Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

South Naknek, Alaska

South Naknek

The South Naknek portion of the Katmai Project Jukebox program contains interviews with South Naknek residents Fred Theodore (Ted) Angasan, Mary Jane Nielsen, and Carvel Zimin, and King Salmon residents Teddy Melgenak and Vera Angasan (mother of Ted Angasan and Mary Jane Nielsen). Interviewers were Patricia Partnow, a consulting anthropologist from Anchorage who has worked with residents of Perryville and the Chigniks, many of whose ancestors were originally from the Katmai coast, and Mary Jane Nielsen, General Manager of the Alaska Peninsula Corporation, a resident of South Naknek, and founding member of the Council of Katmai Descendants, a group interested in preserving the history and heritage of the Katmai area. The project was first introduced to the people of South Naknek in the spring of 1996. Partnow made a second visit to celebrate Slavi (Russian Christmas) in January 1998, and returned later that month to begin the interviews. The recordings were made during January and March of 1998 in South Naknek and King Salmon.

South Naknek is intimately tied with the history of Katmai National Park. Already a thriving commercial fishing town at the time of the Katmai eruption in 1912, the community was often visited by Alutiiq residents of the villages located on the shores of Naknek Lake. In fact, it was eventually in South Naknek that the refugees from those villages settled after the eruption.

The abandoned village that is now called "Old Savonoski," had been the home of Pelagia and her husband American Pete at the time of the eruption. The two fled down the Naknek River and established a new village on its south bank, which they called "New Savonoski." After American Pete died, Pelagia and her second husband Nick (called "One-Arm Nick") Melgenak were key individuals in perpetuating the culture and subsistence practices in the area around their old home. Through the years they took in a dozen or more children whose parents had died or were unable to care for them. These youngsters, including Vera Angasan and Teddy Melgenak who are interviewed here, went back each summer and fall to a fishcamp at the mouth of the Brooks River near the current center of activity in the park, Brooks Camp, to harvest red salmon, pick berries, and hunt bear and moose.

The people of South Naknek and King Salmon still depend on the resources of Bristol Bay, Naknek River, and Naknek Lake. People continue to hunt and gather plant foods. However, the most important subsistence activity continues to revolve around fishing. Even those who fish commercially for herring and salmon put up fish for their own use each year.

These interviews describe each person's experiences at the fish camp, called "Kittiwik." Interviewees also talk about their yearly subsistence cycles within the park and in the surrounding areas, from plant collection to trapping to hunting and fishing. They tell about how they prepared, used, and distributed the resources.

Some themes came up in every interview. These were the strong emotional and cultural ties of the people with the region, the effects the creation of the park had on use of the land and its resources, the importance of subsistence today, and the personal ties among the many people who harvested and shared plants and animals. Several participants described their anguish at having to furtively harvest their traditional foods when it was against the law during the middle years of this century. This feeling was exacerbated in 1980 when the park boundaries were expanded to include territory that had previously been outside the park.

In addition to transcripts and recordings of the interviews, this program contains seven historic photographs from Carvel Zimin's personal collection and a map detailing the areas in the South Naknek area discussed in the interviews.

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