Nelson Island was named after Edward Nelson in 1878, a Smithsonian naturalist who noted 6 people, including 1 non-Native trader, living in Tununak. In 1889 the Jesuits opened a small chapel and school. The villagers were difficult to convert due to the migratory nature of the traditional culture, and because the shamans were still quite powerful. The mission closed in 1892. In 1925 a government school was built, and a Northern Commercial Co. store was opened in 1929. From 1934 to 1962, a missionary named Father Deshout lived on Nelson Island. His long-standing relationship and work with the people in the area had a great influence. The 1950s brought great changes to the Islanders lifestyle, through their involvement with the Territorial Guard, work in fish canneries, high schools, and health care treatment for tuberculosis. For many, this was their first exposure outside the community. By the 1970s, snowmobiles were replacing dog sled teams, and the last qasgiq (men's community houses) was abandoned. In 1997, the City government was dissolved in favor of traditional council governance.
To Community Histories Index Alaska DCCED Community Database Online
History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development