The Qissunamiut People of Chevak (Cev’aq)

According to the 2000 census, Chevak is home to about 800 Alaska Native people who refer to themselves as Qissunamiut. This community is located on the north bank of the Niglikfak River, about 17 miles east of Hooper Bay on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta and 130 west of the regional hub of Bethel. The Qissunamiut are speakers of the Cup’ik language which is a mutually understood dialect of the Yup’ik language. Mekoryuk, on Nunivak Island, and Hooper Bay are the only two other places where Cup’ik is spoken. The Kashunamiut School District incorporated a Cup’ik language immersion program through the first grade. John Pingayaq, a teacher and Cup’ik culture bearer who runs the Cultural Heritage program in the school, built a traditional qaygiq (sodhouse) with the help of his middle school students several years ago.

 

The present location of Chevak is known as New Chevak because in 1950 the original community was relocated due to flooding that occurred with high storm tides. The original community called "Old" Chevak was on the north bank of the Kashunak River. The name Chevak, or Cev’aq, means "the one that has broken through," as in a slough. Traditionally, Qissunamiut made cevellret which are shortcuts between tributaries for boat waterways. This was done by digging a line connecting rivers at places where large bends occurred.

 

Chevak is only 20 miles from the Bering Sea which influences the climate here often bringing windy and rainy weather. The maritime weather produces temperatures from -25 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Snowfall is typically about 60 inches per year with freeze-up happening usually at the end of October and ice break-up in June.

 

Hunting for seals is done quite regularly in Chevak and is a primary subsistence staple for The Qissunamiut People of Chevak (Cev’aq) families. Many varieties of seal are harvested including ring, spotted, and the bearded seal. Seal hunting provides important ties to cultural and local institutions. The significance of seal hunting is portrayed by Arnold Simon-Noratak, a Chevak student who has attended the University of Alaska Anchorage who wrote about his experiences on seal hunts with his family (Arnold’s work can be found here).