Holy Cross, located among small rolling hills, adjacent to the Yukon River, in the West Central Interior of Alaska, is home to Athabascan and Yupik Eskimos. The community is situated on the west bank of Ghost Creek Slough, off the Yukon River and across from the mouth of the Innoko River. It is a Deg Hit’an Athabascan Indian community but is inhabited by a combination of Athabascan and Yupik Eskimo people. The community of Holy Cross marks the dividing line between the interior Athabascan and Southwestern Yupik Eskimo regions.
Prior to the establishment of Holy Cross, there were three villages in the surrounding area. Anilukhtakpak, which was located closest to the present day community, Ghost Creek just ½ of mile north Holy Cross and Koserersky across from Ghost Creek, were all historical settlements in the area.
As the territorial boundary zones of the Deg Hitan and Yupik, historically this location proved ideal as a trade center between the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers as well as between the Yukon and Port Clarence in the Norton Sound. It is difficult to reconstruct the exact history of this settled area and trading center. However, Andrei Glazunov, an explorer with the Russian Fur Company, was the first to document contact in 1834. After departing Bonasila on February 7 under poor weather conditions, Glazunov arrived in Anilukhtapak on February 8, 1934. On his visit to the kashim, he reported the largest structure he had ever seen and counted 300 males present.
In describing the village of Anilukhtapak, Glazunov noted 16 dwellings and approximately 65 additional structures that he called dwellings located about 2 miles from Anilukhtakpak “on the banks of the river”. He estimated the population of the Anilukhtakpak areas as 700 and noted the settlement was an important center for indigenous trade with an overland route to the Kuskokwim River.
Eight years later, Lieutanent Zagoskin of the Russian American Company, described the kashim in Anilukhtapak was: “a remarkable building, 12 sazhens square and over 6 sazhens high, with three tiers of benches made of pine [spruce] planks that are 3 ¼ feet wide and have obviously been split and hewn with stone axes”2. Unfortunately, the small pox epidemic of the late 1830’s left an impact on the local population. In 1943, Zagoskin reports 8 dwellings in Anilukhtapak and a total population in the area of 170. By the time of the Americans twenty some year later, Anilukhtapak is referred to as the old village, and Koserefsky, located across the river from Ghost Creek, and approximately two mile upstream from Anilukhtapak is inhabited by the local population.
During the winter of 1887-1888, Father Robaut of the Roman Catholic church proposed to establish a mission in the area and was told of a place below Koserefsky where there once had been an old village and where a clear creek flowed into the Yukon at the foot of a large hill. This is presumably the former village of Anilukhtpak mentioned by Glazunov and Zagoskin.
Recorded history parallels with oral tradition that the Deg Hitan utilized three types of settlements based on the seasonal cycles of subsistence resources. During the spring, residents moved to spring fishing and trapping sites along the Innoko Slough. In summer, residents of Anilukhtapak moved to fishing sites on the Yukon River between the mouth of the Bonasila River and Paimute. Anilukhtapak was considered the permanent or winter settlement and had a large kashim or ceremonial house.
The present day community dates from 1888 when Father Robaut selected it as the location for a Jesuit mission. Gradually people from Koserefsky moved across the river to the mission site. Once established as a Catholic Mission, children orphaned from the impact of devastating disease or placed there for an education, were taken care of by the mission. The mission staff, which included, priests, brothers and sisters provided instruction in math, reading and writing, as well as, sewing, cooking, gardening and wood work. The daily task of providing for heat, food, and water required all children be involved in daily chores.
The Jesuit mission closed around approx. the early 1960's. The State of Alaska BIA school took over approx. 1965.
Holy Cross is relatively remote from Alaska’s major population centers. It is 420 miles southwest of Fairbanks and 115 miles northeast of Bethel. There are three other nearby villages. Anvik lies about 34 miles to the northwest, Shageluk is about the same distance to the northeast, and Grayling is approximately 50 miles to the northwest. The four villages have strong historic and cultural ties and are often referred to within the region as the GASH (Grayling-Anvik-Shageluk-Holy Cross) villages. The close proximity of the four villages and their cultural similarities, they have developed a close relationship over time. Collectively they are designated as one of the six sub-regions of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of tribal governments and non-profit service organization in interior Alaska.
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