Blog 5: Russian Mission

Russian Mission is a town located in southwest Alaska on the west bank of the Yukon river in the Yukon-Kuskokwinn river delta. The river delta gives way to many lakes, marshes, streams, and wetlands, which provide an ample ecosystem for the animals that inhabit the surrounding boreal forrests within the subartic tundra ecoregion. Like much of Alaska, the climate can be characterized as one that endures long cold winters and short warm summers.

The town is composed of 5.7 square miles of land and .5 square miles of water and the survival of its inhabitants relies primarily on subsistence living, as it has been for over a hundred years. Just to give some background, the town rose to prominence in 1837 as the 1st Russian American fur trading post. By 1857 the subsistence based town and trading post drew in more outsiders, which brought greater cultural influences to its native peoples; the most important of   which was the Russian Orthodox church who established a mission there. By 1900 the area was formally named Russian Mission.

Today, the village is composed of 312 occupants. Most of the native and mixed population are of Yup’ik decent, while a fraction of it’s population is white. Being primarily Alaskan native, many of the inhabitants continue to practice subsistence living techniques such as hunting, fishing, and trapping which prove critical to maintaining their way of life there. While fishing appears to be their primary source of food (and income for seasonal workers), residents also rely heavily on hunting moose, black bears, small game animals (rabbits and porcupines), as well as waterfowl. Without these resources, their way of life would be next to impossible. While the village has grown over the years and has become more modern, the poverty rate still remains at 40% or higher with high unemployment, where overcrowding of homes remains a large problem. What is interesting is that most of the population is composed of young families ranging from birth to age 55; which means that once people become older and have more trouble maintaining this way of life, they move–possibly to Bethel (the closest village nearby) or to Anchorage. According to DCRA Information Portal this movement is likely a result of the city’s deteriorating infrastructure primarily in healthcare and transportation.

Being part of the subarctic tundra and subarctic coastal plains the land in Russian Mission is primarily composed of permafrost with very little viable soil as silt deposits often ruin the nutrient quality of the soil. In many areas of Alaska the permafrost gives way to a variety of problems as it hinders drainage and effects the structures established on top of it. According to the 2013 Hazard Mitigation plan the biggest natural treats to the area are flooding, erosion, and severe weather. In the region high winds, surface runoff (caused by severe weather), and ice flows contribute to erosion. While this keeps seasonal construction workers employed, it continues to hinder the repair and updating of important buildings that prove essential to the town’s being. This is an area that state and government funding continue to put copious amounts of money into in order to preserve the town. Why they do this I do not fully understand…since the 1940’s the town has had three major floods due to severe weather, snow melt, and ice flows during breakup season. This doesn’t take into account the ‘minor flooding’ that prompted various states of emergencies declared by the state’s governor over the years. From an economic standpoint the only real reason why I can see why this city continues to receive funding is to probably to keep ties with the Russian Mission Corporation, the Russian Mission Native Corporation, and the Russian Orthodox Church salient and satisfied.


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