Stories from Our Elders

Developed as a collaborative effort between the Pre-Elementary Grant, funded by the Alaska Dept. of Education - Office of Indian Education. Artwork, photographs, and interviews by Beth Hill.

Vicky Alto: 1912 Novarupta Eruption - Origins of South Naknek

This was the perfect story to begin the project.  I met Vicky through a friend who introduced us at my coffee shop this summer.  I told her about the project and that I was looking for some stories and she immediately told me the story of Novarupta, which had been told to her by her grandmother.  The story gave me chills on a hot Alaskan summer day.  It is a story of survival and endurance.  A story that begins with a story and how the people of the small village of Savonoski survived because of the knowledge passed down through storytelling which enabled the village to gather and act quickly before the greatest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. – Beth Hill

My name is Vicky Alto.  I am originally from South Naknek, Alaska where my family has been for several generations.  My grandmother, Nina is from Ugashik.  My grandfather Andrew is from the Katmai area.  Old Savonoski is where his mother grew up and I lived there as a child most of my live.  I have gone down fishing every year since I was a small child.  I do beadwork.  I collect plants, wild plants, and medicines that my grandmother taught me to collect and try to hold on to some of our traditions in food collecting, art, and storytelling, which is really important.

My grandmother was a real storyteller.  She started really young.  She was in Old Savonoski when Novarupta imploded.  She said there was the loudest noise anyone ever heard.  Everyone always stated how it was the loudest noise they had ever heard. And then not long after that, the ground would rumble every once in a while.  So, the elders decided when the ash started falling and it wouldn’t quit and it got deeper and deeper and deeper, they saw that that was going to be a danger to their existence, so they packed up all the valuables that they had, the most valuable possessions, and all the men loaded up the bidarkees with the most valuable possessions and headed down river.  The women and children were left behind to gather up whatever they could carry, and they started walking from Old Savonoski. They walked and walked and walked, for days until they got to where the ash wasn’t so deep.  On the whole journey walking down, Grandma said the women cried and the children cried, and it was almost no-stop sorrow that they felt on the journey down. 

When they got to South Naknek, New Savonoski, there wasn’t as much ash and they figured they could survive there so they started setting up camp. When AFN and all the land claims started, the people who decided whatever the villages would be called, they went back to the original name of the village and named it Quinuyang, which means Village of Tears.  They named it that because of the sorrow that started the village.  The sorrow that people felt, and the crying of not having a home and having to start all over.  That is how South Naknek got named Quinuyang because of that.  So, they started building up South Naknek/Savonoski which was up the river a little way and started our new life.


1 of 8 Stories

Listen to Vicky Alto tell the story in her own words.

Beth Hill · 'Novarupta Eruption of 1912'

Pride of Bristol Bay: A Conversation with Jerry and Caleb Jacques about their grizzly family

When Jerry Jacques was 17, he ran away from California and hitchhiked to Alaska. He had heard stories of his great-grandfather and grandfather prospecting, trapping and living in the far north and intended to follow in their footsteps.

Read the entire story