Published on October 12, 2010 by John
Location and Climate
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Napakiak is on the north bank of the Kuskokwim River, 15 miles southwest of Bethel. It is located on an island between the Kuskokwim River and Johnson’s Slough. It lies 407 miles west of Anchorage. The community lies at approximately 60.696670° North Latitude and -161.951940° West Longitude. (Sec. 17, T007N, R072W, Seward Meridian). Napakiak is located in the Bethel Recording District. The area encompasses 4.7 sq. miles of land and 0.3 sq. miles of water. Napakiak is influenced by storms in the Bering Sea and also by inland continental weather. Average annual precipitation is 16 inches, with 50 inches of snowfall. Summer high temperatures average 59 to 62 °F, and winter highs average 11 to 19 °F. Extremes from 86 to -46 °F have been recorded. The Kuskokwim River is typically ice-free from June through October.
History, Culture and Demographics
Yup’ik Eskimos have lived in this region since 1000 AD. The village was first reported in 1878 by E.W. Nelson, although at the time it was downriver, at the mouth of the Johnson River. In 1884, Moravian explorers mentioned Napakiak as being close to Napaskiak, which suggests that the new village site may have been occupied by that time. By 1910, the village had a population of 166. In 1926, the Moravian Church had a lay worker in the village who began constructing a chapel; funds were raised for construction by the Ohio Moravian Association. It took three years to complete the work, and in August 1929 people came from many villages in the area to attend the dedication ceremony. In 1939 a BIA school began operating, and in 1946 a Native-owned village cooperative store was opened. A post office was established in 1951. A National Guard Armory was built in 1960. The city was incorporated in 1970. The first airstrip was completed in 1973, enabling year-round access. The city’s primary priority in 2009 was to relocate all public facilities and homes to a bluff across Johnson’s Slough. The sandbar on which the city was built is severely eroding.
A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community — the Native Village of Napakiak. The population of the community consists of 96.6% Alaska Native or part Native. This city is predominantly Yup’ik Eskimos who maintain a fishing and subsistence lifestyle. The sale, importation, and possession of alcohol is banned in the village. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 101, and vacant housing units numbered 11. Vacant housing units used only seasonally numbered 1. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 101 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 22.31 percent, although 54.3 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $28,750, per capita income was $7,319, and 20.18 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.
Facilities, Utilities, Schools and Health Care
Fifty-six (56) residents are using a flush/haul system, including plumbing for sinks and low-flush toilets. Water is derived from a well and treated. The school has its own well. Electricity is transmitted by overhead lines from Bethel Utilities and purchased and distributed locally by Ircinraq Power Company. Electricity is provided by Napakiak Ircinraq Power Co. There is one school located in the community, attended by 93 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Napakiak Health Clinic. Emergency Services have river and air access. Emergency service is provided by a health aide.
Economy and Transportation
Napakiak’s primary employers include the school and local, state, and federal governments. Seasonal commercial fishing, construction projects, trapping, and crafts also provide income. In 2009, 41 residents held commercial fishing permits, primarily for herring roe and salmon net fisheries. Subsistence foods provide an estimated 50% of the local diet. Most families have fish camps. Salmon, waterfowl, moose, bear, and seals provide meat.
A state-owned 3,248′ long by 60′ wide gravel runway and seaplane landing area provide air transportation for passengers, mail, and cargo. Barges from Bethel deliver goods during the summer. There are no docking facilities. The river is an important means of transportation in summer; the Kuskokwim is a major thoroughfare. In winter, the river becomes an ice road to surrounding villages. A winter trail is marked to Bethel (1.1 mi).