Island Culture Today

In 2007, the economic livelihood of the Pribilof Islands derived from halibut fishing, fish and crab processing,33 tourism, grants, contracts, and direct infrastructure improvements and maintenance from federal and state governments and non-governmental organizations. The most recent federal census data (U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000) for the St. Paul Alaska Native village statistical area reported a total population of 532 people, with 85.9% Alaska Native or American Indian. For the St. George Alaska Native village statistical area, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a total population of 152 people, with 92.1% Alaska Native or American Indian. During the first decade of the 21st century, economic conditions worsened and many people sought employment off island.

Essays written by St. Paul and St. George high school and middle school students are a highlight of this section. They provide firsthand insight into life today on the Pribilof Islands.

Student Essays

During 2007, students at the schools on St. Paul and St. George Islands agreed to share their perspectives on what it is like to grow up on these remote islands. Three student essays are presented in their entirety. Excerpts from other essays are also included.

Village Values, by Denali McGlashan
Life as a Teenager on St. Paul Island, by Leilani Lestenkof
Commercial Fishing on St. George Island, by Brandon Merculief


Essay Excerpts

Village Values

by Denali McGlashan, St. George Island, age 11

Some people think growing up in the Pribilofs isn’t as advanced as living in a city. Although I have not lived on St. George Island, the smaller of the two populated islands, all my life, I have collectively lived in St. George for four years. I have also lived in other small rural Alaskan communities and large cities in America and Australia. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to compare and contrast village and city lifestyles. Out of these I would have to say St. George is one of my many favorite places. I don’t think cities are worse than villages, and comparing between each other, really just depends on your own opinion. I will share with you several reasons to support my opinion that village life can be very satisfying.

The pollution in larger cities is more concentrated so your lung health is impacted. In villages, there is less air pollution because there are less cars resulting in more people walking around and enjoying a more active lifestyle. Many people also live a subsistence lifestyle and hunt reindeer and seal.

The local village does not have any fast food restaurants and the store is limited, so junk food isn’t always at our fingertips. Therefore, people tend to prepare homemade foods such as breads, meats, and desserts. This type of food preparation brings friends and families together for meals, as this is often a form of entertainment and sharing. In contrast, city people are often too busy for each other, too rushed to cook and there is less time for entertaining and sharing as days are full of lining up and commuting from here to there.

In cities, you basically go to school, come back maybe picking up something to eat on the way and stay home. There is no freedom for most kids beyond their street or suburb. Sure there are malls and restaurants to eat at, but when you live in the city, you either take it for granted or the novelty wears off. “Home, school, store. Home, school, store, home”… you get the picture.

It’s debatable whether this similar “home, school, store” process occurs in village life, because many village-dwelling kids take their unique way of life for granted.

It’s not every day in a suburbia lifestyle that you can walk down to the beaches and see a fur-seal rookery teaming with fur seals; hike up a bluff and watch 80% of the world’s kittiwake seabird population spiral and glide around you; or just take a hike to see endangered sea lions play in the surf. I walk to school every day and marvel at the curious little arctic foxes scampering around between the houses. I play out each day with not a care in the world, as there is no “stranger danger” or such in our village. My “white noise” is the same as what my Unangan (Aleut) ancestors heard, the ocean not traffic and the wind not aeroplanes.

Although every place has flaws, to me the experience of living in a village is something to treasure and remember. With nature all around you, the freedom of a bird, and plentiful resources, there are few limits in St. George.


Life as a Teenager on St. Paul Island

by Leilani Lestenkof, St. Paul Island, age 15

My name is Leilani. I live on St. Paul Island located in the middle of the Bering Sea. Living my life as a teenager on St. Paul is both interesting and fun. Could you imagine what it would be like living on an island so small that there is only one store, one school, and one post office?

This island is fun. I like to go walking a lot with my friends. Most of the time I like to go walking on the beach with my dad. I like walking on the beach with him because I really like spending time with him. I also like walking on the beach because you never know what you will find. There is a lot of stuff like, crab, fish, jellyfish, driftwood, seaweed, walrus tusks, and seashells. I like to go out for rides all the time because it’s fun to look around and see the island. During the winter here I like to go ice-skating. Here on this island there is no skating rink so people have to find a natural flat place to skate. It’s not that hard to find one because there’s a few lakes around here.

In the wintertime, there are really strong blizzards. The winds get up to sixty miles an hour. Sometimes it is hard to see outside and it is hard to walk. When the blizzards get really bad school cancels because it’s so bad that no one can get out of their house. In the summer time it mostly rains or sometimes it’s foggy. I like it here in the summer time because the air is fresh and the weather is always nice.

Most teenagers here like to go the Ilassan Center. The Ilassan Center is a place where kids could go to play board games, watch movies, go on the computers, and play video games. The Ilassan Center belongs to IRA (the IRA is our island’s tribal government) but they allow kids to go there most of the time.

This island is interesting because of the natural resources, like the fur seals, the wind, and seabirds. Native people here use the fur seals to make dresses, pouches, hats, boots, and dolls. We use the wind to run the electricity here. We use the birds to get rid of the waste because the birds usually eat the garbage.

This island has changed a lot over the years. Long ago when my parents were growing up here they didn’t have as much as we now do. They didn’t have telephones, vehicles, television, and computers. The only way of communication with the ‘outside’ was by letter writing. We now can use the telephone to call our friends or email them.

Our parents were more fortunate in many ways because they communicated verbally with their families more than we do now, i.e., storytelling by elders and visiting with the community members. Whereas now, we are all so busy playing games on the computer, and playing video games because it’s what kids do these days.

This island is neat. It is really fun to live here because it’s really different from a city. The weather is really different and the wild life, the school. The school here is interesting. There are only a total of one hundred kids in the school. This school is really fun because the teachers here are nice they don’t give us too much homework all the time. One thing good about this school is that you don’t have to worry about shootings or anything like that because here everyone knows everyone.

This island is really fun because you could do anything you want. You could go out of town and have parties on the beach, and be with your family or friends. You could always go camping here too.

What do you think of St. Paul Island now? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live anywhere else. My most favorite thing about this island is it’s a very peaceful place and it’s very small and safe. There is a lot of stuff to tell about this island but most of all I think the best part about this island are the memories I have here. I will never forget this island.


Commercial Fishing on St. George Island

by Brandon Merculief, St. George Island, age 15

The Bering Sea is the most deadliest sea in the world. My name is Brandon Merculief, and I’m going to tell you about the three generations of family that fish for halibut on our boat. There is my grandpa, my dad, and I. We are the only boat on the island that has three generations of family working side by side. I enjoy every moment that I spend on that boat.

On my family’s fishing boat the Tamarri, which measures 26 feet long and 10 feet wide, we fish for halibut. We also catch other fish, such as rockfish, pacific cod, octopus, and etc. We use long line process. A really long line that lies on the bottom of the ocean with hooks spaced about 12 feet apart. Sometimes we fish with a jig line—it’s a line with a weight and a hook just like normal fishing, in a pond, or a harbor—after we set the long line.

When we go out to our fishing spots we usually fish in about 90 feet of water. The water is super cold; if a human fell in he or she would have to get out of the water within 5 minutes or they could freeze to death.

I have been fishing for four years, and it is the best. I always look forward to summers so I can fish. My dad, Chris, has been fishing halibut for 25 years, and he still loves it. My grandpa, Anthony, has been fishing for 40 years, and it has been rewarding in the way of family experience, and the profit that we get out of it.

Photo of young man coiling a line into a blue tub.
Me coiling the long line.

On our fishing boat we make an average of 20,000 pounds per season at $3.50 a pound. This calculates to $70,000 a year. The IFQ (individual fish quota) we carry is 22,000 pounds. The IFQ we own is usually not caught because the season is usually over too soon.

This fishing season, I will be part owner of the boat. It is exciting because I will be able to pass on the fishing throughout the family, generation to generation. I will also be able to have a fishing license, and own my own IFQ.

Excerpts from Student Essays

“Some jobs for kids are…working for the tour boats by giving tours, there is sealing where you kill the seals during the harvest season, there is blubbering seal pelts, and babysitting...”

--Charissa Philemonof, St. George Island, age 14

“The real reason why I live on this island is because my dad grew up on this island. He really didn’t live anywhere else but here. This is his hometown.”

--Chelsea Lekanof, St. George Island, age 14

“Some people think that living on the Pribilofs is hard today, but try back then when my parents were growing up. They didn’t have all the technology we have today, and today we’re not so alone on this island. They had radios and friends, but nowadays we kids have TV, Playstation 2, Xbox 360, etc.”

--Matthew Kashevarof, St. George Island, age 13

“I like learning about this island. I have learned so many stories here from the elders. I learned about our history and how Russia came to the Aleutian chain. I also learned that we used to have horses, chickens, and cows.”

--Tess Lekanof, St. George Island, age 13

“I’m a seal hunter on St. George Island… The harvest is pretty easy because I have worked for the Traditional Councils for three years. It is fun, but sometimes I get scared because there is the bull seal. They are bigger than me and have sharp teeth. The bull seals fight for everything: females and land space, where they like to sleep everyday.”

--Nathaniel Lekanof, St. George Island, age 16

“Another place to hang out is the Ilaasan center. You are probably wondering, “What is an Ilaasan Center? Well, the word Ilaasan is from the Aleut language meaning Family. The Ilaasan Center is open for the teenagers, and the younger kids. It is open 7:30–10:00 P.M., at least three-four times a week. The Ilaasan center is located in the white Tribal Government building. It has two open rooms that we could hang out in, a room where we either watch movies, or just sit around and have fun, and there is the computer room where we can surf the Internet and chat using Yahoo! Messenger.”

--Daria Isaac, St. Paul Island, age 15

“I think this island is very interesting because there are a lot of things you can do, you just have to be creative about it. Some things that you can do up here are go four wheeling, ride your bike in some puddles, mud bogging (playing in mud, such as riding your bike through puddles and mud, in general, just getting all muddy and wet.) playing basketball at men’s open gym night, hanging out with your friends, and just having a good time….Playing in the wind can be very fun. You can just have fun by unzipping your jacket and pulling it up and letting the wind catch your jacket.”

--Brandon Rukovishnikoff, St. Paul Island, age 16

“The thing I don’t like about St. Paul is the drugs and alcohol because it is a bad influence in our community. I think it is a bad influence because teens in high school can be doing good in school and trying to graduate to get scholarships and those drugs and alcohol can bring them down or make their home lives harder.”

-- Neon Krukoff, St. Paul Island, age 17

“…I live on St. Paul Island, and it’s not as big as normal islands you would think of. There’re no cement roads, no big buildings, no football fields, and there’s no restaurants on St. Paul either.”

-- Alexia Lestenkof, St. Paul Island, age 16

“The weather is interesting because it changes instantaneously. For example, it could be sunny then it could snow. The wind would be calm then the wind could pick up. It can be clear out then the fog could roll in.”

-- Matthew Lestenkof, St. Paul Island, age 17

“I believe that living on St. Paul is the best because you know everybody and everybody knows you. People treat each other like family up here. Everybody waves at each other when they pass one another. We are all just like one big family.”

“When somebody gets hurt badly, they send a plane to take whoever is in great danger to Anchorage, Alaska. If it’s just a simple wound, or a simple illness it can be fixed on the island. If you have a broken ankle or broken arm, you’re going to be sent out to get a cast.”

-- Amanda Owens, St. Paul Island, age 16

Fisheries and Fish

The communities of St. Paul and St. George Islands participate in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island commercial fisheries. They are among sixty-five communities in western Alaska eligible to participate in Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups. The Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association (CBSFA), one of six CDQ groups, represents St. Paul Island. The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA), another of the six CDQ groups, represents St. George Island together with five other communities around the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island region. Among other things, CDQ groups develop and implement plans for how communities will harvest and use their allocations of total allowable catch set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Photo of man holding a fish.
A St. George Island resident displays a freshly caught halibut (NOAA).

CBSFA and APICDA receive allocations for pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, Atka mackerel, yellowfin sole, Greenland turbot, Alaska plaice, Pacific Ocean perch, rockfish, halibut, and crab. Halibut is an important fishery for both associations, receiving allocations of nearly one million pounds each in 2003. The associations do not always harvest 100% of their allocations. According to a CBSFA report, in 2004 the St. Paul local fleet experienced low halibut catch rates in area 4C, the area surrounding the Pribilof Islands, for the third season in a row (CBSFA 2004). APICDA also reported a poor halibut catch for the St. George local fleet in 2004, stating that weather and lack of fish in traditional areas contributed to a small harvest (APICDA 2004).

Crab is harvested near the Pribilof Islands. CBSFA and APICDA both harvested about 100% of their Bristol Bay red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) and snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) allocations during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, respectively (APICDA 2005a and 2005b; CBSFA 2005a and 2005b). Since 1999, only these two stocks have been harvested by the associations. Prior to 1999, other crab stocks, such as Pribilof red king crab (P. camtschaticus) and Pribilof and St. Matthew blue king crab (P. platypus), were also harvested. As of 2005, these fisheries remained closed (APICDA 2005b; CBSFA 2005b). While St. George Island processed crab during a short period, only St. Paul Island continues to process crab at two separate facilities, one a land-based processor and the other a floating processor.

APICDA, in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Ocean Ventures, conducted a green sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus sp.) resource assessment in the nearshore waters of St. George Island. According to the association, the assessment revealed a healthy population of urchins able to sustain a fishery in excess of 100,000 pounds (APICDA 2002). The association harvested approximately 4,000 pounds in 2002 to test the market and the feasibility of shipment to Japan. Reportedly, the Japanese liked the product, but the harvesting and shipping were weather-dependent. As of 2008, this fishery made no significant strides at the Pribilof Islands.

As for freshwater fish, only a single species, a stickleback, is known to inhabit some lakes on St. Paul Island.

Subsistence Resources

As long as humans have inhabited the Pribilof Islands, subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering have been an important part of life. Robert F. Schroeder et al. (1987) estimated that in 1981 St. Paul and St. George households consumed 1,692 and 1,155 pounds, respectively, of subsistence resources, including fur seal, sea lion, halibut, and reindeer (see table below). The fur seal has been the most important marine mammal taken for subsistence use, though sea lions are considered more palatable and are taken as well. A 1997 Alaska Department of Fish and Game document indicated that over 70% of households on St. Paul and St. George Islands used marine mammal products for subsistence (Alaska Department of Fish and Game 1997).

Estimated Consumption per Household for Subsistence Purposes in 1981 (lbs)

 

St. Paul Island

St. George Island

Fur Seal

1,020

561

Sea Lion

105

324

Halibut

513

270

Reindeer

54

0

Total

1,692

1,155

Source: Schroeder et al. (1987, 690).

Halibut, cod, and sculpin are the primary marine fishes harvested for subsistence (Holmes 1994). Of animals living in the littoral zone, sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus sp.), limpets (Acamea sp.), mussels (Mytilus sp.), other unspecified bivalves, octopus, and sea cucumbers are among the most important from a subsistence perspective (Veltre and Veltre 1981). Unfortunately, even mussels harvested from the remote Pribilof Islands are potential harbingers of paralytic shellfish poisoning. “She [wife of Zalar Oustigoff] had been under the cliffs west of the landing gathering [wood] fuel and while on the beach had eaten some mussels or other shellfish….[she] became so sick when on the hill just beyond the well that she sent for her husband. He went to her to find her complaining of severe pains in her stomach…. The Doctor administered the medicine. The woman was taken to her house and other remedies tried but she became paralyzed very soon, died at 12:20 PM.”34

Sea birds and their eggs, especially murre and red-legged kittiwake eggs, are also food sources (Hanna 2008, 205 and 210; Pierce 1994, 275–277). According to Khlebnikov’s notes, bird eggs historically were placed into sea lion fat to preserve them for year-round use (Pierce 1994, 293). Hanna (2008, 204) wrote the following about bird harvest and consumption:

Photo of men standing in water near a boat of "baidara".
Drawing of a baidara (Henry Wood Elliott).

A fifteen-year-old boy can often capture 300 [choochkies or least auklets] in a couple of hours. Sticks are sometimes thrown through the flocks by those boys not able to own a net. The breast of the little bird is slightly larger than that of the English sparrow and they make a delicious pot pie. Officials as well as natives welcome the arrival of the Choochkies.

Shortly after the Choochkies come and until shooting is prohibited May 1, all of the island birds are used more or less by the natives. But by far the greater portion of their catches consists of Murres, Kittiwakes, and Cormorants.

Besides using animals as a subsistence food source, Pribilof Aleuts have utilized animal parts to provide for other necessities. Sea lion intestines were used to sew kamleikas (Pierce 1994, 292), and sea lion skins were used to make baidaras. Murre and puffin skins were used to make parkas, each parka requiring about thirty to fifty skins (Pierce 1994, 27 and 292–293).

Schools

During the 2006–2007 school year just under one hundred students attended kindergarten to twelfth grade at St. Paul Island. Nine teachers, two para-professionals, two maintenance/custodial persons, and a school secretary complemented the school staff. The school was configured with a large library, computer lab, woodworking shop, music/art room, home economics room, and an almost full-sized gym. Computers were in all of the classrooms and a small typing lab in the library, as well as three laptop labs with a total of fifty-five laptops available for students and teachers. During 2007, restoration of the former Navy radio station’s electrical shop provided the Head Start program with a comfortable facility located near the public school.  A school bus picked up the younger children.  The Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association supported the Head Start Program. Students from kindergarten to twelfth grade walked to school or were transported by their parents.

During the 2006–2007 school year at St. George Island, between twenty to twenty-five students attended kindergarten to twelfth grade. Two teachers, one para-professional, and two part-time maintenance/custodial persons complement the school staff. The recently remodeled school includes two elementary classrooms, a science room, kitchen, library, and full-sized gym with a weight room. Computers were integral to both classrooms and the library and a laptop lab maintained fifteen laptops. Each teacher also has a laptop. High school students at St. George are enrolled in the St. Paul High School and attend classes via video conference with the St. Paul school classrooms.

During 2007, each school had a basketball team that played in inter-island games and traveled throughout Alaska to play against other high schools. In 2007, the St. Paul Sea Patriots defeated the Port Lion Kings to claim fifth place at the Alaska Region 1A tournament.

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Click here to read the full article originally published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Religion

The majority of Alaskan Natives (Aleuts, Alutiit, Yupiit, Tlingits, and some Athabaskans) profess, or until recently professed, Russian Orthodoxy (Black 2004, 223). St. Paul and St. George Islands both have Russian Orthodox churches. St. George the Victorious Holy Martyr Church at St. George Island was built in 1936 and was most recently rehabilitated in 1996. Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church at St. Paul celebrated its one hundred-year anniversary in 2007.

The conversion to Christianity was peaceful, gradual, and effected in the early stages by laymen (Black 2004, 223–248). Similarities existed between some Aleut and Orthodox religious practices and symbols. For example, both Aleuts and the Orthodox prayed to the east, viewed water as purifying and healing, associated a bird with the spirit or the Creator, and practiced fasting and abstinence.

Photo of wedding ceremony.
A wedding ceremony in the Russian Orthodox Church (NARA).

A shortage of Russian Orthodox priests in Alaska has always plagued the Alaska diocese. Clergy are generally Alaska Natives. During 2007, St. Paul Island had a full-time priest and a subdeacon. St. George Island did not have a full-time priest or a deacon; however, the priest residing at St. Paul served both communities on a rotational schedule and during times of special need. Additionally, the churches on each island have Blessed and Tonsured Readers that conduct reading services in the absence of a priest. This arrangement is similar to that found in many Alaskan communities today. Local entities, such as individuals and the village corporations, make financial and in-kind contributions to support the churches. The St. Paul Tribal Government contributes to the upkeep of the church and provides free housing to the priest and his family.

Here are two Pribilof Aleut perspectives on the role and influence of the church and religion in their lives and communities. Quotes are taken from 2003 interviews:

Martin Stepetin

“The religion [Russian Orthodox] of our people has been very important. It’s certainly brought us through some hard times, and it’s kind of always been there. It’s always been there for me. I can’t explain it. It’s brought the Aleuts to where we are today. The religion and the church is the center of everything up here. When times are hard, you could always go to the church, and people always seem to go whenever they’re in trouble. If they’re scared, they pray to God. We turn to God whenever we’re in trouble, and we turn to God and we thank him whenever we’re not in trouble. He’s kind of the anchor of everything we do.”

“Before the Russians came to Saint Paul … the Aleuts didn’t really have a religion, or they did; it was just that … it was in everything. It was in the grass. They had spirits for the water, spirits for the seals, that sort of thing.”

“I still think everything has a spirit. For instance, whenever we catch a halibut when we’re out fishing, I’ll thank the halibut. I thank him for giving his life to me, and that sort of thing because that’s the thing. I’ll kind of pray, say a prayer. But I think it’s in Russian Orthodox all around, though. It’s not really just a nature religion.”

Photo of church at sunset.
The Russian Orthodox Church on St. George Island at sunrise (NOAA).

Aquilina Lestenkof

“I could see how it was easy for our people to embrace Russian Orthodoxy because so many of the practices of the church, or the practices of the Russian people that brought the religion to the Aleutians and Pribilof Islands, those activities were very similar to what our people did before.”

“…probably into the late ‘70s is where you started to see people slowly move away, and not be a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. There was a sadness to that, and I think it has been gradually declining ever since then. I don’t know what percentage of the people actively participate on a regular basis in the Russian Orthodox church presently, but it is a very, very small percentage. People will go to the special services, the Christmas and Easter, but not every Saturday and Sunday like they did twenty years ago.”

Aquilina recalls a discussion with her father, Father Michael Lestenkof—a late priest in the Russian Orthodox church.

“…he said, ‘I really respect the orthodox church, but sometimes I do wish I could’ve experienced what it was like when our people really respected, and lived in unison with the Earth, the sea, and the sky,’ and for me, it felt like he was giving me permission to look deeper into this when he said that, and I, like many other people, have had a difficult time trying to balance both a religion and spirituality, and how I [can] embrace what has existed with my people for thousands of years before Russian Orthodoxy was introduced.”

Harbors

No natural harbors exist on the Pribilof Islands. For a long time, baidarras, or skin boats, were the principal means for lightering cargo and persons to the islands. On St. Paul, the Americans developed landings at East Landing, near Black Bluffs, and West Landing, along Village Cove. On St. George, crude landings took place near the current village. During frequently unsettled, windy conditions, landings also took place in the island’s lee at Garden Cove and Zapadni.

By 1986, St. Paul had a 750-foot breakwater and a 200-foot dock (House of Representatives 1999; USACE 2002). A project completed in 1990 extended the breakwater to 1,800 feet and added a 970-foot detached breakwater (USACE 2002), thereby giving the community a semi-protected harbor. In 2003, the USACE awarded a three-year contract to improve the St. Paul Island harbor. The project included emergency breakwater repair and improvements, dredging, and dredged material disposal (USACE 2002; USACE 2004). The dredging project included improvements to the entrance channel at -32 feet mean lower low water; the maneuvering area was dredged to a twenty-foot depth; and the channel was made leading into the Salt Lagoon to increase the water exchange and environmental quality for wildlife. Construction activities included a small breakwater within the inner harbor; a spending beach on the lee side of the detached breakwater; three offshore reefs or underwater groins parallel to the existing main breakwater to dissipate the energy of large ocean swells. Construction and dredging also made inroads for the development of a small boat harbor pending resolution of land use issues and funding for a small breakwater. During 2007, the small boat harbor and breakwater had yet to be developed, although the community resolved to provide its share of the necessary funds.

St. George Island’s Zapadni Bay Harbor was completed at the end of 1993.36 Additional work is required to address the issues of rock pinnacles in the entrance channel and large waves entering the inner harbor areas, making ingress/egress into the harbor nearly impossible during moderate wave conditions (USACE 2004).

Airports

The original St. Paul airport was constructed by the Army in 1942 and various improvements continued over the decades. In 2004, funding through the Federal Aviation Administration supported the paving of the St. Paul Island airport runway. St. George did not have an airport until the 1980's, and it was located on the roadway just west of the village. In the mid-1990's a larger runway was constructed at the west end of the island. The St. George Island airport runway was paved in 2006.

Photo of airplane on runway.
Saint Paul airport runway after paving (NOAA).

Restored or New Buildings

In 1998, NOAA and its consultants and contractors commenced work to restore the structural integrity of the St. George Island sealing plant, in accordance with Public Law Number 104–91. The sealing plant is listed as a contributing resource within the Seal Islands Historic District National Historic Landmark. Restoration of the sealing plant was completed in 1999.

The St. George Tanaq Corporation renovated the St. George Hotel in 2001 using crab fishery disaster relief funding. The hotel has ten rooms, accommodating up to eighteen guests, a library, and a kitchen. The federal government began construction of this structure (previously known as the company house) in 1930 and completed construction in 1931 to house unmarried employees and transients (Bower 1932, 76). It is a National Historic Landmark contributing resource.

Photo of blue building.
Saint George Public Safety Building (City of Saint George).

The newest building located in the City of Saint George is the Public Safety Building. It was constructed during 2004 and 2005 using funding from the city, the State of Alaska, and the Denali Commission. The building has two jail cells, three equipment bays for fire trucks and an ambulance, an office for the village public safety officer, and a mezzanine area for training and meetings. The only newer public building on the island is the equipment storage building located at the airport and constructed in 2006.

During 2006–2007, several historic buildings at St. Paul Island had been restored by island entities and NOAA. The former government house was restored in 2006 by the Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX) with additional assistance from a grant. The building operates as the St. Paul Museum, and is additionally providing temporary on-island offices for TDX employees. The St. Paul Museum was conceived and developed by the St. Paul Museum Commission beginning in 2004. Members of the commission, included Julie Shane (chairperson), Dr. Doug Veltre, Dr. Lydia Black (deceased), Wanda Chin, and others, envisioned a living museum with Pribilof Islands historical displays and facilities available for cultural outreach activities. For example, elders may use the facility to teach beading, leather sewing or other traditional crafts, and to provide educational opportunities to younger generations.

During 2006, NOAA abated lead and asbestos at three former government employee houses constructed in 1924, which later became teacher houses (houses 101, 102, and 103). Following abatement, the houses underwent partial restoration. These houses, and the former government house, are contributing resources within the Seal Island Historic District National Historic Landmark.

The former electric shop, now the Head Start building, and duplex 108/109 were also abated and partially renovated in 2006 and 2007. Though these buildings are not National Historic Landmark contributing resources, NOAA took care to preserve their historical character. Under the 1984 Transfer of Property on the Pribilof Islands Agreement, also known as the Transfer of Property Agreement or the TOPA, NOAA agreed to transfer these and other buildings to local entities.

Photo of green and yellow buildings.
The Saint Paul Health Center (NOAA).

The St. Paul Tribal Government’s Business Center was opened in 2004. The tribe purchased the facility, a former medical unit at Elmendorf Air Force Base, with Crab Economic Disaster Funds and HUD Tribal Housing and Urban Development Funds. The modular facility was transported by barge to St. Paul Island in 2001. Site placement and construction took place from 2002 through 2003. The facility contains the St. Paul Tribal Government administrative offices; the Ecosystem Conservation Office; the Tribal Membership Services, including bingo, elder events, and a virtual library; Social Services; and Tribal Enterprises, including a tavern and bulk sales of beer and wine.

In January 2006, the doors to the new St. Paul Health Center facility opened. His Grace, Bishop Nikolai, traveled to St. Paul Island to bless the center. The $14.2 million center, with itinerant housing, is operated by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association by resolution from the Aleut Community of St. Paul. It offers comprehensive medical and behavioral health services. The center is staffed with two physician assistant level providers experienced in advanced emergency medical care and four community health aide providers. Additionally, the Pribilof Counseling Center, a component of the Saint Paul Health Center, offers a range of behavioral and mental health services, as well as advocacy for elders. The Saint Paul Health Center works directly with the Alaska Native Medical Center and other Anchorage doctors utilizing telemedicine for advanced evaluations by collaborative physicians and specialty doctors.