For our ‘Village Spotlight’ segment we are featuring Koliganek, also known as “Qalirneq” in Yup’ik, which means “last or upper village.” Koliganek has roughly 212 residents and is 65 miles northeast of Dillingham on the left bank of the Nushagak River that flows into Bristol Bay. You can travel to Koliganek by taking regular or charter flights, by boat in the summer and snow machine in the winter. The residents enjoy traveling to nearby communities using a skiff.
Koliganek is primarily a Yup’ik Eskimo village that was first established in the 1880’s. Since then, the village has moved four miles downstream of the Nushagak River. The residents originally resided in Old Koliganek near the lower Nuyakuk River, and then relocated. The new Koliganek was established around 1964 with the building of a new school and homes. Today, there is a Tribal Corporation, a new K-12 school which is in the process of being built, a health clinic, a Village Public Safety Officer, a volunteer Search and Rescue team, a volunteer fire department, and one small variety store.
The residents of Koliganek live by the four seasons: summer, fall, winter and spring. Summer temperatures usually range in the low to mid 60’s Fahrenheit and average winter temperatures decrease to 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Once winter comes, subsistence activities slow and family activities and school take place. School sports such as basketball, volleyball, Native Youth Olympics, cross country, and wrestling are very popular and competitive in Koliganek—locals are very supportive of their youth that participate in these activities.
Koliganek is a calm beautiful village that overlooks peaceful open tundra. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continue to be a way of life and tradition for the local residents. Today, a combination of commercial and subsistence harvesting of the rich marine resources support the people of this region and provide the foundation for its economy. Subsistence resources found in the area include moose, caribou, salmon, geese and ducks, as well as berries and other plants. The Nushagak River contains one of the world’s most vigorous salmon runs in the world. Preparations are made for the busy season every summer. Chinook, or king salmon, are harvested in the spring as well as hunting for ducks and geese. Sockeye, or red salmon, are harvested during the summer and the major portion of residents’ time is spent cleaning and putting up fish. Coho, or silver salmon, are harvested during the fall, along with moose and caribou.
Continued appreciation and use of the land’s rich and varied resources is not only a necessity for Koliganek’s people, but a long-standing tradition that is valued and fervently protected. Koliganek residents take pride in their community and work hard to keep it a beautiful and welcoming village.