A long history:The King Island people, Alaska

Gathering of Inupiak people from King IslandGathering of Inupiak people from King Island

I was reassigned to Nome. Alaska in the mid-seventies.  I was looking for a way to get reacquainted with our friends from King Island, Alaska.  They are Inupiaq people, traditionally sea mammal hunters of Walrus, Seals and the occasional whale.  I began visiting the Elders and tracing with them their family tree.  I did not realize it at the beginning but knowledge of the family tree is very important in all the Eskimo cultures.  During these visits I noticed that the young members of the family would gather around us and try to follow what the Elders and myself were doing.  As I worked on different families I began developing, on big sheets of paper, the outline of different family trees.  This all took place during the long nights of winter!

Then I discovered that the Jesuit fathers who had begun evangelizing the Inupiaq people at the turn of the 19th century had taken detailed records of Baptisms, deaths etc. and that these records were all stored at Gonzaga University in the state of Washington.  I wrote to the Jesuit library for permission to copy the records of Fr. Bellermine Lafortune, S.J. who had lived with the King lslanders for over twenty years on their island home. 

On me way back up to Alaska, after a visit home, I stopped in Spokane, Washington at the Universities Jesuit library.  I spent three days there copying Lafortune’s records, the house diary and various other papers including a genealogy that he had started. 

The following winter I started working in earnest with this new detailed information.  When the Jesuits arrived, in 1900, they were baptizing adults whose age they estimated to be in the forties or fifties.  They asked not only the name of the person’s mother and father but also the grandparents and beyond.  All of which they knew very clearly.  There was thus established a record dating back to before  contact with Euro- American people.  The first contact was with the whaling ships from New England that started coming to the Bering Strait area the 1840s. 

Nome:Alice and LilianNome:Alice and Lilian Of course this work was very slow and sometimes I had no time to work on it for several months.  Finally, in the spring of 2014, I had about all the information that I could trace down on paper, with a family tree for each family, a copy of which they all received.  Then a King Island woman, Lillian Tiulana, highly trained in computer programing called me to offer her services to compile a genogram which would represent all the families of King Island and their connections to each other.

Lillian came to Nome and we worked together for ten days verifying and putting all this information together on one sheet of paper. This was all done by hand. She then put everything together on one paper color coding the families to make it easier to trace the ancestors and descendants.  We than had it printed and mounted.  We gave copies to the King Island Native Corporation and also mounted one copy in the parish hall in Nome so people had easy access to the entire genealogy.   It was a work of over twenty years and was accomplished just a few months before we had to close the community in Nome.  It was a last gift to the King Island people who had made us part of their family.  Luckily there are quite a number of King Island people who live in Anchorage where the group from Nome are now stationed.  We can thus continue our friendship with them.

Nome: Inupiak family tree mapNome: Inupiak family tree map