BSNC Announces Bereavement Assistance Increase to $2,500

The Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC) Board of Directors has voted to increase bereavement benefits from $1,500 to $2,500. Bereavement assistance helps defray the cost of funeral expenses for an original BSNC shareholder, a lineal descendent of an original BSNC shareholder, or the spouse of a living original BSNC shareholder.

“We recognize that families have many burdens when a loved one dies,” said BSNC Board Chairman Henry Ivanoff. “We are hopeful that the assistance BSNC provides helps alleviate some of the financial burdens.”

The new bereavement payment is effective for applications received on or after Jan. 23, 2019 for those individuals covered by the bereavement policy. The deadline for filing for bereavement assistance is within three months of the date of death. Bereavement assistance may be applied for by a surviving family member either in the Nome or Anchorage office.

A note about Stock Wills: Some people find it easy to think about wills, while others prefer to avoid the subject entirely. Having a Stock Will on file with BSNC lets you decide who will inherit your stock after your death. If you pass away without a Stock Will, your stock will be distributed according to state law, and may be distributed to individuals you do not intend to benefit. To encourage shareholders to complete their Stock Wills, BSNC continues to hold monthly drawings for those shareholders who submit a Stock Will, with a prize of $200. Visit or call (907) 443-5252 to update your stock will today.

2018 Photo Contest Winners

BSNC thanks everyone who submitted photos for our sixth annual photo contest. The grand prize winner is shareholder Fred Sagoonick, who submitted a photo of a beautiful scenic view from the Shaktoolik Foothills overlooking Norton Sound, Beeson Slough, Besboro Island and Cape Denbigh.

BSNC understands the cultural and economic importance of ivory carving to its shareholders and families and included a new category in BSNC’s 2018 Photo Contest – Ivory Carving! Photos entered into this category included walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory carvings, the process of carving ivory and/or an ivory carver. To view more of the winning photos, check out BSNC’s Facebook page.

Ivory Carving
1st John Luke Kakaruk, “Mother and Child by Melvin Olanna”
2nd Dawson Evans, “Eagle by Anningayou”
3rd Harlyn Andrew, “Graduation Bracelets”

Cultural Activities
1st Tanya Ablowaluk, “Mary’s Igloo Traditional Council Cultural Campers”
2nd Annemiek Analoak, “Cheyenne Simpson in Nome, Alaska during the 2016 Summer Solstice”
3rd Brianne Gologergen, “Unity”

1st Rachel Goodall, “1949 Cape Espenberg”
2nd Leann Richards, “White Mountain Girls Dorm 1952”
3rd Aidan Osborne, “Old Bluff Gold Mine”

Scenery and Landscape
1st Melissa Slwooko, “Gambell, Alaska”
2nd Allison Ivanoff, “Unalakleet Windmills”
3rd Fisher Dill, “Fireweed Across the River”

Subsistence Activities
1st Brianne Gologergen, “Start Them Young”
2nd Fisher Dill, “Winter Crabbing”
3rd Curtis Ivanoff, “Buoy”

Village Life
1st Fisher Dill, “Mother and Son Roaming the Tundra”
2nd Kirstie Ione,”Hudson Enjoying Village Life On A Homemade Sled”
3rd Jennifer Kameroff, “Eskimo Bowling”

Grand Prize photo submitted by Fred Sagoonick.

FIRST PLACE CULTURAL ACTIVITIES: Tanya Ablowaluk submitted this photo of Mary’s Igloo
Traditional Council Cultural Campers.

FIRST PLACE HISTORICAL: Rachel Goodall submitted this historical photo from 1949 at Cape Espenberg. From left to right: James Kigrook, Fannie Kigrook, Margie Kigrook, Doris Kigrook, Flora Kigrook, father of the siblings Harry Kigrook and Nellie Kigrook (Rachel’s mother).

FIRST PLACE IVORY CARVING: John Luke Kakaruk submitted this photo of an ivory carving of a mother and child by Melvin Olanna.

FIRST PLACE SCENERY AND LANDSCAPE: Melissa Slwooko submitted this photo of Gambell, Alaska.

FIRST PLACE SUBSISTENCE ACTIVITIES: Brianne Gologergen submitted this photo of her daughter watching the men butcher a bull walrus.

FIRST PLACE VILLAGE LIFE: Rae Rae Frankson (Katchatag) and her son roaming the tundra.

In Memoriam: Shareholder Lela Kiana Oman

BSNC shareholder Lela Kiana Oman passed away peacefully surrounded by loving family members on Monday, July 9. Lela was BSNC’s oldest shareholder at 102 and a half years of age.

Lela was born in 1915 in Noorvik, Alaska. She moved to Nome as a young girl and resided there for the remainder of her life. She devoted her life to preserving traditional Inupiaq stories and passing on Inupiaq traditions. She has published a number of books of Native stories, including: Eskimo Legends (1966, Nome Press) and the Epic of Qayaq: The Longest Story Ever Told By My People (1995, Carleton University Press).

Lonny Piscoya Awarded Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement Award

The Alaska Federation of Natives awarded BSNC shareholder Lieutenant Lonny Piscoya the Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement Award. Lieutenant Piscoya’s law enforcement career has spanned nearly 25 years and during that time he has served Alaska and its communities from the Southeast panhandle to the Northern Interior. The knowledge he gained growing up in rural Alaska on the land, rivers and ice surrounding Nome has served him well in his search and rescue assignments. His family and cultural background, which emphasizes cooperation, compassion, humility, and community service, has shaped and guided his development as a public safety officer.

While serving in Ketchikan, he was awarded the Department of Public Safety Purple Heart for injuries he received in the line of duty. During an arrest in 2001, his leg was fractured, yet he still managed to subdue the suspect until backup arrived. In 2005, he was awarded the Police Unit Commendation from the Ketchikan Police Department.

His service with the Fairbanks Post began in 2005 when he was promoted to Lieutenant, Deputy Detachment Commander. He served as Team Leader for the Special Emergency Reaction Team from 2005 to 2011. In 2010, he was chosen to become the Rural Unit Supervisor and Supervisor of the Judicial Service Unit and Bureau of Highway Patrol Unit, an assignment that oversaw the Alaska State Troopers across much of interior Alaska. He also served as the Detachment Search and Rescue Coordinator. In 2018, he was selected as Fairbanks District Attorney’s Officer of the Year.

Piscoya was born in Nome, Alaska to Carol and Roy Piscoya. He was raised in Nome and has seven siblings. He and his wife Bridget, who have been married for 24 years, have six children. He is a member of Rotary International and serves on the Board of Directors for the Midnight Sun Boy Scout Council in Fairbanks.

In Memoriam: Shareholder June Degnan

BSNC mourns the passing of shareholder June Degnan who served on BSNC’s Board of Directors from 1985-1989. June passed away on July 9.

Born in 1937 and raised in Unalakleet, June was the daughter of Ada and Frank Degnan. June earned a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science with Phi Kappa Phi Honors from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology cum laude. She has held professional positions as a land manager, planner, teacher, archivist, librarian and historian.

In 2017, June was a recipient of the First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Award in recognition for her service as the founding president of Haven House Juneau (HHJ), a transitional home for women exiting incarceration. She presided over the HHJ board since its inception in 2007 and demonstrated exceptional dedication, leaving her paid employment to nurture HHJ into an entity that has successfully helped countless women make healthy changes in their lives as they transition out of confinement. Since the 1960s, June fought for Alaska Native rights, for women’s rights, for equal opportunity and social justice.

BSNC Offers Scholarship for Maritime Career

BSNC is offering qualified shareholders and descendants a one-time scholarship for up to $2,000 for a career opportunity with Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO). The scholarship will help hired candidates obtain prerequisite TWIC and U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariners certificates, and pay for air travel to ECO’s training facility in Louisiana.

Once hired, training starts immediately. Classroom training is two weeks, followed by three months of on-the-job training in the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you are an entry-level candidate or an experienced mariner, each candidate will have an individual development plan to work toward higher U.S. Coast Guard licenses and higher pay.

ECO training including:
• STCW Basic Training
• Basic Marine Safety Training
• Environmental Awareness Training
• Vessel Security Training
• Marine Rigging Training
• On-the-job training onboard a vessel while acquiring sea time
and working towards advancement

ECO’s state-of-the-art training center is one of the most advanced in the world. Staffed by U.S. Coast Guard-Certified Instructors, the ECO training staff will provide Alaska Native hires with the training and qualifications needed to build a successful career in the maritime industry.

For more information, please contact Brent Lirette at (907) 562-2136 or

U.S. Army to Repatriate Remains of Students Who Died at Boarding School

The U.S. Army will repatriate remains of young students buried at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The school’s mission was to remove children from their culture and assimilate them into mainstream American culture. The boarding school operated between 1879 and 1918. More than 10,000 Native American children were required upon arrival to have their braids cut off and dress in military style uniforms in an effort to stamp out their heritage. Students were punished for speaking their native language and were given new names.

The remains of many Alaskan and Inuit students have not been claimed:
Lucy Spalding, died March 25, 1905
Mabel Stock, died Aug. 16, 1904
Tomicock (last name unknown), died April 8, 1900
Pariscovia Friendoff, died April April 29, 1906
Cooking Look, died Jan. 4, 1904
Fred Harris, died June 9, 1890
Helen Fratias, died Dec. 14, 1903
Anastasia Achwack, died June 20, 1904
Edward Angelook, died Sept. 24, 1905
Wallace Derryman, died July 11, 1910
Hanna Dechizien, died May 4, 1889
Laublock (last name unknown), died April 15, 1899
Elliot (last name unknown), died May 21, 1889
Titus Deerhead, died Nov. 17, 1886
Paul Wheelock, died May 14, 1900
Leah Road Troller, date of death unknown
May Paisamo, died April 28, 1890
Given Bat, died Aug. 3, 1885
Moses Neal, date of death unknown
Own Firy, date of death unknown
Almeda Heavyhair, died Aug. 28, 1890
Margaret Edgan, date of death unknown
Christine Redstone, died July 19, 1899
Jack Martha, died Feb. 5, 1888
Zeneke Uh, date of death unknown
Wash He, date of death unknown
John Bytzolay, date of death unknown
Minnie Topa, died May 28, 1891

BSNC requests that anyone with possible information about these individuals, their families or their community of origin to contact the U.S. Army at the address listed below and BSNC at BSNC will assist in coordination with the proper tribal authorities.

The US Army has extended invitations to consult on this issue to all Federally-recognized tribes. Because the historical records are so incomplete, Army cannot determine all the tribes represented within the Carlisle Cemetery. If you believe you have an ancestral family member buried at Carlisle and would like to consult on having their remains relocated to a cemetery of your choice, please contact:

Mike Black, Director
Bureau of Indian Affairs
MIB 4606 MS
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Army National Military Cemeteries
1 Memorial Drive,
Arlington, VA 22211

Or email:

BSNC Interns Raise More Than $50,000 for BSF

This year, BSNC’s summer interns helped plan and host the Bering Straits Foundation (BSF) Art Auction that was held on July 17 at the Petroleum Club in Anchorage. Thanks to the many donors, the auction reached its goal of raising $50,000 to benefit BSF’s scholarship programs. BSNC and BSF sincerely thank the donors and artists who donated their beautiful artwork, those who purchased art and those who made financial contributions. BSNC also expresses a special thanks to the Rasmuson Foundation for their donation of $5,000, Tom and Cindy Massie for their $20,000 donation, and an anonymous  employee donor for their $5,000 donation.

With the very generous support of individuals like you and community organizations, BSF is able to help BSNC shareholders and descendants who seek to further their educational and vocational goals. Your investment is more than a commitment to BSF – it is an affirmation of your connection to, and support of, BSNC’s current and future generations of students who are making positive strides in their lives and positive impacts in our communities.

Your support helps positively impact the lives of BSF recipients such as Isabel Yamat, a BSF recipient who participated in the BSNC Summer Internship program and was promoted to Assistant Facilities Security Officer: “I am grateful for the support Bering Straits Foundation gave me while I pursued my degree. I was a first-generation college student, and with their support I was able to obtain my degree. The support and assistance they dedicate to Bering Straits shareholders and descendants is truly admirable and uplifting.”

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to BSF, please visit

BSNC Shareholder Promoted to Jr. Proposals Manager

BSNC is pleased to announce that BSNC shareholder Christian Leckband has been promoted from Proposals Coordinator to Jr. Proposals Manager. Leckband, who grew up in Nome, interned in the Business Development Department during the 2016 Summer Internship Program. He began working for BSNC after graduating in May 2016 from the University of Alaska Anchorage with dual bachelor’s degrees in business management and business marketing.

Christian manages and produces proposals and responses to requests from government entities such as the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. As a Jr. Proposal Manager, Christian’s duties will expand in capacity while working with these various entities. Congratulations, Christian!

Eagle Eye Completes Demolition Project in Diomede

BSNC subsidiary Eagle Eye Electric, LLC (Eagle Eye) recently completed a demolition and cleanup project in Diomede for the State of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The project included demolition of the Alaska Army National Guard Federal Scout Readiness Center Armory. Constructed in 1960 when the Cold War was in full swing, the armory was the only site in the U.S. to have direct visibility and contact with the Soviet Union. Diomede was one of the many strategic points in Alaska along the Arctic border that separated the Soviet Union from the U.S.

During the winter of 2008-2009, the armory fell victim to its surroundings when heavy loads of snow sloughed off adjacent buildings onto the roof, causing it to partially collapse. The armory was determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places but due to the damage, it was determined that the property no longer retained the structural integrity sufficient to convey its historical significance. Eagle Eye successfully demolished, transported and disposed of armory materials, including debris and hazardous substances.

In addition to demolishing the armory, Eagle Eye removed a barge load of garbage, debris and scrap steel for the City of Diomede. Refuse from the island had not been removed since 2009 when a fall storm washed away the barge landing and access to the dump. Some of the items removed by Eagle Eye had been there for more than 20 years.

Diomede, on the island of Little Diomede (Iŋaliq), sits in the middle of the Bering Strait and is less than three miles from the international dateline and the Russian island of Big Diomede. The project was managed by BSNC shareholder and Eagle Eye Business Development Manager Cliff Johnson. Eagle Eye hired 14 BSNC shareholders, representing 100 percent shareholder hire for the project work in Diomede. BSNC thanks the residents of Diomede for their hospitality and assistance with completing the project.

BSNC Awarded Community Champion of the Year Award

BSNC is pleased to announce that it has been selected as the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference’s (AIIC) Community Champion of the Year for the Alaska region. This award honors a business, nongovernmental organization, development corporation or a company with aboriginal partnerships that has demonstrated a significant commitment to community enhancement. The award was presented at the 2nd annual AIIC conference in August in Yellowknife, NWT. AIIC is hosted by the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce and highlights and promotes First Nation Aboriginal Development Corporations and Aboriginal businesses in all sectors of northern economy, alongside the North’s business community in strategic industries and sectors, including technology, innovation, finance, investment and natural resources. Other awards presented are the Top Aboriginal Business of the Year and Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneur of the Year.

Shareholder Spotlight: Susan Benitez

BSNC shareholder Susan Benitez graduated this spring as student government association president from Bunker Hill Community College in Boston with two associate degrees in business and liberal arts. Benitez is a U.S. military veteran and has been accepted to Stanford University where she will study science, technology, and society.

She was honored by the Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office, along with 33 other students, for being the highest academic achievers of the community college system. The student awardees were presented with medallions and certificates for being named to Phi Theta Kappa’s All Massachusetts Academic Team. Congratulations, Susan!

Shareholder Spotlight: Dr. Heidi Aklaseaq Senungetuk

Dr. Heidi Aklaseaq Senungetuk earned a doctoral degree in ethnomusicology in 2017 at Wesleyan University, where she focused on Inupiaq music and dance. Following the completion of her doctorate, Dr. Senungetuk served McGill University as its first postdoctoral researcher in Indigenous Studies. She earned two degrees in violin performance at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Michigan School of Music, before holding positions as a violinist with the Louisiana Philharmonic of New Orleans, the Tulsa Philharmonic, the Breckenridge Music Festival in Colorado and the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.

Currently, Dr. Senungetuk is the University of Alaska Anchorage’s first postdoctoral fellow in Alaska Native Studies. Her inspiration to study ethnomusicology stems from a commitment to create representations of Indigenous art forms in the university academic setting. Her main
goals as a professor include building mentorship for indigenous students and shaping a positive campus learning environment for all scholars to develop a deeper understanding of Alaska Native cultures.

Dr. Senungetuk is the daughter of Ron and Turid Senungetuk and granddaughter of Helen and Willie Senungetuk, who were originally from Wales (Kiŋigin). Heidi grew up in Fairbanks, where her father founded the Native Art Center and was head of the Department of Art at the University of Alaska.

Introducing Board Director Becka Baker

Edna “Becka” Baker was elected to BSNC’s Board of Directors at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders held on Oct. 6 in Anchorage. Baker resides in Nome, where she was born and raised. In addition to serving as a Director of Bering Straits Native Corporation, she also serves as a Director of Sitnasuak Native Corporation.

Baker retired in 2015 after 30+ years as a public servant employed by the State of Alaska. Her last position was Regional Election Supervisor, where she was tasked with conducting state and federal elections in the coastal communities of rural Alaska spanning from Kaktovik to Adak. In 2017 she served as a Program Officer for the Bering Straits Foundation. Baker is also a shareholder of CIRI and Koyuk Native Corporation, and is a member of the Nome Eskimo Community.

As a young child, Baker’s mother and grandmothers instilled the values of helping others. She takes pride in community service, whether assisting others to conduct fundraisers or working at the gate during high school sporting events. Baker and her husband John have two sons. In her spare time, she enjoys time with family in the great outdoors.

Shareholder Kaylene Evans Crowned Miss WEIO

BSNC congratulates shareholder Kaylene Iñuuraq Evans of Nome, the newly-crowned 2018 Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics. Kaylene is the daughter of BSNC Director Bobby Evans and Kathleen Jaycox.

“I would like to extend my deep appreciation for the role BSNC plays in our communities,” said Evans. “I graduated from Nome-Beltz High School and was very fortunate to receive a Bering Straits Foundation scholarship. The generous financial support was instrumental in my pursuit for my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Ethnic Studies, and again as I begin my Masters in Indigenous Politics.”

The Miss WEIO pageant promotes culture, social games, skills, dances and traditions of Alaska, Greenland, Siberian, and Canadian Inuit, Alaskan Indians, Aleuts and Native Americans. The competition includes a talent presentation, a personal interview with the judges, an impromptu speech, and Native regalia.

“For my talent portion I talked about my journey of wellness, which is grounded in the tradition that you carry on the spirit of your namesake. I spoke about my grandmother, Myrtle Wells of Kiana, who is also named Iñuuraq, and I sang a song she taught my mother, who taught me,” she said. “The song, in Inupiaq, is ‘Praying For You.’”

Evans recently graduated with a dual bachelor’s degree in political science and ethnic studies from the University of Hawaii Manoa. This fall she will return to Hawaii to begin a master’s program in indigenous politics. Next April, Kaylene will compete in the Miss Indian World Pageant in Arizona. We wish her much success in her future.

Shareholder Cindy Massie Honored at AFN

BSNC shareholder Cindy Massie and her husband Tom were awarded the Alaska Federation of Natives Small Business Award for their generous philanthropic efforts advancing causes in Alaska.

Tom and Cindy met in Nome, Alaska where Tom was working. Cindy was working construction as a flagger. From the day Tom spotted Cindy flagging, he never wanted to just drive by her again! The couple had humble beginnings in Fallbrook, Calif. where they started a television show in the garage with Tom’s father, George. Eventually the show became so popular that they decided to purchase their own channel and named it “The Outdoor Channel.” The channel expanded its programs, became known worldwide and was subsequently sold.

In time, Tom and Cindy created The Tom and Cindy Massie Foundation. Through this foundation, the Massies have generously supported the Bering Straits Foundation and many Alaska nonprofits and organizations, including the Covenant Youth of Alaska, the UAA Music program, Nome Fine Arts Club, and the Unalakleet Elders Assisted Living Facility. When presenting scholarships to Unalakleet’s class of 2018, the quote they passed on was, “If you can believe it,
you can achieve it!”

Shareholder Lisa Anaya Earns Professional Certification

BSNC congratulates shareholder employee Lisa Anaya on receiving Basics of Government Contracting and Federal Acquisition Regulation Workshop certificates. Obtaining these certificates, along with her past experience with contracts, allows her to test for the Certified Federal Contract Manager Certification.

Anaya has 26 years of experience in the oil industry as a business analyst. She was hired in October 2016 as a Contract Assistant and was recently promoted to Contracts Specialist. She supports the department by performing contract administration for a large subsidiary.

“I am so excited about the opportunity to learn and become an expert in my field,” said Anaya. “I am more excited to know that each certificate earned is going to benefit the amazing corporation which I belong to by providing me with the necessary tools to be the best-infield. Thank you, BSNC for providing a program for individuals such as myself and allowing me to be a part of a picture larger than myself.”

Shareholder Spotlight: Tom Piscoya

BSNC shareholder and Bering Straits Foundation scholarship recipient Tom Piscoya is a Boeing 737 Captain for Alaska Airlines and has been flying professionally for more than 35 years.

Captain Piscoya spent most of his childhood in Nome, where he remembers walking to grade school in his mukluks, and a great fascination for airplanes. As a young child, he could draw a Piper Super Cub down to the very last detail. He would look up at every airplane as it made its way across the skies to the Nome Airport.

Captain Piscoya graduated from Nome-Beltz High School in 1981. Shortly after graduating, he received his private pilot’s license from Bering Air. He was hired in 1983 at Ryan Air by Eva and Boyuk Ryan. He then flew for Bering Air and attended the University of Alaska Anchorage where he earned his degree in professional piloting and business administration. He began flying Boeing 737s for Mark Air and in 1995, he achieved his ultimate goal of flying Boeing 737s for Alaska Airlines. He recounted telling his interviewer, “You have an Eskimo on the tail of your jets. Now it’s time to put one in the cockpit.”

Captain Piscoya has flown 737s to many locations in the continental U.S., Canada, Mexico and Hawaii, but says the most challenging, fun and rewarding flying is when he is flying family and friends across the State of Alaska. Once in a while, he’ll fly an Elder to Nome, Kotzebue or Utqiagvik where there is often a smile, handshake and a little hint of pride in their eyes for being flown by an Alaska Native.

Captain Piscoya is eternally grateful to Boyuk and Eva Ryan for taking a chance on him when he was so young in years and experience. He would like to encourage any young students who are interested in flying to keep working toward their goal, and his success proves that captaining a jet for one of the largest airline companies in the U.S. is possible.

Shareholder Spotlight: Shareholder LTJG Kya McAllister

On July 6, 2018, BSNC shareholder Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Kya McAlister of Medford, Ore. received her Naval Aviation Wings of Gold from the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is a 2016 United States Naval Academy graduate and a 2012 graduate of Phoenix High School in Phoenix, Ore. LTJG McAlister will continue onto the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla. where she will receive training for the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.

LTJG McAlister grew up throughout rural Alaska (Golovin, Kaktovik, Kake, Nulato) where her parents were school teachers. She is the daughter of Debra and Mark McAlister and granddaughter of the late Morris J. Coffey and Clara Coffey of Stebbins, Alaska, Gary McAlister of Medford, Ore. and Linda and Ken Leak of Sparks, Nev.

Historical Spotlight: 1918 Marks 100th Anniversary of Flu Pandemic

This October marked the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 pandemic of influenza, which swept the globe as World War I drew to a close. Worldwide, at least 2 billion people would contract the virus and 20 million people would succumb as the epidemic ran its course. For indigenous groups with little or no previous contact with western disease, the death toll would far exceed the averages documented for urban areas in the United States. Alaska, though remote, would see the death of many Alaska Native residents, with some local populations being devastated in a matter of weeks.

Along the shores of Norton Sound and on the Seward Peninsula, the fall of 1918 had been long but unusually cold, with snow coming late and in meager amounts. The late Willie Senungetuk said, “They knew something’s not right that fall. They were warned.” With winter closing in, the last ship of the season docked at Nome on Oct. 20, 1918. Aboard the Victoria were passengers from Seattle and mail which was to be distributed to the surrounding villages and gold camps via dogteam (Nome Nugget, Oct. 21, 1918). Mail was dispersed 12 hours following the ship’s arrival after it had been thoroughly fumigated to outlying communities.

Taken up the coast by mail carriers, hunters, and residents traveling between villages, the flu virus spread quickly and with deadly efficiency. Villages and small camps were all infected, except for those that had sufficient warning to establish and maintain quarantines. Elders interviewed in the 1980’s, who had survived the flu, remembered how the sickness spread in their own communities. Mr. Senungetuk recounted how the sickness took its toll on his family: “I remember my grandfather died first … and my mother, my father were too weak to drag him out … and they want to move to the next door … hut … that house was cold … then they didn’t last.”

Quarantines were established at some communities. Shishmaref posted armed guards on the trails leading into the village, thereby halting the spread of the epidemic from travelling up the coast. At Mary’s Igloo, the quarantine was breached. The leaders then imposed a quarantine on half of the village, while the half that had contact with the epidemic’s carriers lost many to the sickness.

Spreading rapidly across the region, there was little time to send aid or relief to the outlying communities. When teams were finally dispatched from Nome, little could be done except bury the victims and gather the orphans. Pilgrim Hot Springs had just become the focus of the Jesuit missionaries in the region in 1917. Because of the epidemic, and the large number of orphans, Father Fortune quickly established the springs as an orphanage to accommodate the children whose families had perished.

As the epidemic raged, Father Fortune wrote:

“I struck Nome at the beginning of the epidemic called the Spanish influenza. The Natives were simply mowed down… On the 27th we met Mr. Reese (at Mary’s Igloo) and made up our minds to take as many families as possible to the Springs (Nov. 28, 1918)… Thirteen new patients come to our impoverished hospital. Atajok receives the last rites of the Church. Her condition is precarious; she is not expected to live long. Mosquito Kiktorakulek is improving. Stanislaus Anayok is very weak. Koyaglaluk died in his parent’s igloo near our landing (November 29, 2018)… Sunday in Advent. Death continues its ravages. Tullik passes away at about 7 pm. Ublureok receives the last Sacraments. He is not expected to live long. His mother will die soon of old age rather than of sickness. Mr. Cary passes the day cooking not only for today but for nearly the whole week (Dec. 1 , 2018).”

The death toll in the interior community of Mary’s Igloo, and along the Agiapuk and American Rivers, was significant. The orphanage established at Pilgrim would operate into the late 1930’s.

The following is a listing of the number of people that were documented to have died during this epidemic:

• Nome (Sandspit Village): 175
• Penny River to Cape Wooley: 74
• Teller/Brevig/Point Spencer/Jackson Point: 72
• Wales: 200
• St. Michael: 150
• American R./Agiapuk R./ Mary’s Igloo: 98
• Cape Nome/Solomon/Rocky Point/Golovin: 118

The numbers are stark but this is not the total mortality for the region. At some locations, no numbers were recorded and smaller sites, such as herders’ camps, are not included in these tallies.

By the end of January 1919, just three months after the arrival of the epidemic on the shores of the Seward Peninsula, somewhere between 30% and 40% of the area’s total population had died. The Spanish influenza was selective in that it seems to have killed mostly healthy adults in the prime of their lives and adolescents, as well as the elderly, leaving young children to be adopted—if they had any remaining community or family members—or to be placed in the care of the orphanages. The horrendous impact of the epidemic on our communities
is almost unimaginable.

On this 100th anniversary of the 1918 Flu Epidemic, BSNC honors and remembers those who managed, with resilience and strength, to persevere and maintain our communities and traditions to this day through this incredibly difficult time.