The People of the Chenega (cheh-nee'-gah) Tribe have lived in the area of Prince William Sound for some 10,000 years, fishing the Sound’s waters and harvesting the abundance of their land. They are part of the Alutiiq (ah-loo’-tik) tribal family, and their native language is a dialect of Alutiiq called Suqcestun (sooks’-.toon).
The rich waters of Prince William Sound provided well for the people, but also brought many changes. In the 1700’s, Russian trappers and explorers found their way to the Village of Chenega, introducing the Orthodox Christian religious practices which would eventually adopted by the Chenega people.
On Good Friday, March 27th 1964, the island Village of Chenega was destroyed by a tsunami created by a massive, 9.2 magnitude earthquake. The loss of life was catastrophic. In this single event, centuries of history were washed away and 1/3 of the people of the Chenega Village lost their lives. With the village gone, the Chenega people were relocated to Tatitlek, Cordova and Anchorage.
Four years later, in 1971, the US Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). This Act granted the original residents of Chenega title to over 70,000 acres of land in Prince William Sound, paving the way for the Chenega Corporation, which was established three years later in 1974.
The tides of Prince William Sound came and went for twenty years following the tsunami without seeing a new home for the Chenega people. Then, in 1984, a group of former villagers established the village of Chenega Bay on Evan’s Island, in Prince William Sound. But tragedy was about to strike again. In 1989, twenty-five years to the day, of the tragic Good Friday Earthquake, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. The tides carried the slick black water to the beaches of the newly established Chenega Village, wiping out the Chenega People’s sole means of livelihood; commercial fishing. Damage to the natural environment and wildlife crippled their life of subsistence.
The Chenega Corporation chose to participate in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council Habitat Restoration Program, which protected large blocks of land harmed by the spill. In 1997, Chenega Corporation sold a portion of its native land to the United States Forest Service and the State of Alaska “Habitat Transaction” for $34,000,000. With this capital, the corporation developed a strategic plan, which included a substantial business development in Federal government services contracting, as part of the United States Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development, or 8(a) Program.
Over time, the Village of Chenega Bay has steadily developed. Today it has a fully operational medical clinic, a beautiful Orthodox Christian Church, a school and community hall, a subsistence center, airport and small harbor. A system of generators and fuel tanks keeps the residents in constant supply of power. There is a ferry dock used by the State of Alaska ferry system, as part of the Alaska Marine Highway System, and notably, the community also has a sophisticated response system for oil spills, which is operated by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
After taking a great leap of faith at considerable risk, Chenega Corporation now ranks among the top 5 most successful Alaskan owned businesses in the state and continues to exemplify strength in its core values—faith, fortitude and sustainability for the benefit of future generations through business practices and culture preservation projects like Chenega Diaries.