The Bristol Bay region is filled with 30 unique villages, spread across 40 million acres of beautiful land and water. Each village has a story to tell, and in this new blog series, we will feature each village in the region, highlighting some of the traditions each village has to share.
Our first Village Spotlight features Togiak, located at the head of Togiak Bay, 67 miles west of Dillingham. Togiak is home to roughly 800 people, of which about 600 are BBNC shareholders. Togiak is a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo village with a fishing and subsistence lifestyle. The Yup’ik word for Togiak is Tuyuryaq, which means a place for sending, because Togiak is home to many resources that people send to other villages.
In 1880, Old Togiak, or Togiagamute, was located across Togiak Bay. Due to heavy snowfalls that made wood-gathering difficult, people gradually settled at the new site. Today, Old Togiak is home to a cannery and camp for the local people from Togiak and Twin Hills; there is a road that connects the cannery with Twin Hills.
After the influenza epidemic in 1918-19, many residents of the Yukon-Kuskokwim region migrated south to Togiak. A school was established in an old church in 1950 until a school, along with a National Guard armory, was constructed in 1959.
Togiak is known for its herring season, which happens in late April or early May each year. Many people from around the area head to Togiak to gather herring spawn-on-kelp. Picking is done by hand when the kelp is exposed by the tide, or by grappling below water from a skiff with a garden rake. The eggs are picked and eaten fresh, or preserved by salting, freezing or drying. They’re often eaten with seal oil, and are considered a special treat.
Commercial and subsistence salmon fishing starts in Togiak in June. Kings are the first salmon to run up local rivers, followed by reds, chums, pinks and silvers. In mid to late July, berry picking starts and continues through the fall – salmonberries, blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries and lowbush cranberries are picked in the area each year.
If you are from or have visited Togiak, please feel free to share your stories with us in the comments section.