Nightmute, a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo village, is located on Nelson Island in Western Alaska. The village is 18 miles upriver from Toksook Bay and 100 miles west of Bethel, consisting of about 281 people according to 2010 census records. The Qaluyaarmiut people have inhabited Nelson Island for over 2,000 years, and are commonly referred to as the “dip-net people”.
Nelson Island has a rich history, with the Qaluyaarmiut people being first introduced to a Russian naval officer, Lieutenant Lavrenty Zagoskin in 1841. Following his visit, Russian Orthodox priests began visiting the area but failed to have a significant impact on the Qaluyaarmiut people and their strong cultural traditions. Edward Nelson, a Smithsonian naturalist was next to study and explore the land in 1878, he found only six people living on the island. Because of the small number of people inhabiting the land and the limited amount of resources on the island, traders failed to see its value.
Missionaries were the first to take a significant interest in the island, but again an impact on the community proved difficult because of the small amount of people scattered across the land. However, in 1934, a missionary by the name of Father Deshout became part of the community, fostering positive relationships amongst the people of the island. Unlike previous missionaries, Father Deshout encouraged the Qaluyaarmiut people to embrace their culture, influencing the continuation of Yup’ik culture.
Today, the Yup’ik culture remains strong among the people of Nightmute, as they retain traditional Native dance festivals, the Yup’ik language and subsistence living. According to a Nelson Island Eskimo, the subsistence living provided by the rivers and the sea is critical to the community’s survival. The people are connected to the changing of the seasons, which affects the birds, fish, whales and other animals in the area.
The Native Village of Nightmute is a federally recognized tribe and remains relatively isolated from outside contact, with many of its people having moved to Toksook Bay in 1964 to obtain more cost-efficient goods. The marine climate of the village results in annual precipitation averages of 22 inches and 43 inches of snowfall. Summer temperatures range from 41 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, with winter temperatures ranging from 6 to 24 degrees Fahrenheit.