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Blog 5

Settlement Study: Tyonek, Alaska

By Catharina Laan

Spring Semester 2020

Tyonek is a coastal city, located in south central coastal city of Alaska. It is a small settlement of native Alaskans. Specifically, it is located on the northwest shore of Cook Inlet, 45 miles southwest of Anchorage. The people of Tyonek are part of Athabascan region and have the dialect called Dena’ina.  It is the only community in the Kenai Peninsula Borough that is not located directly on the Kenai Peninsula. It lies at approximately at approximately 61 ° 04′ N Latitude, 151 ° 08′ W Longitude. The village, encompassing 22 square miles of land and 3 square miles of water.

Today there are about 190 residents in Tyonek; however, the Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC) has over 800 shareholders that can practice subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering within the District. The community has one school that currently educates about 35 students in grades K-12. The Tyonek community is accessible by plane or boat, but is not connected by road to Anchorage.

In describing the physical geography of Tyonek, there are many aspects to address this. The physiography, climate, state whether it has any permafrost, ecoregion, and natural hazards will be described.

First thing to describe in this settlement its physiography which is located in the Pacific Mountains and Valleys Region.

Second, is to describe the climate of Tyonek which is located in the South Central region and within that there is variation due to the location of its latitude, maritime, continental land influences. Climate is generally mild for the region, with average winter temperatures ranging from 4 ° to 22 ° F and average summer temperatures ranging from 46 ° to 65 ° F. Temperature extremes have been recorded from -27 ° to 91 ° F. The average annual precipitation is 23 inches, including 82 inches of snow. It generally has moderate precipitation and mild winters.

Tyonek is generally free of permafrost.

The type of ecoregion that Tyonek is located in is on the first level is Temperate Continental, on the  2nd level it is Coast Mountains Boreal, and finally, on the third level of the ecoregion it is Cook Inlet Basin-Susitna Lowland.

The natural hazards in Tyonek are fires, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes eruptions. In the 1930’s where the original village existed at that time, there was a big flood, so the village had to move to higher ground. So, they moved 7 miles northeast to a new site, on bluff, and the town is still called “Tyonek’.

In the case of earthquakes, in the last 60 years, there was a big earthquake and it occurred on March 27, 1964, magnitude of   9.2 with epicenter in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska. This 1964 Alaskan earthquake, also known as the Great Alaskan earthquake and Good Friday earthquake, its affects went across south central Alaska. This earthquake caused ground fissures, collapsing structures, and tsunamis, resulting about 131 deaths. It lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds and it remains the most powerful earthquake recorded in North American history, and the second most powerful earthquake recorded in world history. Tyonek only suffered minor damage due to it being far away from the epicenter. The latest set of earthquakes near Tyonek was an earthquake on Feb 23, 2020, where it was a magnitude was 3.5 earthquake that hit at 7:15 a.m. and was centered in a spot that was 9 miles (15 km) southwest of Tyonek. On March 30, 2020, another earthquake with its epicenter location was 5 miles northeast of Tyonek, with a magnitude of 1.5 strength.

In regards to volcanoes, about 68 miles west of Tyonek is a volcano named Mount Redoubt. It has erupted four times since the 1900’s: 1902, 1966, 1989 and 2009, with two questionable eruptions in 1881 and 1933. The eruption in 1989 spewed volcanic ash  to a height of 45,000  ft (14,000  m).

A big fire occurred on May 2014 in Tyonek that affected their 1800 acres of their land. The residents had to be evacuated of the area.

With all these natural hazards of fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, one must really want to live here and put up with these constant life changing events. The Alaskan natives have been here for over 1800 years for many reasons: the beauty of the land, traditions and heritage of the people have their own space, and surviving on the subsistence living. These Alaskan natives have decided to put up natural hazards as part of life: home sweet home.

Second part of this study of the settlement regarding Tyonek is the human geography. Dena’ina Athabascans arrived in the Cook Inlet region between 500 and 1000 AD. In pre-contact times, it is estimated that 4,000-5,000 people were living in West Cook Inlet within the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District boundaries.

Records show that for the past 1000 years, the people of and from Tyonek embrace a culture rich in the long-held traditions, have their own song, dance, storytelling, and religion. “Tebughna,’ which translates as “the Beach People,’ is the name for the people from Tyonek.   They lived a subsistence lifestyle (and many still do), relying on the rich natural resources of the Cook Inlet. Hunting, trapping, fishing, and whaling have always sustained the people of Tyonek.

Tyonek first appeared on the 1880 U.S. Census as the unincorporated   “Toyonok Station and Village”. It featured 117 residents, including 109 Tinneh, 6 Creole (Mixed Russian & Native) and 2 Whites.

At the 2000 Census there were 134 housing units at an average density of 2.0/square miles. The racial makeup: 4.66% White,   95.34%  Native American, and 2.59% of the population were  Hispanic  or  Latino  or any race. As of the census  of 2000, there were 193 people, 66 households, and 45 families residing. The population density was 2.9 people per square mile (1.1/km ²). The median income for a household was $26,667, and the median income for a family was $29,792. Males had a median income of $26,250 versus $26,250 for females. About 2.1% of families and 13.9% of the population were below the  poverty line. Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church which can be traced its origins to 1891, serves the majority of the village’s residents.

The first recorded encounter between the Dena’ina and the Europeans occurred in May of 1778, when the British naval ships, The Resolution and The Discovery, under the command of the famed Captain James Cook, anchored off West Foreland, near the Dena’ina Villages of Qezdeghnen (Kustatan) and Tubughnenq’ (Tyonek).

In 1794, Captain Joseph Whidley, a Vancouver Expedition, visited Tyonek and found that a Russian fur trade company, the  Lebedev-Lastochkin Company, maintained a small trapping station on the site of Tyonek with a residence of nineteen Russians.

Between 1836 and 1840, half of the region’s natives died from a smallpox epidemic.

The Alaska Commercial Company had a major outpost in Tyonek by 1875.

Upon the discovery of gold at Resurrection Creek in the 1880s, Tyonek became a major hub for goods and people seeking to make their fortunes in Alaska.

A saltery was established in 1896 at the mouth of the Chuitna River north of Tyonek.

The devastating influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 left few survivors among the Athabascans.

In the 1950s and 1960s, oil and gas companies began exploring the Cook Inlet region, and when gas deposits were found, then several gas companies moved into the area. In 1965, the federal court ruled that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had no right to lease Tyonek lands for oil development without permission of the Indians themselves. Later, oil companies paid $12,942,972.04 to the Natives of Tyonek for the lease of Tyonek lands in order to drill for oil and gas beneath the land. With this money, the people of Tyonek built new housing for their people of Tyonek, a school for the youth, and a new Tribal Center. Also, made improvement of roads, and expanded airstrip.  Their school named Tebughna (“beach people’) School and it is home to 35 students, ranging from Kindergarten to the 12th grade. They have 2 teachers for one middle/high school teacher, one elementary teacher, and a principal/teacher.

In 1968, the leaders of Tyonek’s supported and helped fund the Alaska Federation of Natives who spearheaded the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.  In 1973 and under the agreements set forth under ANCSA, Tyonek formed Tyonek Native Corporation and it then became a federally recognized Alaska Native Corporation.  While starting out small, the Corporation has since branched out to create and include many successful subsidiaries and businesses.

From the 1970s to the early 2000s, there was sporadic commercial logging occurred on the lands surrounding Tyonek. Extensive road building has occurred to facilitate the logging of trees and access to drilling sites.

Current power requirements can be met by the Beluga Power Plant in Beluga, Alaska, just northeast of Tyonek. Operated by the Anchorage, Alaska-based Chugach Electric Association. Chugach has a total of five combustion turbines in Alaska and is the primary supplier of electricity in the state, with over 2,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines. The Beluga Power Plant is not only the largest Chugach plant; it is also the largest power plant in Alaska, generating 385MW. The plant is accessible only by barge or aircraft, as no roadways connect to any part of Alaska’s major highway system. Beluga is currently fueled by natural gas, although other more economic and environmentally friendly options are being explored, with an implementation goal around the year 2020.

Tyonek Native Corporation is currently seeking to develop its sand and gravel resource for export to global markets. The North Foreland Facility, is the only all-season, deep-water cargo port. This facility was deemed by many Asian and U.S. firms and governments as one of Alaska’s most cost effective commodity port sites. Built in 1947, this steel and pile supported structure is 1,475 feet long, 17 feet wide, and provides a berthing face of 685 feet. A 174 by 50 feet wharf is also located at the end of the pier. This port not only has the relatively stable climate, including moderate precipitation and mild winters, but also from the deep pier depths; therefore it is subject to less ice than many other locations in Alaska.With its mostly ice-free location on the west shores of the Cook Inlet and large mineable sand and gravel resources, immediately adjacent to the Tyonek Pier, a Tyonek operation offers a unique set of logistics to supply high- quality concrete aggregate supplies to the West Coast and Far East markets. Being already halfway to the Far East markets on the Great Circle shipping routes, there could be opportunities to get back-haul shipping rates on vessels returning empty to Asia. With growing population pressures there is steadily increasing demand to build new infrastructure in the Pacific Rim Nations.

The rapid development that occurred in Tyonek during the 1900s, as well as the history of Russians and Euro-Americans from the past three centuries, and the epidemics that caused major lost oof the Native Alaskan who lived in this area, it has most finitely left an impact on the community of Tyonek and the natural resources in the region.

In the early 2000s, leaders in Tyonek began looking for ways to take a greater role in determining their own natural resource future. With about 190 residents still residing in Tyonek and with the Tyonek Native Corporation having  over 800 shareholders that can still practice subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering within the Tyonek area, their hope is to preserve the culture, traditions, and subsistence practices. Subsistence, or the use of fish, wildlife, and plants for home use, is vital for the community of Tyonek to maintain for generations to come in the future. The strong connection between the people of Tyonek and the land and its resources is intertwined with its culture and history and they seek it to maintain forever.

Blog #3: Natural Hazards

There is a lot of hazards places to live in Alaska but there is safe place to live Alaska free Hazards.

Th safest place to live in Alaska is in the North Slope of Alaska, from Wainwright to Barrow, along the northern coast line of Alaska that facing the Arctic Ocean. This area is safe from natural hazard: no volcanoes, no earthquakes, no tsunamis, and no avalanches. Barrow is where is I live as math teacher at the local high school. The only thing you need to put up with is the negative 40 degree Fahrenheit that is the coldest it has been so far this year. There is no mountains, no volcanoes, and no trees.

In trying to determine which is the most hazardous area in Alaska, I must consider in my decision based on the effect it has caused or could cause again to that population of that area. If only a few people live in that area versus several hundred versus thousands of people, then a new perspective must be taken into consideration on human cost in that natural hazardous area being studied for consideration to be the worst area to be at or near it based on high population areas.

I have concluded that the area from the city of Anchorage to the city of Kenai along the the Cook Inlet area to the city of Seward is very hazardous area.

Mt. Redoubt is volcano that erupted in 1989: the eruption in 1989 spewed volcanic ashes to a height of 45,000 ft (14,000 m) and in doing so affected hazardously the commercial flight of a major airlines, that is, KLM, Boeing 747, in its plume. The aircraft   descended 13,000 feet where the pilots restarted the engines and landed the plane safely at Anchorage. But more than that the ashes spread out in the area causing the air to be contaminated.

In 1964, the Great Alaskan earthquake, at 5:36pm, on Good Friday, on March 27, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake hit near Anchorage. Most of the damage caused by the earthquake occurred in Anchorage, 75 mi from the actual epicenter of the earthquake. It was most powerful earthquake recorded in North America and second largest recorded in the world history. Six hundred miles of the fault ruptured at once and moved up to 60 ft, and releasing about 500 years of stress buildup. Destroyed were buildings, infrastructure (paved streets, sidewalks, water and sewer mains, electrical systems, and other man-made equipment), It caused serious and extensive damage to that city, and schools were uprooted. Later, tsunamis hit the area causing indirectly landslides.This earthquake area is associated with the Pacific Rim of Fire. Other damaged areas include Seward, where railroad tracks were distorted.Tsunamis followed that earthquake that affected the coastal areas of the south central coastal areas of Alaska and affected the surrounding area and all the way to create associated tsunamis to California and Hawaii.   As a result of this earthquake, 131 people are believed to have died related to this earthquake. In 2018, on November 30, near   Anchorage, 7.1 earthquake, and after shocks occurred.

I will not move to Anchorage.



Blog # 2 Map Perspectives: 4 Maps

All the maps I reviewed all very interesting in their perspective on what to emphasize.

My favorite map was the map that showed where the Native Alaskas Settlement are located throughout the State of Alaska. It is from this map I can see that they settled next to bodies of water: rivers, ocean, sea,   and   lakes. Also, in this map, I liked the fact the mountain ranges are shown. One can see how the different Native Alaskans tribes were isolated from each other, and the difference on what they dependent on various ways to get food: whales vs. fish, etc.

My second favorite map is the Alaska Map laid over the MId-West of United States. It really show how big Alaska is to other states. I did not realize it was bigger than Texas. I have new appreciation of how big Alaska is compared to Texas and California.

My third favorite map is the Harriman Expedition Map. That expedition in 1899 was a amazing one and appreciation the journey that took as it is displayed on the map as they traveled the coast along the southern part of Alaska and to all the way to Siberia. Wow, what an adventure and risk those people took on.

Finally, my fourth favorite map is the location of Health Care Facilities in Alaska. I live in Barrow, Alaska. We have Alaska Native Health Hospital. It is a beautiful. Emergency Room, Dental, Vision, and specialist of all areas come in once a month for several days at a time.   I would not come to Barrow unless I knew there was a hospital. So for someone to decide to move to new community, I would think that they most would ask if there was a hospital in town. Looking at the map, there is not that many hospitals.



Blog # 1: Introduction

Hi Everyone,

I have been in Alaska since August 3, 2019. I teach Geometry and Algebra 1 full time at Barrow High School, Barrow, Alaska. About 60 % of the students are Native Alaskans. There is no trees, no plants, no flowers, and everywhere is ice. The roads are not paved. It mostly dark 24 hours a day, but from 11 to 2, the sky is dark blue and you can see the sunlight in the horizon. The local people are friendly. There is four restaurants here but very expensive ($25 and up for a meal). The good news there is Subway and there charge $8 for the sandwich of the day. I go there everyday after work. There is 300 students at the high school.

I moved to Alaska from MIchigan, from the Ann Arbor area.

Until next time,

keep warm

Catharina Laan