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The History of Newtok, Alaska


    Newtok is a traditional Yup'ik Eskimo village, with an active subsistence lifestyle. Relative isolation from outside influences has enabled the area to retain its traditions and customs, more so than other parts of Alaska. The sale and importation of alcohol is banned in the village.

    Newtok is located on the Ninglick River north of Nelson Island in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region, 94 miles northwest of Bethel. It lies at approximately 60.942780 North Latitude and -164.629440 West Longitude.

    The people of Newtok share a heritage with Nelson Island communities; their ancestors have lived on the Bering Sea coast for at least 2,000 years. The people from the five villages are known as Qaluyaarmiut or "dip net people." Only intermittent outside contact occurred until the 1920s. In the 1950s, the Territorial Guard found volunteers from Newtok while they were traveling to Bethel. Tuberculosis was a major health problem during this period.

    In the late 1950s, the village was relocated from Old Kealavik ten miles away to its present location to escape flooding. A school was built in 1958, although high school students were required to travel to Bethel, St. Mary's, Sitka, or Anchorage for their education. This was often their first exposure to the outside, and students returned with a good knowledge of the English language and culture. A high school was constructed in Newtok in the 1980s.

    The city was incorporated in 1976, but it was dissolved on January 28, 1997. Due to severe erosion, the village has started to relocate to a new site called Taqikcaq, approximately 5 miles away on Nelson Island. One study estimated that the relocation could cost up to $130 million, or about $350,000 per resident. An article in the Alaska Dispatch describes the relocation situation as of June 2012 - click here.



This image shows the Newtok area as of July 9, 2007 from Google Earth - click on it for a closer look at the heart of the village.



To Community Histories Index

To the main Department of Community and Economic Development Alaska Community Database Online


History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development



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