Napaimute is located in Western Alaska on the North bank of the Kuskokwim River, 28 miles East of Aniak in the Kilbuck-Kuskokwim Mountains. The Yup’ik word Napaimute means “forest people”. Our village was once called “Hoffman’s” because an Englishman named George Hoffman established a trading post at the site in 1906. Napaimute was once an important supply and trade center for the central Kuskokwim River area. It began to dwindle in importance with the decline of the mining, fur, and reindeer industries. Residents migrated down the river to either Aniak or Bethel where government agencies were beginning to create more stable job opportunities.
Although several hundred or more people can trace their roots to Napaimute, only a handful continued to maintain ties to the village once it’s western-style economic significance ceased. These few identified themselves so strongly with their ancestral home that they fought for and received federal recognition as one of the Alaska’s Native Tribes. This federal status has enable the Native Village of Napaimute to survive all these years, awaiting the day when it’s members would want to return home. There were 39 original members who enrolled in Napaimute. Today, with the addition of their descendents the Tribe has more than doubled and the dreams of these members are becoming a reality.
For the past 25 years, those original members that remained in the area have worked at revitalizing the village. Bit by bit, we have cleaned up the site, removing old trash, tearing down buildings too dilapidated to save, cutting decades worth of grass and willows, leveling the ground, and filling holes. We have hauled many tons of supplies and equipment to Napaimute by boat, snow machine, plane, and even by truck. On this reclaimed land, several families have built permanent homes, planted garden’s, set up smoke houses, and worked toward the day when they could live there year round. The U.S. Census 2000 lists 16 permanent, seasonal occupied residences for Napaimute.
As Napaimute has slowly been brought back to life, so has its membership. More and more members have expressed the desire to return home. Many of the original members are older now and not constrained by careers. They now are able to look toward returning to Napaimute. Younger members, still raising families, disillusioned by the quality of life in more urban areas, are wanting a safer place to live, where more of our traditional values can be practiced. The potential development of the largest gold deposit in Alaska at nearby Donlin Creek will make full time living at Napaimute completely feasible. The increase in eco-tourism in the middle Kuskokwim is also ideally suited for incorporation into the economic planning for Napaimute and its people.
For the past several years the Napaimute Traditional Council has worked diligently to reach a land transfer settlement for community development from its parent village corporation – The Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC) that would fulfill the obligations of ANCSA 14c3 yet allow for maximum local (tribal) control over community lands.
On April 12, 2006, after extensive negotiations, the TKC Full Board of Directors approved a land transfer of 650 acres directly to the Native Village of Napaimute and a minimum ANCSA 14c3 reconveyance of slightly less than 100 acres to the State Municipal Land Trustee (MLT).
Following The Napaimute Community Plan, developed in 2004, the Napaimute Traditional Council has begun turning these tribal lands into a revitalized Middle Kuskokwim Community. A key component of this revitalization is the implementation in the summer of 2006 of the Napaimute Home Site Program, under which 5 new families began to develop homes in the community. This program is open to both tribal members and the general public. A specified number of lots will be opened for home site development each year for 5 years.
Also in support of the Napaimute Community Plan the Napaimute Traditional Council has built a 75’ X 2,800 Pioneer Airfield, a multi-purpose community building, a tribal office, rental cabins, and established a business enterprise that includes retail gas sales, convenience store, lodging, equipment rental, a sawmill producing lumber & cabin packages, and firewood sales to lower Kuskokwim communities.
Currently, the Council is developing business plans oriented toward taking advantage of the potential economic opportunities that will be associated with the development of Donlin Creek.