2017 Russian Expedition to Alaska

Here is the photo after raising the monument to Fedor Kolmakov and John W. Clark at Nushagak. Photo by Tim Troll

by Dr. Mikhail Malakhov

It is with great satisfaction that I say to our friends in Anchorage, Bristol Bay and on the Kuskokwim River that the 2017 Russian Expedition to Alaska was successfully completed. The expedition came on the 150th anniversary of the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. We were most happy to share this important anniversary with you in our own special way.

Our journey was very difficult. We encountered many hazards especially on our portage between Kulik and Nuyakuk Lakes in the beautiful Wood-Tikchik State Park, and on our trip down the Aniak River. But we made it.

I am proud of my companions for their endurance and strength – they overcame every challenge Nature put before us. But I also know, and my companions will confirm, that it would not have been possible for us to undertake such a journey without so many Alaskan friends who helped us. I would especially like to mention some of these friends here.

First, and most important for us, was the erection of the monument at Nushagak at the beginning of our journey. This was truly a joint effort between the peoples of our two countries to remember our common ancestors – the Alaska Natives, Americans and Russians who were here before us. We are especially proud to have helped and participate in this historic event.

•We thank artist Pat Walsh, her friends in the metal shop in Arizona and the metal workers at the Peter Pan Cannery in Dillingham for designing and creating the monument;

•We thank Mike Davis for all his help figuring out how to put the monument together and for providing with his friends Marc Lisac, Dee Barker and Peter Crimp boat transportation to Nushagak;

•We thank Father Michael, Father John and all the members of the Russian Orthodox community in Dillingham for their blessing, support and encouragement;

•We thank Robin Samuelson and Jerry Liboff and the residents of Kanakanak for accommodating our needs while we were in Dillingham;

•We thank Jacklyeen Petla for driving us around Dillingham and helping us find a good place to launch our kayaks and for her eagerness to help erect the monument at Nushagak;

•We thank Vickie McDonald and all the staff at the Dillingham AC Store for providing food for the reception in Dillingham and food for our journey. Alaska Commercial Co. also celebrates 150 years since the purchase by the company of the Russian American Company;

•We thank Mayor Alice Ruby and Tribal Chief Robin Samuelson for their welcome at the reception and to all the people of Dillingham who came to the reception and provided food for the potluck;

•As we embarked on our journey we are grateful to Marc and Denise Lisac for inviting us to camp at their cabin on Lake Aleknagik;

•Dr. Dan Schindler and the crew at the University of Washington FRI station provided us a place camp on Lake Nerka, shared some of their scientific research with us, and showed us the traditional portage at Little Togiak Lake that once linked trade and transportation between the Wood-Tikchik lakes with the Togiak River drainage;

•We thank Park Ranger Alison Eskelin for providing us important information as we travelled through Wood-Tikchik State Park;

•Russell Nelson donated a valuable reconnaissance flight of Eagle Pass between Kulik Lake and Nuyakuk that helped us get mentally prepared for that most difficult part of our journey;

•Finally, as we prepared to cross the divide between the Nushagak and Kuskokwim Drainages we thank Bud Hodson and the crew at Tikchik Narrows Lodge for providing us with much needed rest and sustenance after the Eagle Pass portage and for moving us to Nishlik Lake for the portage to the Aniak River.

We must also thank our good friends in Aniak who were so welcoming as we ended our expedition. Special thanks to:

•Dave and Esther Diehl and their future Iditarod champion son Richie for a place to stay, transportation, great food, maqi (banya in our language), great fun and friendship;

•Vince Winter and the crew at the AC Store in Aniak for sponsoring a community barbeque and reception, and for presenting us with an AC Company flag signed by many residents of Aniak. We will always cherish this gift.

Our last stop was Anchorage and thanks are due to the Anchorage Museum that donated space to us to host a presentation before our return to Russia.

•We thank Viktoria Chilcote for making the arrangements at the Museum and spreading the word.

•We especially thank Zlata Lund and the Russian-American Colony Singers for the great spirit and fun of their performance at the museum presentation;

•We thank the Russian-American community in Anchorage for continuing to provide us with warm greetings and encouragement;

•We thank Bishop David of Alaska and Sitka for honoring us with his presence at our presentation and for encouraging us in our efforts.

Finally we thank three people who have been supporting us this year and for many of our other Alaska Expeditions:

Tim Troll with the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust who helped prepare Dillingham and Ken Acton who helped prepare Aniak for Russian invasions this year. Both Ken and Tim have helped us with logistics and contacts on this and many of our other past expeditions. Ken, Tim, Tim’s son Keenan, and their friend David Frazier intended to meet us on the Aniak River portion of our expedition. Unfortunately sweepers and snags on our portion of the river slowed our progress and a meeting on the river was impossible. We finally caught up to them in the village of Aniak.

This expedition and all of our past expeditions would not be possible without the continuing help of Peter Richter who has provided us accommodations and a crucial support base in Anchorage from which to launch our investigations of Russian American history in Alaska.

As we return home to Russia I wish to say to all of our friends that in Alaska we are bound together as peoples by our shared history, culture and common ancestry. We must not forget those who came before us because they are the bond between us that can help our counties rise above and ultimately calm the political turbulence of current times.

-Dr. Mikhail Malakhov, 2017 Russian Expedition to Alaska.