The name “Aleknagik” comes from the Uupik native tongue meaning “wrong way home”. It seems that quite often fishing and hunting parties returning to their villages on the Nushagak from Bristol Bay would mistakenly turn and follow the Wood River. The surroundings of the Wood are so similar to that of the lower Nushagak, a simple mistake in navigation would go unnoticed until the parties turned the corner and found themselves at the lake. At this time the lead boat would declare “ALEKNAGIK!” (wrong way home).
For hundreds of years the village of Aleknagik was the hub of trade and culture for the Alaska native peoples who lived throughout the Bristol Bay region. The ideal setting along the shores of Lake Aleknagik and the safe haven this location provided from the harsh winters of Southwest Alaska, proved to be the reason many of the regions natives made Aleknagik their winter home. Fur was the main item of commerce along with dried fish, berries, and hides from the previous summers harvest. Lessons learned from fishing and hunting expeditions were shared, creating strong ties amongst the people who came here.
The longer days of spring and the break up of ice signaled the people to leave the village to hunt and gather food for their return to Aleknagik in the fall and winter. The lives of the people here were ones of complex simplicity. Survival of the tribe depended on their skills as hunters, fishermen, and craftsmen.There was little room for error in this land. The terrain in which they traveled was laden with hazards, and the weak or unwise didn’t last very long. This land also provided for its people with abundant fish, game, fowl and vegetation.
In 1897 the first barrels of salted Salmon aboard the schooner Neptune arrive at the ports of the west coast. Life would never be the same for the natives of Aleknagik. The traditional ways of survival would give way to “commercial fishing” as the villagers were forced to yield to the demands of the canneries and their influence. Fishing quickly replaced trapping as the major source of income among the people of the region.
Spring of 1930 brought the Smith family from Seattle in search of a better life. The effects of the Great Depression had not reached the frontier towns of Alaska. In fact, if a man was willing to work, the north country held much opportunity and Snag Point (Dillingham) was no exception.
The Smiths established a camp at Snag Point. Here they began to carve a new life out of the vast southwest Alaska wilderness. Ray Smith and his brother-in-law, Frank ran tugs and barges for the canneries or anyone else who needed to move goods around the area. In the early summer the Smith family moved up the Wood River to Mosquito Point, on the south shore of Lake Aleknagik.
At this site the Smiths built their home. The following years a school house was built where they hoped to instruct the natives in the ways of Christianity and the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Every Saturday most of the villagers would travel the short distance across the lake to the schoolhouse to worship.
The church made a decision to expand their facility at Aleknagik in 1951. However, with suitable building materials in short supply, the Smiths bought a vacant building from a defunct cannery, put it on a barge and floated it up the Wood River to their settlement. This structure was one of the first at the Mission school site. The building which now makes up the main Lodge, was not constructed till 1965.
A gymnasium followed and became the focal point of the community. The villagers used this building for the major events of their lives. The marriages of their sons and daughter, celebration of a successful fishing season and the passing of a respected member of the clan. For 34 years the Mission prospered and became a completely self sustaining program. The residents generated their own power, grew their own food and taught the local population basic education, agriculture and mechanics as well as the foundation of Christianity.
The school was vacated in the fall of 1974 when the State of Alaska built new schools in Dillingham and in the other villages of the region. The church could no longer sustain the unused and quiet structure on the shore of Lake Aleknagik. In 1984 Dale DePriest and friends looked at this property and saw a new era for the Mission. The vision was that this is still a place of learning, celebration and reverence. The area that surrounds the Lodge is rich in history, natural beauty and is an abundant resource that is ours to enjoy and protect.