Emmonak is located on the mouth of the Yukon River on the coast of Western Alaska, 10 miles from the Bering Sea. The community is on the north bank of Kwiguk Pass (also known as Kwikluak Pass), a channel of the Yukon River located approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the main channel, and within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. It is within the Kusilvak Census Area, one of the most remote regions of the state. It lies approximately 120 air miles northwest of Bethel and 490 air miles from Anchorage.
The area is a mostly flat, marshy plain crisscrossed by many waterways, which residents use in place of roads. The City of Emmonak encompasses 7.5 square miles of land and 1.1 square miles of water. The community is within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge on the Yukon River, which, at 1,979 miles, is the third longest river in North America.
More than 845 people, 96% Yupik Alaska Natives, live in Emmonak. We have a rich culture and connection to the land and water with a history stretching back for millennia. Many of us are involved in commercial fishing, processing, and subsistence activities such as fishing, drying fish, hunting and berrying. The village was originally called "Kwiguk," a Yup'ik word meaning "big stream". Villagers call themselves "Kuigpagmuit" or "people from the Yukon River". Members of Chuloonawick Native Village also reside in Emmonak, having moved to the City after their village site was abandoned. Chuloonawick is also known as “Kwikpak.” It was first reported as “Kwikpakamiut” in 1879 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The Chuloonawick people have continued to identify themselves as being from the village and continue to use the village site as a summer fish camp. In 1999, the Tribe was officially recognized in an effort to distinguish the Tribal members and to eventually redevelop a Chuloonawick village. The tribe has approximately 123 Tribal members.
Yupik people have been part of the Yukon Delta for many thousands of years, living harmoniously in their environment. Europeans began exploring the area in 1741 and colonization followed. The original Emmonak settlement was 1.4 miles south of its present location and was first reported by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1899. A post office was established there in 1920. Later, commercial fishing became a major industry in the village and the northern Commercial Company built a cannery. In 1964, the cannery was washed away by floods. Due to increasing flooding and erosion, the village was relocated 1.4 miles north of Kwiguk in 1964-65. The new location was renamed Emmonak, meaning "black fish."
Yupik culture was developed over the long period of our history in the one of the most difficult human environments in the world. We have not just survived, but through
our shared values and knowledge,
we have thrived. Our culture is characterized by respect for our elders, cooperation and sharing, love for our children, humility, hard work and skills development, humor, respect for the natural environment, conflict avoidance, and acceptance of our family roles.
Our values are shared and reinforced through the teachings of our elders, stories, music, dance, arts, passing along important skills, and working side-by-side for the good of our community.
The people of Emmonak are hard-working and highly skilled, but the region suffers from its remoteness and lack of access.
The Kusilvak Census Area is one of the most remote regions of the state. It is also one of the poorest regions, with some of the highest costs and prices. According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Department, unemployment was 21.2% (May 2021). Per capita income averaged a mere $13,762 and 26.8% of the residents are considered persons in poverty (2015-2019). Emmonak experiences a seasonal economy as a center for commercial fishing, purchasing, and processing on the Lower Yukon River. Yukon Delta Fish Marketing Cooperative and Bering Sea Fisheries process and export salmon from Emmonak. 101 residents hold commercial fishing permits. Subsistence activities (such as hunting, fishing and berrying), trapping and public assistance provide additional income. The majority of the community travels to fish camps during the summer months to dry salmon for winter use. Basic goods like food and fuel are brought in by air or barge, because there are no road connections between communities.
Emmonak falls within the transitional climate zone, characterized by tundra interspersed with boreal forests, and weather patterns of long, cold winters and shorter, warm summers.
The Yukon River usually freezes during October; break-up of the river ice most often occurs in June. Emmonak gets
about 20 inches of rain per year and
6 feet of snow. The July high temperature is around 58 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees C) and the January average low temperature is -3 degrees (-19 C).