The History of Shishmaref

Shishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, in the Chukchi Sea, just north of Bering Strait. It is five miles from the mainland, 126 miles north of Nome and 100 miles southwest of Kotzebue. Shishmaref is surrounded by the 2.6 million acre Bering Land Bridge National Reserve. It has been proposed to become part of the Beringian National Heritage Park, endorsed by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1990. It lies at approximately 66 15' N Latitude, 166 04' W Longitude (Sec. 23, T010N, R035W, Kateel River Meridian). The community is located in the Cape Nome Recording District. The area encompasses 3 sq. miles of land and 5 sq. miles of water.

The original Eskimo name for the island is "Kigiktaq." In 1816, Lt. Otto Von Kotzebue named the inlet "Shishmarev," after a member of his crew. Excavations at "Keekiktuk" by archaeologists around 1821 provided evidence of Eskimo habitation from several centuries ago. After 1900, when a supply center was established to serve gold mining activities on the Seward Peninsula, the village was renamed after the Inlet. A post office was established in 1901. During October 1997, a severe storm eroded over 30 feet of the north shore, threatening the loss of 14 homes, and destroying many winter food caches. The 14 homes were relocated way from the new bluff, however, the City will need a protective seawall to prevent additional damage.


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