About Kawerak, Inc.
To learn more about Kawerak, Inc., please visit www.kawerak.org
The Kawerak Board consists of the Council Presidents or appointed delegates of the 20 federally recognized tribes, two Elder representatives and the chair of the Norton Sound Health Corporation Board.
Kawerak was originally formed as the Bering Straits Native Association (BSNA) in 1967. The Association was created to advocate for the passage of a Native Land Claims bill. After the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, BSNA organized Kawerak, Inc. as the regional tribal non-profit in 1973. Today, Kawerak provide services to residents of the Bering Strait Region, 75% of whom are Alaska Native or Native American. With programs ranging from education to transportation, and natural resource management to economic development, Kawerak seeks to improve the Region’s social, economic, educational, cultural and political conditions.
Our people and tribes are thriving.
Kawerak, Inc. is made up of 5 divisions administering a total of 30 programs in service to the Bering Strait Region.
A brief history of Sitnasuaq (Nome) as a hub for the Bering Strait Region
The Bering Strait is the homeland to vibrant living cultures whose roots go back thousands of years. Sitnasuaq (Nome) lies within the Bering Strait Region and is the regional hub to three Alaska Native cultures: the Inupiat, the Central Yup’ik, and the St. Lawrence Island Yupik peoples. Each of the region’s 20 communities maintain a Government-to-Government relationship with the United States as Tribal Nations and have been known to occupy their respective homelands and customary subsistence use areas within this region for several millennia.
Sitnasuaq is known among Alaska Native Peoples of the region, as a historically permanent community. In 2005 and 2006, the City of Nome undertook a port construction project. Construction workers found two subterranean homes, a hunting cache, and a trash midden during excavation. The homes were radiocarbon dated as 250-400 years old.
During the Gold Rush era, Alaska Natives were excluded from staking claims until they were granted citizenship to the United States in 1924. A study done in 2011 by Amber Lincoln, PhD, stated, “By that time , however, the resources from placer mining had largely been extracted and gold strikes had ceased.” Dr. Lincoln further states, “The historic territorial and federal Jim Crow Laws that were exercised in Nome exemplify discrimination in the first half of the 20th century. These laws denied property, civic, and representational rights to minorities in general and Alaska Natives in particular.” One striking example of this was in 1898 when two Inupiaq boys, Constantine Uparazuck and Gabriel Adams, showed three Scandinavian prospectors the location of a gold deposit near Nome, but were denied the right to stake claims or benefit from the “find” of the “Three Lucky Swedes.” There is a beautiful memorial statue, which was funded and commissioned by the Native schoolchildren of Nome located on Anvil City Square, commemorating Constantine, and Gabriel.
Indigenous Peoples have maintained their values, knowledge, culture, and ways of being, despite a difficult history. Illnesses that were common to European individuals were devastating to Alaska Native Peoples, and in some cases, entire communities perished. The 1900 Nome flu epidemic killed 60 percent of all local Native people, and the 1918 Spanish flu caused 75 percent of the population of nearby Wales to succumb. Until the late
1970s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted an assimilation policy, and many Alaska Native children were removed from their communities and sent to boarding schools where use of Native languages was forbidden. Although Alaska Native communities are currently experiencing manifestations of historical traumas, many communities are utilizing their cultures to heal, using approaches originating from, and based on wellness within a cultural context.
Nome played an important role in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Nome events prompted strides in Alaska State policy, nearly 20 years before the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1944, local Nome Inupiaq, Alberta Schenck Adams, was arrested for sitting in the “whites only” section of the Dream Theater with her white date. Alberta wrote a passionate and compelling letter to The Nome Nugget newspaper and a telegram to then Territorial Governor, Ernest Gruening on the issue of racism and gained support for a civil rights bill for Alaska. Alberta, along with Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit of Southeast Alaska, are heroes of U.S. Civil Rights, equity and social justice.
The communities of the Bering Strait Region have, for hundreds of generations, maintained a complex system of kinship, oral history, trade economy, and intimate knowledge of the region's land, sea, natural resources, and technologies necessary to thrive. In the spring, many local hunters can be seen in their skiffs, out on the ocean seeking bearded seal and walrus. In the summer, families are typically out picking greens, gathering eggs, or fishing for salmon. In the fall, it is time to hunt for moose and caribou, pick berries of all kinds, and harvest Beluga whales. Winter provides sea ice, and many families harvest crab and cod from holes in the ice. Harvesting is important to Alaska Native sustenance, spirituality, culture, and community. Harvesting also plays a critical role in the passing of traditional ecological knowledge to the next generation, community connection to nature, and cultivation and caring for the environment. The late Inupiaq leader Eileen Panigeo MacLean of Utkiaġvik, shared some important wisdom when she said, “Subsistence is not about poverty, it is about wealth...This wealth is expressed in harvest and in the sharing and celebration that result from the harvest.”
Today, Alaska Native agencies in Nome work in partnership toward the common goals of cultural education and preservation, language revitalization, continuation of cultural values, and working together toward improving the health, social and economic wellbeing of community members.
Regional partners include Norton Sound Health Corporation – a Tribally owned regional health corporation, providing all hospital services for the region; Kawerak, Incorporated – a Tribally run non-profit organization serving the region; Bering Strait Native Corporation – the regional for-profit Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) corporation. Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation – the region’s fisheries Community Development Quota Program corporation; Sitnasuak Native Corporation – Nome’s ANCSA Native village corporation; Nome Eskimo Community – the Tribal Government for Nome; and the Tribal Governments, Village Corporations and Municipalities of: Sitaisaq (Brevig Mission), Aukauchaq (Council), Iŋaliq (Diomede), Neviarcualuq (Elim), Sivuqaq (Gambell), Chinik (Golovin), Uġiuvaq (King Island), Kuuyuk (Koyuk), Qawiaraq (Mary’s Igloo), Sivungaq (Savoonga), Saktuliq (Shaktoolik), Kiġiktaq (Shishmaref), Aaŋuutaq (Solomon), Taciq (St. Michael), Tapraq (Stebbins), Tupqaġruk (Teller), Uŋalaqɫiq (Unalakleet), Kiŋigin (Wales), and Iġaɫuik/Natchirsviq (White Mountain).
Quyaana once again, and thank you for visiting. If you would like more information about the Bering Strait Region’s Native community, please see the following links: