the Alutiit themselves played in extending Christianity throughout the region.

Alutiiq Shamans and Orthodox Priests Blending Systems of Belief: 1808-1867

The widespread religious conversions that occurred during the first half of the nineteenth century happened at a time when outside forces were continually contradicting traditional beliefs. After years of Russian control and integration, Alutiiq peoples' sense of cultural identity and independence began to change. For years, the Russians dominated economic activities, and the one-time subsistence population became dependent upon European trade goods. Epidemics and harsh working conditions caused Native populations to rapidly decline, while hunting practices nearly wiped out the fur-bearing animals that once flourished in the region. Alutiiq hunters presumably experienced terrible guilt as they left meat to rot for the price of furs. Such practices undermined traditional knowledge of the natural world as Natives witnessed Russian, and later, American, hunters consistently break taboos without repercussion.

This lack of control over their spiritual lives led many confused and anxious people to question their own ways of knowing. According to their worldview, the most feared thing was the breakdown of the equilibrium inherent in nature, which would disturb "the balance so necessary for the survival of society." [19] According to a priest from Kodiak, Natives and Creoles of Wrangel established the small village because they were "attracted to the sea by sea otters," that had been decimated in other areas, and because they were fleeing from "the oppressive stewards [and hunting practices] of the company in the Nushagak District." [20] As disease, over-hunting, and environmental degradation began to fragment the existing order, Alutiit sought relief within the Church, whose priests could supply them with explanations. Based on the Orthodox tenet that the priest, not the individual, maintained the balance between human individuals and the spirit world, the Church was able to comfort the collective conscience of its parishioners. It appealed to a people utterly distraught and no longer feeling capable of maintaining balance in such a world of change. Many people consciously chose the alternative that Orthodoxy afforded and adopted Orthodoxy as a strategy to deal with the contradictions and dislocations that had bombarded their traditional worldview. [21]

The success of the Christian synthesis of Native and Russian societies began, in part, with the attitudes priests held towards nature. Most the Russian priests who proselytized on the Alaska Peninsula in the last half of the nineteen century had never experienced the urban life in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Rather, they came from monasteries set in the backdrop of the Siberian wilderness, and some even maintained indigenous blood ties to the Asiatic region. As a result, Russian Orthodoxy was unlike European Christianity, especially in terms of beliefs about nature. According to Andrei Znamenski, the missionary's struggle to survive the peninsula's harsh environment was more than a job hazard, but rather, a requirement of it. Instead of living above nature, Orthodox priests were required to live, and more accurately, suffer, within it.

In his book, Shamanism and Christianity, Znamenski suggests that clerics entered the wilderness searching for an experience to prove their asceticism and imitate Christ's suffering in the arid, hostile desert wilderness. According to official church doctrine, each missionary was to look for an ideal place that would remind him of the Biblical desert and help him to renounce the pleasures of life. As Znamenski contends, the metaphor of the desert was transplanted to the northern environment, where severe cold and ice of the tundra lands replaced the extreme heat of Biblical Palestine. [22]

Russian Orthodox Churches in the Aniakchak Landscape. By B. Bundy. Source: Morseth, 2003, Map 4.A and 4.B. (click on image for a PDF version)

Thus, Orthodox priests allowed the desert metaphor to guide them as they ventured the length of the Alaska Peninsula's tundra lands. Father Tikhon Shalamov's experience in 1895 is representative. After a particularly bad coastal storm prevented him from reaching a village, the priest watched in great awe as the sun eventually broke through the clouds, allowing him and his Native companions to reach their destination. Father Shalamov interpreted the improving weather as a sign from God and wrote in his journal, "The morning sun joyously beamed, illuminating the land... the sea rolled upon its shores; clean, cloudless sky showed blue." He had not forgotten, however, his terrifying crossing of Shelikof Strait from Kodiak to the mainland, and when he celebrated Mass after reaching the Alaska Peninsula, a relieved Shalamov recounted his near-death experience in reaching the Alaska Peninsula, and effectively tied his experience to his Native parishioners. "Tears came to our eyes," he later wrote as he recalled the response of those who had gathered to attend Mass. "All the inhabitants reverently with faith and love joined the Cleansed Body and Blood." Then, when it was time to move on to the next village, Shalamov praised not only the Natives he had converted, but also the natural world in which they lived, acknowledging that good weather was fleeting and indeed, a great gift from Above:

Having eaten, at 3 o'clock we packed everything in the canoe and set off toward the village of Katmai. From Wide Bay the peaks of the mountains of Kodiak became visible, like little black hats on the sea. We passed the bay of Kanatnoi [Kanatak] and at 7 o'clock in the evening landed on the shore for the night. .. .. . . . The sea was quiet, only faintly the surf rustled, presaging a change in the weather. [23]

Unlike French and English missionaries who viewed the North American wilderness as an evil place, indeed, as a place to fear, Russian priest seemed to authentically embrace Alaska's natural world. For example, Father Shalamov, while visiting a village at Wide Bay, appeared content that the peninsula's natural beauty—the clear blue skies and glistening snow covered mountains—aptly served as walls and ceiling of an Orthodox chapel:

There still being no chapel, we asked permission to build one. Meetings took place under the open sky; in the place of the meetings stands two lecterns and a cross... For services the Aleuts [Alutiit and Creoles] put together from new clean boards two tables, which we sprinkled with holy water, and on the holy cross we supplied the form of the Savior. At 5 o'clock we anointed the children, and at 6 o'clock we conducted a vespers vigil. The place of the service was on a peninsula; on two sides the sea and all around snow-covered mountains. During the blessing all kneeled. The sun set in the mountains, the sunset turning crimson. It was completely quiet. . . . [24]

It is likely that the Alutiiq people viewed the missionaries' awareness of the natural world as being consistent with their own traditional relationship with nature. Thus, it is important to remember that the dynamic southwestern Alaskan landscape and its numerous challenges resonated in the Orthodox experience, playing much the same significant role that it had in traditional Native spiritual beliefs.

The attitudes that Russian priests held towards the Alutiiq's traditional spiritual leaders, the shamans, also helped blend religious views. In contrast to French and Spanish Jesuits, in most areas of southwestern Alaska, some Russian clerics tolerated shamanistic practice, even among those already baptized. Although they discouraged ceremonialism and other forms of religious practice, the clergy supported the shaman's social role as healer, seer, and hunting administrator. [25] The shamans, on the other hand, did not separate economic and social life from religion. To maintain the success of such activities, shamans constantly sought spiritual power from as many sources as possible, and were, as Znamenski contends, open to innovation." It is important to note that Christianity was just one source with which shamans readily blended their own rituals. [26]

With power provided by medical innovations like the smallpox vaccine at his disposal, the Russian Orthodox priest slowly took on the social and spiritual responsibilities traditionally held by the shaman. Gradually, as the priest became the healer, clairvoyant, pacifier of the forces of nature, and the link to the spirit world, Native religious views shifted from animism to an all-encompassing relationship with God, or at least, what the Alutiiq version of God became. [27] By the beginning of the twentieth century, the shaman's role became, in essence, an instrument through which the priest was able to teach villagers a new kind of spirituality—a spirituality that could be superimposed upon a belief system already familiar to parishioners. Orthodoxy, then, became compatible with villagers' traditional religious views through the conduit that the shaman offered.

For a long time a blurred line existed between Shamanism and Orthodoxy, for the missionaries recorded the coexistence of both. As Znamenski points out about the Alutiiq neighbors, the Dena'ina, "In order to retain their group identity along with other tools, the Dena'ina used Russian Orthodoxy, which was the most familiar European church to them and apparently appealed to them because of its ancient ritualism." [28] It is important to remember that Native belief, like any, were constantly filtered through personal social and spiritual experiences and not all Alutiit made the transition to Orthodoxy in the same way. However, this gray transition period served as a refuge where residents negotiated the transition to Christianity on their own terms.

By 1821, the conversion numbers on the Alaska Peninsula had increased even more. Enlightened governmental reforms that emphasized the multi-national character of the Russian Empire inspired a new missionary zeal within the Orthodox Church, which responded by sending more missionaries into the eastern territories. That same year, the government provided the Russian-American Company with its second charter. Charter terms required that the Company make an organized effort to Christianize the Natives within its jurisdiction. [29]

To achieve such goals, the Church instructed missionaries to train an indigenous clergy, to render Native languages into written form, and to translate the Sacred Books in Aleut, Alutiiq, Yupiiq, and Athabascan so that liturgy could be performed in the Native tongue. [30] But as Znamenski notes, "even Russian clerics who demonstrated a tolerant approach to natives still maintained ambivalent attitudes towards Native clergy whom they judged in an evolutionary sense to be somewhere between the 'wild' natives and the Russians, and did not extend to them complete trust or respect." [31] The advantage of an indigenous clergy was that they understood the aspirations of the local people and they could employ traditional channels in making the Orthodox Church message attractive and appealing. Thus, in accordance with the 1821 Russian-American Company Charter, by the mid-1820s, the Russian Orthodox Church had designed a bilingual educational system to train, teach, and convert Alaska's indigenous population.

Indeed, a multicultural education system played a major role in converting Alaska's Native population to Christianity, but it did something that other colonial-civilizing projects did not—it indigenized the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska. Unlike most colonial powers in North America that marginalized the indigenous peoples, the Russian Orthodox Church included Native people more or less as equal mediators and translators of the missionary message. This was based on the Church's fundamental principle—which held that one did not have to become a Russian to be a Christian. [32] This meant that Orthodox educators allowed Native peoples to keep their most salient cultural trait—their language.

At first, however, administrators of the Russian-American Company used the system to their own advantage—as a means to create a convenient labor supply. Hardly altruistic, the Company agreed to give all Creoles a free education in exchange for future work. Still, Creole children who learned to read, write, and do arithmetic in company schools were able to work their way up the social ladder. Some children gained specialized training in navigation and maritime schools and became middle managers in the Russian colony. But regardless of the social advantages, the Imperial government's primary goal for bilingual education was to teach Native people to read from the Holy Scripture and spread the word of God.

By the mid-1800s, the degree of linguistic diversity in Russian America was astonishing. Some parish schools offered as many as four different languages: Russian, English, Church Slavonic, and a Native language. [33] Orthodox priests sent to Russian America after the Second Charter pioneered these multilinguistic achievements. One of the most significant, Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, for whom the stratacone south of Aniakchak is named, arrived at Unalaska in 1824. Veniaminov compiled Aleut dictionaries and translated important parts of the New Testament and other Christian texts from Church Slavonic and Russian into several Native languages. These works were used for both Church service and school education. Other gifted representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church include Veniaminov's colleague and protege, Father Iakov Netsvetov, a Russian Creole, who was the first Orthodox priest of Aleut descent.

From 1840 to 1866, the Russian-American missions grew from four churches and an equal number of clergy, to nine churches, including a cathedral, and 35 chapels. [34] In the following year, however, the Orthodox faithful suffered a painful blow. With the sale of the Russian-American holdings to the United States, Company personnel withdrew from Alaska, and consequently, so did many of the priests. By 1870, only the churches of Kodiak, Sitka, and Unalaska remained in full operation. [35]

In the light of the change in national governments, the Church began to reassess its continued support of its missions in North American. Encouragement came as the United States and Russia settled treaty terms. According to Article II and Article III of the Treaty of Cession, the "Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church" was allowed to retain its property in Alaska and continue its mission. The Church's activities would be protected by guarantees of freedom of religion. [36] As a result, Orthodoxy continued to make a deep impression on the indigenous inhabitants after the 1867 sale, especially in southwestern Alaska.

Over time, despite the initial shock resulting from the separation from Russia, the Orthodox Church in Alaska, not only survived, but grew, especially on the Alaska Peninsula. [37] Money to support the Church still came primarily from the Motherland, which also appointed the bishops and trained most of the clergy. With continuing funding, the parish built new churches and chapels while older ones were revived. And even though the Russian Orthodox Church in North America remained a diocese of the state church of Russia, throughout the early American period—from 1867 into the early twentieth century—the blending of Native and Russian culture had transformed the religion into something new.

Conversion on the Tundra Nineteenth Village Life in Aniakchak: 1860s-1890s

During the period that took place approximately between the American purchase and the Russian Revolution, the Orthodox Church served as a refuge, where late nineteenth century villages on the Alaska Peninsula could recover from the retreating Russian fur trade and be, at least for the time, shielded from encroaching American culture and economy.

In addition to concern hardships brought about by a retreating fur trade, Alutiiq anxieties had been elevated, as well, by the advancement of American culture. Encroaching American systems introduced economic changes such as a debt-inducing credit system, cost-cutting business practices, and racially charged cultural perceptions that caused tension between the Alutiit and the early American newcomers. The Church clearly offered respite to the Alutiit from worldly pressures that were beyond their control. In an 1895 Kodiak parish document, Russian Orthodox priest Tikhon Shalamov illustrated this point, as he described the resettlement of Wide Bay by Native and Creole groups, recounting the villagers open embrace of the Orthodox religion:

Here the Aleuts had resettled not long ago, in the last two years... the majority being arrivals from the Nushagak parish, the village of Ugashik, fleeing from stewards of the trading company [to be] nearer to the sea where valuable sea otters can be found... [38]

Like the Alutiit, the Church was also leery of a growing American presence. Many priests believed that Protestant missionaries would challenge the Orthodox Church and attempt to steal converts from its parishes. It formed an alliance with Native leaders who also viewed American enterprise as intrusive and used the Russian Orthodox faith as an amalgamating force.

Between 1799 and 1840, most of the churches established in villages near Aniakchak were administered from two parishes: the Kodiak parish located on Kodiak Island, and the Belkofski parish located near the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula. To serve parishioners, the priest from Kodiak traveled across the treacherous Shelikhov Strait, and the Belkofski parish priest had to negotiate the length of the Alaska Peninsula. In 1841, a new Nushagak parish was established to serve villages located on the Bristol Bay side of the peninsula. In 1906, the priest from Belkofski parish requested that the parish center be moved to Chignik, where half of his members lived. [39]

Russian Orthodox Church Port Heiden, ca. 1912. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, THWAITES 247.185.

During their journeys up and down the peninsula's coastline, Orthodox priests encountered Native peoples who had spent the last century adapting to cultural change and were outwardly caught between a Native and a Slavic world. No longer dominated by Russian traders, residents of the Alaska Peninsula gradually returned to more traditional cultural patterns, where families lived, at least seasonally, at temporary fishing and hunting camps. In 1861, for example, a priest visiting the Ugashik River noted:

From 13 to 16 July, the people, especially the men, began to disperse to fish; many women, too, left the settlements for [illegible], sorrel, etc, and we could not censure this departure of the residents before my departure or consider it their ignorance or indifference toward the priest. This is nearly the only time of year when they put up every kind of supplies for the year's subsistence. [40]

Still, the return to subsistence strategies was not fully realized, for the Alutiit had learned to blend much of their culture with customs, practices, and material items belonging to the outsiders. For decades, the Alutiit had moved in the orbit of European commerce, and as a result, hunters gravitated towards local trading posts to exchange a percentage of their catch for pots, guns, sugar, flour, coffee, and alcohol. As long as Natives received fair and balanced trade, the last half of the nineteenth century proved to be a period of stability on the Alaska Peninsula. In 1895, Father Vladimir Modestov of the Nushagak parish noted that "from Ugashek a merchant will send [to the residents of Agishek] provisions and other goods, and receives furs from them." [41]

For most of the year at least, these residents lived in villages scattered across the central Alaska Peninsula and adapted seemingly well to their multicultural existence. They wore an ensemble that combined Native ground-squirrel parkas with Western woolen shirts and trousers. Even the remaining promyshlenniki and the incoming American traders wore distinctive outfits consisting of Russian, Siberian, Native and European garments. [42] Footwear usually consisted of the well-made traditional nalugatut boots. Men's hairstyles modeled Russian cuts and many grew long, bushy beards. [43] Creoles, who spoke both Russian and Alutiiq, made up the majority of inhabitants, but other Alaska Natives, such as Yupiit and Aleuts, also moved into the villages from outlying regions. Even villagers' houses were architecturally stuck between two cultures, for most people lived in half-frame and half subterranean homes. Although they continued to preserve food in traditional ways, the process was conducted outside the home, while inside, people practiced better hygiene. In 1909, Father Apollinarii Kedrovskii even advised the residents of Chignik Lagoon "to build roomy houses and put wall paper on the inside." [44]

Interior of a Russian Orthodox Chapel ca. 1912. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, THWAITES 247.912.

Most nineteenth century villages were not founded on traditional sites, but were built in entirely new locations. Although the promise of Church membership was not the sole factor for the establishment of new communities, the Orthodox religion attracted settlers displaced by the declining Russian fur trade, and, simultaneously acted as a unifying force for the new inhabitants. One of those villages was Vvedenski, now known as Chignik Bay. An account from the Orthodox Church records written in 1909 describes the formation of Vvedenski:

The village consisting of 2-3 barabaras was founded about 10 years ago. In 1907/8 upon the priest's requests, the inhabitants built a church in the name of the Entry [Vvedeniye] of Virgin Mary into the Temple. Since then the village has grown. Orthodox from Nushagak mission and Afognak parish moved here. People from other villages are also settling down here since there are a number of local conveniences. There is a lot of fuel in the area and it is close at hand; there is an ample supply of salmon; there are stores and a post office and 2 fish canneries where people can get jobs. There is a doctor and the priest visits the settlement every year. Eskimos, Agle s and creoles do not have such conveniences in their old places and therefore, are settling down in Chignik abandoning their old residences. [45]

Other new settlements in the Aniakchak region included Agishik (Pilot Point), Meshik, and Unangashak on the Bristol Bay side, and Kanatak, Wide Bay, Wrangell Bay, Chignik Lagoon and Mitrofania on the Pacific side.

Local residents were not the only group faced with a period of adjustment after the sale of Alaska to the United Stares. Although parishes received funding from the Russian government and the Russian Foreign Missionary Society, Orthodox priests had to learn to manage without immediate support from the Russian-American Company.

Each spring, missionaries set out from their parish centers and traveled to distant villages. From Nushagak, a solitary priest visited the villages of Ugashik, Agishik (Pilot Point), Meshik (Port Heiden), and Inangashek (Unangashak). From Kodiak, another priest traveled to Kanataq (Kanatak), Kuiukak (Port Wrangell), and for a brief time, Sutkhum. Finally, from Belkofski, a priest traveled over 200 miles to the villages of Kaluiak (Chignik Bay), Nikolaevski (Chignik Lagoon), Vvedenski (Chignik Bay) and Mitrofania. For transportation to these village sites, Russian priest depended entirely on the Alutiiq men who guided them. [46] The priests usually rode in the middle hatch of a three-holed bidarka, paddled by their Alutiiq guides, who also hunted for the party's food, set up camp, and found shelter if the group had to wait out bad weather in the small bays—a situation that happened frequently on the stormy Alaska Peninsula coast. As it happened, the Alaska Peninsula was the perfect setting for priests to imitate Christ's suffering in the wilderness.

As mentioned, most Orthodox priests were familiar with the seemingly inhospitable lands of Siberia, or were, in fact, of mixed Alaska Native and Russian heritage, and thus, were accustomed to the harsh climate the Alaska Peninsula afforded. Nevertheless, travel to the remote Native villages remained difficult—so difficult that bad weather forced some priests to postpone their visits for years at a time. In 1891, Father Vasily Shishkin, from the Nushagak parish, reported that he planned to "leave for Inangashak to consecrate the prayerhouse there." He then added, "I do not know when I shall return [to Nushagak]; the trip will be by sea, and from mid-July it already begins to become the stormy season and travel in baidarkas is not without danger." [47] Regardless of the time of year, travel along either coastline always exposed visiting priests to danger. In a parish report, Father Modestov explained why traveling the Bristol Bay coastline in the late nineteenth century was so difficult:

In the wintertime, it is four to five days' travel from Ugashek to Inangashak, but there is no forest on the way and without firewood it is impossible on the winter trail. In the summer time, constant south and southeast winds delay you and sometimes force you to sit by the sea and wait out the weather for seven or eight days. Only in the spring, and early spring at that, is it convenient to go from Ugashek to Inangashak, since then the ice in the sea hold back the waves, but at that time the ice does not allow you to go from Nushagak to Ugashek, since there is a mass of ice at the mouth of the Nushagak River until 20 or 25 May. [48]

The presence of canneries on the Alaska Peninsula impacted the common ground between Russian Orthodox priests and local Alutiiq residents. "Salmon's Last Round-up," Alaska State Library Collection, Michael Z. Vinokouroff Photograph Collection, ca. 1880s-1970s, P243-2-142.

When a priest survived his wilderness test and arrived safely at a new village, it is not surprising that one of his first duties was to convince the residents to build a chapel. Parishioners built chapels at Wrangel in 1884, Mitrofania in 1889, Kanatak in 1890, Unangashak in 1896, Agishik in 1899, and Meshik in 1907. [49] Morseth notes that even a short-lived chapel once stood at Sutkhum. [50] If a chapel had already been constructed, the priest checked the structure's condition. Although many Orthodox churches built in Russian America were architecturally complex, most of the religious structures on the Alaska Peninsula were considered chapels and maintained a more simplistic design. Because no trees grew on the tundra, parishioners constructed their chapels from driftwood and often used material from the newly built canneries. They found driftwood in piles along the peninsula's "catcher beaches." But despite the hodgepodge pieces used to build them, the structures were usually uniform, consisting of strong vertical walls, with steeply pitched roofs carrying block work towers, crowned by a bulbous dome, surmounted by a cross. [51] Inside, a warm light from dozens of candles would spill into the shadows and illuminate the many gold-framed icons that filled the chapel walls. Indeed, the colorful interiors became the antithesis of the foggy, windswept tundra surrounding the village.

Residents typically placed the chapel on the highest ground near the village. The chapel stood geographically away from where villagers engaged in daily activities. Socially, however, the chapel stood at the center of village life. Similar to the traditional qasiq, which functioned as a community hall, Orthodox chapels welcomed village parishioners, especially during the dark winter months. Worshippers used the chapel for all religious services—baptism, weddings, and funerals. As part of the Russian Orthodox celebrations of Christmas, New Year's, and Easter Sunday, chapels were also used by parishioners to perform traditional winter rituals, such as masking. [52] The celebration of Selaviq, or Starring, is a winter custom that emerged from Russian serfs and Siberian Natives and is now celebrated by many Alaska Natives. It exemplifies the intertwining of indigenous practice with a Slavonic folklore tradition to become a unique expression of local identity. [53] Thus, Orthodox chapels throughout the Alaska Peninsula were used as a space where indigenous religious practice merged with Christianity. The region's harsh environmental conditions facilitated this phenomenon by making it difficult for the parish priest to visit villages on a regular basis. This type of "hit and miss" visitation allowed most village chapels to evolve independently from the parish center.

In addition to the barriers of bad weather and a troublesome natural landscape, priests, as well as their parishioners, faced other challenges, many of which were financial. Even Petroff observed that "the majority of these chapels are in the hands of natives and creoles, who are not members of the clergy," who were, in the census taker's opinion, "of course, poor." [54]

With the Russian-American Company no longer supporting the Church after 1867, it was up to the parishioners to raise funds to partially support Church activities. After the visiting priest inspected the structural condition of a chapel, he would take an accounting of church funds, which, on the peninsula, were usually quite slim. "A chapel in the name of Church Teacher Mitrofan of Voronezh the Miracleworker was built in 1889 of old Kodiak lumber," wrote one priest visiting the chapel at Mitrofania. "It is not in seemly condition and has almost rotted. There are almost no utensils or church service books and no immovable property or valuables." [55] Likewise, when Father Modestov visited the new village of Agishek, he viewed his parishioners' subsistence activity as a form of poverty. In his report to the Nushagak Parish, the priest wrote: "The residents are all Aleuts who have moved here from Ugashek due to an abundance of caribou. They live not badly, but they do not have cash in hand." [56] Such lack of funds or need for funds show that by the turn of the century the transition to a cash-based economy had not completely occurred on the Alaska Peninsula.

Although people continued to live a life of relative mobility, by the end of the nineteenth century, Church membership encouraged more and more Alaska Peninsula inhabitants to lead more settled lives. In Chignik, for example, when Father Evfimii Aleksin consecrated the chapel there in 1897, he recorded only 49 people, including children. A few years later, nearly one hundred people belonged to the Church. Aleksin, probably a bit too self-serving in statement, noted the increase: a general meeting they [his entire parish] declared that if the batiushka will come to them every year and teach them the word of God, they will give up their itinerant life and remain until death in Chignik [57]

Arguably, a priest's most pressing duty was to train and appoint lay leadership to sustain the village chapel in his absence. The lay leadership in communities throughout the Alaska Peninsula reflected the long tradition of Native involvement in the Orthodox Church. Many lay-persons' tasks were secular, and therefore, they did not need to be recognized as clergy. Lay readers, who read Orthodox scripture to parishioners in the priest's absence, could be either male or female. Not only was it their job to maintain the upkeep of the physical structure, but also these appointees maintained the vitality of parish life throughout the village. In 1895, a cleric from Belkofski noted the work of two laypersons in Mitrofania: "Creole Ivan Stepanov takes care of the finances and the sale of candles and other church materials," wrote the priest of the church warden, and "Toyon Prokopii Stepanov directs the church services and teaches the children reading and writing." [58]

The willingness of the clergy to preach in Alutiiq clearly motivated many parishioners, but it was the ability of the layperson to read in both Russian and Alutiiq that invited village residents into the fold of the Orthodox Church. [59] This strong bi-lingual tradition handed down by the Russian-American Company's Second Charter, continued long after the sale of Alaska to the United States. In 1906, a visiting priest from Belkofski observed that the elderly Creole population of Mitrofania "speaks Russian well and consequently can understand the church service language." [60]

As with the educational system in Russian America, Orthodox priests continued to run schools that were open to Creole and Native children in settlements such as Unalaska, Sitka, and St. Paul Harbor on Kodiak Island. At least one child from Chignik, and one from Mitrofania, were sent to a school in Unalaska in the 1890s. Both boys, after training, returned to their communities as readers for the Church. [61] As more and more of the peninsula's Creole and native children became educated, the Church's instructional system branched out to some of the smaller settlements. In the later 1800s, a new school opened in Ugashik under the governance of Bishop Nikolai, and by 1895, another school opened in Mitrofania. [62] Historian Richard Dauenhauer notes that the bilingual education, brought to Alaska by the Russian Orthodox priests, "attempted to build on indigenous talent and potential," and clearly helped to bridge the Native world with a Russian one. [63]

Through mutual accommodation, by the turn of the century, village life on the Alaska Peninsula tundra recognized, and ultimately reconciled, the economic and socio-political constraints imposed from the outside. Residents had learned to act within those constraints. For nearly a century, they had struggled for individual and collective survival in a world dominated by Russian fur trade. Thus, the blending of both Russian and Alutiiq spiritual beliefs maintained a sense of cultural identity and equal status in a world of powerful newcomers. [64] Perhaps during such times of transition, a new religious orientation may not have seemed revolutionary, but instead, necessary. [65]

Accommodation Breaks Down: 1900-1917

At the end of the nineteenth century, the momentum involved in the bilingual and bicultural religious practices had weakened, prompted by an increasing sense of unrest throughout the region. One source of insecurity came from both short- and long-term environmental change. The violent eruption of Novarupta, which decapitated the Katmai Volcano in 1912, uprooted villagers living along the Katmai Coast and forced them to hastily resettle along the peninsula's southern Pacific coast. Witnessing a volcanic eruption was not only terrifying to people living along both sides of the peninsula, but it was socially upsetting for those villagers forced to move, as well as those who had to adjust to a sudden influx of refugees.

Moreover, environmental degradation caused by the fur trade had taken its toll. Although most hunters and fishermen were practicing Orthodox Christians, they continued to perform indigenous rituals, reviving aspects of the relationship with nature that existed during pre-contact times. As more animals disappeared, the more people grew doubtful, anxious, and hungry. As resources declined and trade posts closed, it is not surprising that people collectively believed nothing—not even the land and the resources upon it—was stable. At the turn of the century, a visiting priest observed such decline:

Belkovskiy is a small and not very wealthy village, although twenty to twenty five years ago it was one of the wealthiest parishes in all of Alaska. The reason for such relatively rapid impoverishment lies in the fact that sea otters have recently disappeared from [the] region. They say that in 1875-1880, there were so many sea otters that every Aleut could kill several a day right near the village. Now they have totally disappeared. [66]

Clearly, volcanic eruptions and collapsing resources negatively impacted people living on the central peninsula, but what stood to shatter the delicate balance achieved through long years of Russian and Native accommodation was American social, economic, and religious persuasions that began to encroach upon the Alaska Peninsula soon after the Alaska Purchase. The late nineteenth century brought many new Americans to the region, some looking for adventure, others looking for precious minerals, and most hoping to escape economic depression afflicting the rest of the United States between 1893 and 1896. Though many left as the national economy improved, a few men stayed to compete with native hunters for sea otters and furbearing land mammals. Within a few years, many bays along the coast of Aniakchak were occupied during the winter by American sea otter and fur seal hunters. [67]

Alutiit not only associated these isolated newcomers with the decline of the fur-bearing mammals, but many of the Americans married Alutiiq women, and then prevented them from attending Orthodox Church services. "The American does not let his wife be Orthodox or go to liturgy," explained an exasperated priest in 1907. [68] Father Evfimii Aleksin also noted such intolerance for the Orthodox Church:

Among them were three families of American citizens who have forbidden their wives and children from visiting the Orthodox Church, contrary to a signed promise given at the time of marriage. Those deprived of the happiness of being present at a common prayer service in the temple asked me to hold a prayer service for them, which I immediately did. After the prayer service I proposed to the wife of an intolerant American that I chrizmate her baptized infant, which she gave her full consent. [69]

A Native couple from Chignik, ca. 1912. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, THWAITES 247.121.

The burgeoning canned salmon industry contributed to declining Orthodox influence. By the late 1880s, salmon canneries began to operate on the central peninsula. In 1888, the first cannery opened in Chignik, and a year later, a salmon saltery opened on the Ugashik River in the Bristol Bay fishery. At first, priests, cut-off from their homeland, took advantage of the industry's modern services. They received items like wood and tile from the canners to build churches and chapels. In addition, priests valued the safer form of transportation canneries brought to the region. In 1909, a priest with a sick wife wrote, "I really need to get to Chignik and the only way to go there is by steamboat. The mail steamer stops there [at the cannery] all the time." [70] Priests even encouraged parishioners to work for the canneries, believing that the employment of Natives would replace the need for canneries to import Chinese and Japanese laborers. [71] Although these canneries endangered traditional fishing resources and could potentially cause famine in some of the villages, by hiring Natives for seasonal jobs, canneries in Bristol Bay and Chignik became a significant source of income for Alutiiq families.

As wage labor supplemented hunting and fishing on the central peninsula, people gradually became integrated into a market economy. The transition to wage labor, however, was no easy task for either Native people or their Orthodox priests. Almost from the beginning, priests and parishioners began to experience disrespectful attitudes from those working at the cannery. In 1911, the cannery foreman at Chignik complained to Father Apollinarrii Kedrovskii that when he arrived during the processing season, local workers abandoned their shifts to attend church. "The [cannery] owner demands that I come to Chignik only in August, at the end of the factory's work," explained Kedrovskii, "but I cannot and do not want to push people away from the church so that they can work when indeed they want to pray." The priest also noted that Native peoples were stigmatized at the cannery for their Orthodox beliefs, for Kedrovskii added, "I heard from our people that the owner makes fun of religion and those who believe." [72]

It did not take long for priests to recognize that activity introduced in the canneries undermined a Christian life. The priest's most notable concerns came from alcohol, which had been introduced by Russian promyshlenniki, and was made readily available at the canneries. In 1909, Kedrovskii noted that the rise of alcohol abuse corresponded with the establishment of canneries:

A new fish cannery has been built next to the village this year (it's third in this area). Little by little, the Natives are pulled into cannery work and wage labor. But not everybody uses his earnings productively. People suffer from alcohol abuse. [73]

The Church responded by punishing the drinkers. Priests admonished drinkers and made them kneel in the chapel during services. Other preventive measures employed characteristically progressive methods such as temperance societies. These temperance societies, or "Brotherhoods" as they were also called, formed as early as 1897 in Agishek and Ugashik. [74] Members belonging to a Brotherhood in Chignik promised to refrain from alcohol for one year. If a member broke this promise, he or she was banished, not by the priest, but rather by the village. "Out of the whole parish this village especially pleases me with its obedience," wrote Kedrovskii, "Not so long ago alcohol was running like a river here." [75] These societies, however, did not keep all villagers sober. Sadly, women in particular succumbed to the temptation. Priests blamed the canneries—"Women "have begun, thanks to the Americans, to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery... As a result, venereal disease has recently appeared among them." [76]

It is quite possible that Native women interacted with cannery men to gain material and social power as their female forbears had in Russian artels a century before. However, the outbreak of new diseases, like sexually transmitted diseases and chicken pox, caused by the interaction of parishioners and cannery workers, concerned priests and added another dimension to the overall feelings of anxiety about Americanization. For example, a Russian priest wrote:

Arrived in Chignik at noon. At 1pm I was taken from the pier to Vvedenski, a village with a chapel, by the parishioners. I learned sad news: people are sick and are dying from [chicken pox?] and sore throat. In the last 6 months, 6 people died due to various reasons. There are four people sick and two of them are very seriously ill. [77]

Disease had become a source of anxiety that spread throughout the Native population, especially in the Yupiik villages on the Bering Sea side of the Aniakchak region. In the summer of 1900, a combined epidemic of measles and influenza struck western Alaska. That same year Kedrovskii reported from Nushagak that "so many people had died in the parish that the confessional lists were no longer relevant and would need to be recompiled." [78] The epidemic quickly moved south, affecting people living in the area from Ugashik to Unangashak. According to U.S. Census records, population numbers along the central peninsula coastline dropped from 418 in 1890 to 256 in 1900. [79] So many people died from the epidemic that the region's Yupiik people called it the "Great Sickness." [80]

To make matters worse, the non-Native population—Russian priests, fur traders, and cannery newcomers—were hardly affected by the epidemic. As thousands of Natives died from the flu, the disease produced only mild symptoms and a handful of deaths among Euroamericans. [81] According to Morseth, "Epidemic illness devastated populations, not only in Alaska, but world wide, as medical knowledge and natural immunity were not able to keep apace with the viral diseases transported aboard ships in an increasingly mobile world." [82]

This photograph of the village of Port Heiden taken in about 1912, depicts the village scene that Father Hubbard, Harry Blunt and Al Monson would have likely encountered in 1930. Benjamin A. Grier Collection. "Port Hayden, Bering Sea (My Alaska Girls Home and Family) Native Children and Dogs in Front of Barbara." University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.
"Alaska Bidarki or Skin Boat" ca. 1912. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"Fur Seal, Alaska" ca. 1912. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"Sea Gulls, Alaska Coast." Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

The aptly named "Cold Bay," ca. 1923. "Kanagtak, Cold Bay, AK, Distant Scene." N.T. Gilbertson. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 transformed Kanatak into a frontier boomtown, built by resources from outside the region. "Men and stacks of lumber on Beach. Cargo Lumber I took to Cold Bay, 1919 From Seattle." Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"Kanatak, Cold Bay Alaska, 1923. Two men and dog standing in front of Ray C. Larson Lumber Company shack," Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

As written on the back of the photograph: "Horse Race on Beach. Kanatak, Alaska near Valley 10,000 Smokes. Was there 1 year. Only two horses on the 'island' with different riders we raced them everyday. These damned horses tried to commit suicide. I don't blame them," 1923. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

As oil brought attention from the outside world, the outside world began to explore areas surrounding Kanatak. "We only wanted a few. Lake Bicharoof," Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"Reindeer herd." Date unknown. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Indigeneous Scandinavians, or Saami, as shown, trained Alaska Native herdsmen and helped to shape cultural lifeways on the Alaska Peninsula, ca. 1912. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"40,000 Red Salmon, Alaska Peninsula Salmon Tender at Dock, ca. 1912. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

"Alaska Salmon at Cannery," ca. 1920s. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Two foxes in fox farm pen, ca. 1920s. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Arctic Fox in pen, ca. 1920s. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Two men standing with brown bear kill on the Alaska Peninsula, "One I got," ca. 1920s. Benjamin A. Grier Collection, University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives and Special Collections.

In addition to environmental catastrophes, industrialization, and disease brought by the influx of newcomers to the region, another major source of social disruption came from rival Christian missionaries. After the sale of Alaska, Protestant missionaries, led by Presbyterian minister, Sheldon Jackson, partitioned off several regions in Alaska to various Protestant Churches, which then began to compete with the Russian Orthodox Church for converts. Generally, the Baptists received Kodiak; the Presbyterians, the Southeast and the Arctic; the Moravians, the Kuskokwim; the Episcopalians, the upper Yukon and the Interior; and the Methodists, Unalaska and the Aleutians. [83] According to Partnow, these missionaries had three goals: To convert the Natives to Protestantism—even those who were already Orthodox Christians; to teach the Natives English; and to guide the people away from Native and Russian ways and toward American culture. [84]

Orthodox priests felt the Protestant influence as early as 1895. That year, while visiting the Orthodox chapel in Mitrofania, Father Aleksin received a shock. With the exception of one, all the icons adorning his chapel had been replaced with artworks painted by English, French, and German artists. But even more alarming was an actual portrait of Martin Luther hanging above the altar! Aleksin later reported:

Upon examining all this, I quickly removed and burned some of them. I blessed the water and sprinkled everyone and everything; it turns out that all this was bought in the company [cannery] store and not cheaply. [85]

The impact of Protestantism on the peninsula's Orthodox, though subtle, had even deeper effects. In 1877, the U.S. government had become concerned that the only schools in Alaska were run by the Russian Orthodox Church. Amplified by policies initiated by the Presbyterian Sheldon Jackson, education among Alaska's Native groups became radically different from those of educators and missionaries in the Russian Period. [86]

Nor surprisingly, Jackson's education initiative in Alaska coincided exactly with the culmination of the drive to acculturate and assimilate American Indians in the Lower 48. [87] Unlike Father Veniaminov and other Orthodox priests, Jackson argued that Alaska Natives could not become Christian until they had been "civilized." Stunned that the Orthodox had been translating Christian thought into what he described as "heathen languages," Jackson abandoned the bilingual religious training in schools. In fact, he expressly forbade the use of Native languages in all American schools. All instruction was to be taught in English. [88]

In 1903, an American school opened on the south side of Chignik Lagoon. In 1907, Father Kedrovskii visited a class there. In his report, the priest noted that the American school, unlike the school run by the Orthodox, did not provide education for Native students:

There are 20 students—children of both sexes. All of them are Russian Orthodox and are children of Creole women who are married to Americans. The school is small but clean. Children are taught by a teacher [female] who is Methodist. On Sundays there are praying gatherings. According to parents (mothers) these gatherings do not harm Orthodoxy... I asked the teachers to accept native children as well. She replies: "I would be glad but there is not enough room." [89]

By 1912, the American government closed most of the Orthodox Church multicultural and bilingual schools. As many Alaska scholars agree, Protestant missionaries intended to acculturate Alaska's Native population by supplanting their culture with mainstream, white, Protestant, American culture. Education specialist Richard Dauenhauer suggests that the overriding goal driving both the missionaries and the U.S. government was the "eradication of Orthodoxy and all vestiges of a pre-American past." [90]

American acculturation eventually disrupted village society that surrounded Aniakchak. In most communities, people's spiritual reality had not just become blurred, but had become outright confused. According to Vyacheslav Ivanov, who wrote The Russian Orthodox Church of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands and its Relation to Native American Tradition, the competition of different Christian denominations seemed to lessen the importance of each of them. And, as a result, a partial revival of shamanism occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century. [91] In 1913, Father Apollinarii Kedrovskii described an event that illustrated the negativity that people were beginning to feel towards religious institutions in Alaska Peninsula villages. In his report, Kedrovskii described how a young Native woman, in an effort to cope with what was likely a terrible sexual violation, displayed elements of pre-contact indigenous religion in his presence. Although she claimed to be a "messenger from God," it is probable that the young woman was attempting to deal with confusion and anxiety brought about by massive cultural change that had been occurring since the turn of the century. The priest's hostility toward the woman is a sure sign that accommodation between the Native people and the Orthodox Church was breaking down:

Today I was visited by a young woman (19 years old) and her family who are Wrangel residents (Afognak parish) who spent a winter in Chignik. She announced that she is "God's messengers," that she has much to tell me and, as a matter of fact, that the people live here badly. I accepted "this messenger" very coldly because I have heard about her activities from letters that I received from here [Chignik] in the winter. Also I heard about her in Nikolaevski where she "fooled" trusting Agelmiuts.

I talked to the so-called "psychic." Anna [her name] did not know the main prayer and her mother could not [shame?] her this time. Her mother, they say, visited every seance this winter and sometimes directed her daughter at the meetings they themselves organized. Both, the mother and the daughter are illiterate. I know for sure that both have been through all imaginable in regards to the opposite sex. However, Anna claims that she is a "saint" because "she has not sinned". . . She began to talk nonsense, but in her words "open God's will to the people," after the Katmai catastrophe of 1912 (volcano eruption).

I heard from people that Anna used to gather meetings with people in the winter by ringing bells in the chapel. Then she performed something resembling a church service, fainted and in such a state told stories to people saying that those were messages from heaven. When awake and well she drew pictures (primitive) of "the other world." She said in the other world "women give birth to angels" and that "people live there as well and drink beer." She also added that "not all sins can be told to the priest during confession." She said that "during big holidays angels throw boxes on the ground" (and there were some who went to look for these boxes). I heard in the winter people were very eager to hear such fairy tales from heaven and at the beginning Anna had the hearts and minds of the people in her hands. But later they figured out what she was. [92]

In 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church received a staggering blow when the Bolshevik Revolution broke out. The atheistic Communist revolt, led by Vladimir Lenin, destroyed the power and finances of the Russian Church, and severed the Alaskan Orthodox missionary from Mother Russia. Lack of support disrupted regular services, and other religious activities, particularly the priest's missionary rounds to the villages. Perhaps even more distressing, ecclesiastical authorities stopped paying the priests, who, in turn, could not pay lay reader's salaries. Thus, the Russian Orthodox priests had little power in preventing the spread of American culture and religion. Still, this did not mean that American customs entirely replaced Russian influence.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is an example of the encroachment of the America Protestant churches on the central Alaska Peninsula, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Pilot Point Tribal Council, Ace Griechen Collection.

Bridging an Old Creole World with the New American World

Instead of falling alongside the Russian monarchy, the Russian Orthodox Church somehow managed to survive in places like the Alaska Peninsula. This is quite amazing considering that by 1918, the elderly ordained clergy in Alaska had dwindled to nine. Most priests eventually died off and were buried by parishioners in their mission fields. [93] But, as Orthodoxy faced annihilation back home in Russia, it survived in America because during those years of accommodation, Orthodoxy provided people with a set of beliefs and ritual practice that assisted both Alutiit and Creoles in coping with their changing social, economic, and intellectual environment, while simultaneously enabling people to preserve key aspects of their traditional lifeways. By the time American culture became a dominating presence on the Alaska Peninsula, Russian Orthodoxy had essentially transformed from being a European import into a distinctly Native institution.

When Americans, lured by the prospects of oil and fish, began to arrive in greater numbers, they encountered a people who linked Native Alaska and Russia America genetically. Moreover, these people of mixed cultural backgrounds served as brokers between a much older Russian-Alutiiq world and an encroaching American way of life. To this generation, terms like "Russian" and "Russian Aleuts" no longer elicited memories of conquest, but "communicated culture, intelligence, and non-foreignness unattainable by the newcomer Americans." [94] This new cultural identity separated Alutiiq residents from the Americans, but it also identified them as "Christians," which, in the long run, helped people maintain their "respectability" in the eyes of the American newcomers. Most importantly, the blending of Orthodoxy and Native religion allowed Alutiit some measure of control over the rate of change in their own lives.

By the 1920s, American corporations had made their way to Aniakchak's lands, rivers and bays. Despite their entry into a cash economy, Native villagers managed to hold on to what they saw as their religion—an indigenous version of Russian Orthodoxy. The very fact that the Russian Orthodox Church remains today the largest single religious denomination among Alaska Peninsula residents is a lasting testament to the powerful influence of the Russian Empire in Alaska. Most significantly, however, the very survival of the Church represents the extraordinary adaptability of both Russian priests and Native parishioners during those years of transition and accommodation on the central Alaska Peninsula.


1Price, "Adventuring with the Glacier Priest", 4.

2Hubbard, Cradle, 66.

3Hubbard, Cradle of the Storms, viii.

4Price, 14.

5Christine Martin, Chignik Lake, Alaska, October 19, 1992. H95-35-10-UAF ANIA 2089/ 007.02-01, Box 1, Folder 11.

6Tikhon Shalamov, "From the travel journal of 1895 of the Kodiak Resurrection Church" Russian Orthodox American Messenger, Translations by Richard Bland, Patricia Partnow, and Irina Dubinina, in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

7Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Cultural and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), xx.

8Andrei A. Znamenski, Shamanism and Christianity: Native Encounters with Russian Orthodox Missions in Siheria and Alaska, 1920-1917 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood. 1999), 1.

9Barbara Sweetland Smith, Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska: A History and Analysis of the Church Archives in Alaska (Alaska Historical Commission: 1980), 3.

10Barbara Sweetland Smith, "Russia's Cultural Legacy in America: The Orthodox Mission" in Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier (Washington State Historical Society, 1990), 245.

11Ibid., 245.

12Morseth, 47.

13Partnow, 85.

14Smith, "Russia's Cultural Legacy", 245.

15Smith, Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska, 4.

16Gideon, vii-viii.

17Ibid., 46.

18Partnow, 85.

19Znamenski, 25.

20Tikhon Shalamov, "From the travel journal of 1895 of the Kodiak Resurrection Church" Russian Orthodox American Messenger, Translations by Richard Bland, Patricia Partnow, and Irina Dubinina, in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

21Partnow, 91.

22Znamenski, 46-52.

23Tikhon Shalamov, "From the travel journal of 1895 of the Kodiak Resurrection Church" Russian Orthodox American Messenger, Translations by Richard Bland, Patricia Partnow, and Irina Dubinina, in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.


25Soterios A. Mousalimas, The Transition from Shamanism to Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1994), 314-321.

26Znamenski, 36.

27Mousalimas, 314-321.

28Znamenski, 2.

29Partnow, 85.

30Smith, 5.

31Znemanski, 62.

32Richard L. Dauenhaur, "Education in Russian America." In Russian America: The Forgotten Frontier (Washington State Historical Society, 1990), 156.

33Vyacheslav Ivanov, The Russian Orthodox Church of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands and its Relation to Native American Traditions (Washington: Library of Congress, 1997), 3.

34Smith, Orthodoxy in Alaska, 6.

35Ibid., 8.

36Smith, Orthodoxy in Alaska, 8.

37Ibid., 8.

38Tikhon Shalamov, "From the travel journal of 1895 of the Kodiak Resurrection Church" Russian Orthodox American Messenger, Translations by Richard Bland, Patricia Partnow, and Irina Dubinina, in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

39Morseth, 54.

40Feofil Uspenskii, "Brief Journal of the domestic activities and travel of the missionary of the Nushagak Mission, 1861" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R149/f686. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

41Vladimir Modestov, Nushagak, Report to Dean of Clergy of the Unalaska District, July 29, 1895, from "Agishek/Pilot Point Alaska Russian Church Archives, R145/f120. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

42David W. Rickman, "Costume and Cultural Interactions in Russian Americas' in Russian in North America: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Russian America (Fairbanks: Limestone Press, 1990), 242.

43Partnow, 148.

44Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, 1909." Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f246. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.


46Partnow, 89.

47V. Shishkin, "Report to Alaska Consistory from the Bristol Bay Coast, 1891," Alaska Russian Church Archives, R149/f653. Translations by Kathy Arndt, in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

48Vldimir Modestov, "Report to Nushagak parish," Dec 1896, Alaska Russian Church Archives, R145/f24-67. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

49Partnow, 162; Morseth, 73-77.

50Morseth, 38.

51Kathleen Lidfors and Steven M. Peterson, "the Architectural Legacy of Russian America," in Russian America: the Forgotten Frontier (Washington State Historical Society, 1990), 223.

52Partnow, 162-163.

53Ann Fienup-Riordan, "Following the Star: From the Ukraine to the Yukon" in The Forgotten Frontier, (Washington State Historical Society, 1990), 227.

54Petroff, 42.

55Evfimii Aleksin, "Report to Bishop Nikolai of the Aleutians and Alaska from Belkofski, 30 Sept 1895" Alaska Russian Church Archives R136/f333-336. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

56Vladimir Modestov, "Report to Nushagak Parish. May 30, 1898," Alaska Russian Church Archives, R145/f239. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

57Evfimii Aleksin, "Report to Belkofski from Chignik, 1897" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R136/F342-443. Translations by Kathy Arndt in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

58Evfimii Aleksin, "Report to Belkofski from Mitrofania, 1895" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R133/f333. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

59Partnow, 88.

60Evfimii Aleksin, "Report to Belkofski from Mitrofania, 1895" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R133/f62. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.



63Daunhauer, 157.

64Kan, xxx.

65Partnow, 91.

66Vladimir Modestov, "Visiting the Villages of Karluk, Unga, Belkovskiy and Unalaskhka" Russian Orthodox Messenger, Vol. 3. pp. 613-615. Translations by Irina Dubinia located in ANIA files 2089/008.02-01, Box 2, Folder 05, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

67Partnow, 127-128.

68Father Evfimii Aleksin and Father Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Chignik Bay, June 9, 1907" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/F 147. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

69Father Evfimii Aleksin and Father Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski, from Chignik Bay, June 10, 1906" Alaska Russian Church Archives," R134/F96. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

70Father Evfimii Aleksin and Father Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski, from Chignik Bay, Jan-Dec 1909" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f244. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

71Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, June 26, 1909" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f251. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

72Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, July, 1911" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f326. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

73Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, June 25, 1910" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f284. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

74Evfimii Aleksin "Report to Belkofski, From Agishek and Ugashek, Oct 1897" Alaska Russian Church Archives, Fr. 524-525. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.02-01, Box 2, Folder 05, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

75Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, June, 1909" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f286. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

76Vladimir Modestov, "Report to Nushagak to Dean of Clergy of the Unalaska District Alexsandr Kedrovskii, 29 July 1895" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R149/f389. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

77Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik, 1911" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/f318. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 05, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

78Morseth, 67.

79Ibid., 67.

80Robert J Wolfe, "Alaska's Great Sickness, 1900: An Epidemic of Measles an Influence in a Virgin Soil Population," The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 126, No. 2 (1982) 91.

81Ibid., 91.

82Morseth, 66.

83Daunehauer, 165.

84Partnow, 164.

85Evfimii Aleksin, "Report to Belkofski, Sept 30, 1985" Alaska Russian Church Archives, No. 26-f333. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

86Daunehauer, 161

87Haycox, 185.

88Dauenhauer, 157.

89Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Nikolaevski, June 9, 1907" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/F 198. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

90Daunenhauer, 162.

91Ivanov, 32.

92Apollinarii Kedrovskii, "Report to Belkofski from Vvedenski/Chignik Bay, 1913" Alaska Russian Church Archives, R134/359-360. Translations by Kathy Arndt located in ANIA files 2089/008.01-01, Box 2, Folder 04, Lake Clark Katmai Studies Center, Anchorage, AK.

93Smith, 9.

94Kan, xxx.

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Last Updated: 03-Aug-2009