Ninilchik Russian Church
Location of Ninilchik, Alaska
|• Borough mayor||Mike Navarre|
|• State senator||Gary Stevens (R)|
|• State rep.||Paul Seaton (R)|
|• Total||207.2 sq mi (536.7 km2)|
|• Land||207.2 sq mi (536.6 km2)|
|• Water||0.04 sq mi (0.1 km2)|
|Elevation||50 ft (20 m)|
|• Density||4/sq mi (1.6/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-9 (Alaska (AKST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-8 (AKDT)|
It is considered an Alaska Native village under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In the 1970s, villagers formed the Ninilchik Native Association Incorporated. Later the Ninilchik Traditional Council (NTC) was established as the government of Alaska Natives in this area.
The Alaska Native people of Ninilchik have ancestors of Aleut and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) descent, as well as some Dena'ina. Many also include Russian ancestors, from a couple of men who settled here with their Alutiiq wives and children in 1847, and later migrants. Russian was widely spoken in the village for years. Due to the community's isolation, this Russian dialect continued much in its mid-19th century form. With some surviving speakers, it has been studied in the 21st century.
Ninilchik is on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula on the coast of Cook Inlet, 38 miles (61 km) by air southwest of Kenai, and 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Anchorage. Road access is by the Sterling Highway. By actual road miles it is a distance of 188 miles (303 km) from Anchorage and 44 miles (71 km) from Homer.
|U.S. Decennial Census|
Ninilchik first appeared on the 1880 U.S. Census as an unincorporated Creole (Mixed Russian and Native) village. All 53 of its residents were Creole. It returned in 1890 with 81 residents, however the census combined the adjacent locales of the Laida native village and Anchor Point mine along with Treadwell coal mine (not to be confused with the Treadwell that is now within Juneau). There were 53 Creole residents (probably all Ninilchik residents), 16 Natives (probably the Tinneh residents of Laida), and 12 Whites (probably the residents of the two mining locales). Ninilchik did not return again until 1920, when it was spelled as "Ninilchic" on the census. It returned as Ninilchik again in 1930, and in every successive census to date. It was made a census-designated place (CDP) in 1980.
As of the census of 2000, there were 772 people, 320 households, and 223 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 3.7 people per square mile (1.4/km²). There were 762 housing units at an average density of 3.7/sq mi (1.4/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 82.25% White, 13.99% Native American, 0.52% Asian, 0.13% from other races, and 3.11% from two or more races. 0.65% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 320 households out of which 29.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.4% were married couples living together, 6.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.3% were non-families. 23.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 2.87.
In the CDP, the population was spread out with 24.1% under the age of 18, 5.4% from 18 to 24, 26.3% from 25 to 44, 29.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 110.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 114.7 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $36,250, and the median income for a family was $41,750. Males had a median income of $29,861 versus $22,750 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $18,463. About 10.4% of families and 13.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.2% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.
Before the arrival of Europeans in Alaska, Ninilchik was a Dena'ina Athabaskan lodging area used for hunting and fishing. The name Ninilchik probably derives from Niqnilchint, a Deni'ana Athabaskan word meaning "lodge is built place".
The first Europeans who permanently settled in the village were Russian colonists who moved there from Kodiak Island in 1847, two decades before the Alaska Purchase in 1867 by the United States. They were Russian Grigorii Kvasnikov (anglicized to Kvasnikoff), his Russian-Alutiiq wife Mavra Rastorguev (daughter of Agrafena Petrovna of Afognak), and their children. They were soon joined by the Oskolkoff family, also headed by a Russian man and Alutiiq woman. These were the core families, and their descendants, who often married Alutiiq, made up most of the village.
Their dialect of Russian as spoken in the mid-1800s (plus a few words borrowed from Alaska Native languages) became the primary language spoken in Ninilchik, and it survived in that form long past the 1867 Alaska Purchase. A few speakers of the Ninilchik Russian dialect were still alive in 2013. Russian and American linguists are documenting and cataloging this isolated dialect.
The 1880 United States Census listed 53 "Creoles" living in Ninilchik in nine extended families. All nine old families of Ninilchik are descendants of the original Kvasnikoff and Oskolkoff families, with numerous marriages to Alaska Natives, primarily Alutiiq.
In 1896, a school was built and staffed by Russian Orthodox priests and laymen. Russian Orthodox priests were respected by Alaska Natives because in several areas of southwest Alaska, they had learned indigenous languages and held religious services in those languages. In 1901, the local Russian Orthodox Church was redesigned and constructed at its current site. In 1911 the first school sanctioned by the U.S. government was started, known as the Ninilchik School. In 2011 the community celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school.
In the 1940s, a number of American homesteaders began to live in the area. In 1949, Berman Packing Company began fish canning operations at Ninilchik. In 1950, the Sterling Highway was completed through the town.
Caribou Hills fire
A 2007 fire that burned near Ninilchik, known as the Caribou Hills fire, moved toward the town. At its peak threatened approximately 300 structures. It eventually burned nearly 60,000 acres (240 km2) and destroyed 197 structures.
Alaska Native People
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act recognized Ninilchik as an Alaska Native village. Under this law, villagers formed the Ninilchik Native Association Incorporated. The US Congress recognized that the people of Ninilchik comprised a quasi-sovereign government (equivalent to American Indian tribes). The Ninilchik Traditional Council (NTC) was authorized as the governing body for Natives who live in the area surrounding Ninilchik or who descended from the original inhabitants.
The original village is located at the mouth of the Ninilchik River. A small harbor has been constructed near the mouth of the river. The name "Ninilchik" is used today, however, to refer to the original village as well as the community that has grown up around it, extending several miles north, east, and south. Residents of Ninilchik sometimes refer to the original village as Ninilchik Village or simply "the village".
Ninilchik as a town is not incorporated, but it is under the jurisdiction of the Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB) and the State of Alaska. Volunteer groups, the NTC, the State of Alaska, and the KPB carry out most of the governmental functions in the area. These include fire-fighting (volunteer), highway snow-removal (state), health services (NTC), and primary and secondary schooling (KPB). A Russian Orthodox church, the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel, is located in the community.
Ninilchik is a popular tourist attraction. Other attractions in the area are salmon fishing, typically now either with commercial guides or private commercial family operations, either along the beach north of Ninilchik River or in Cook Inlet whose waters touch the beach next to the village. Halibut can also be caught in Cook Inlet close to Ninilchik. Pacific razor clams are popular for digging on the beaches near Ninilchik, when the tides are low enough. Clammers should check regulations before digging, as this clam fishery has been closed until further notice. Panoramic views of four Cook Inlet volcanos, historical Old Village, the iconic Russian Orthodox church, Ninilchik River and Deep Creek watersheds, abundant wildlife, and bluff-lined beaches provide photogenic opportunities rich in diversity and depth.
Ninilchik is the host community for the annual Kenai Peninsula Fair and the annual Salmonfest Alaska (formerly Salmonstock) Music Festival.
There are two Alaska State Parks units in the Ninilchik area. Just north of town at mile 135 of the Sterling Highway is the Ninilchik State Recreation Area, which features two campgrounds, beach and river access, and scenic overlooks of Cook Inlet.
Just to the south of Ninilchik is the Deep Creek State Recreation Area which has a large campground on the beach, several parking areas for access to fishing in Deep Creek, and tractor-assisted boat launching. Both areas are known for the near-constant presence of bald eagles.
- Loren Leman, politician, member of both houses of the legislature and lieutenant governor of Alaska. He grew up in Ninilchik and graduated from the Ninilchik School in 1968. He later moved to Anchorage, where he worked as a civil engineer and served in elected office continuously from 1989 to 2006. He was the first person of Alaska Native ancestry to be elected to statewide office.
- The Moose Lady: An old Ninilchik fishermen's tale that describes a tall, blonde, female figure with a quiet voice, that is capable of shapeshifting into the body of a moose. She is said to haunt the dreams of Alaskan Natives and weary fishermen who long for the warm body of their wives or lovers, inevitably finding themselves caressing the snowy ground where a moose once slept. Because of the deep Russian ancestry in the area, it is speculated that the legend stems form Old Rus.
The only remaining writing on the legend, still available, says this about The Moose Lady.
"Не пей виски, не верь ей."
The primary researcher on The Moose Lady legend in currently Iian Morrison, a plumber from Pueblo Co. He states he has left Alaska because of his previous encounters with the supposed legend. He has claimed that these encounters often end in frostbite, losing four toes himself.
- 2015 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League. 2015. p. 9.
- "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Ninilchik CDP, Alaska". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
- "Cook Inlet Villages and Lands – CIRI". Ciri.com. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
- The Milepost, 59th edition, page 630, ISBN 978-1-892154-21-7
- "U.S. Decennial Census". Census.gov. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- See the online dictionary, Ninilchik Russian
- "Russian language's most isolated dialect found in Alaska". РИА Новости. Russia Beyond the Headlines. 29 May 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Leman, Wayne. "Agrafena's Children".
- Ninilchik SRA Alaska Department of Natural Resources
- http://www.salmonstock.org Archived 2012-08-03 at the Library of Congress Web Archives
- Deep Creek SRA Alaska Department of Natural Resources
- The Milepost, 2018 edition, page 560 ISBN 9781892154378