by K.J. Lincoln
The iconic “Stone People” on Nelson Island on Nialruq Mountain were recently destroyed by vandals, leaving a void on the trail between Toksook Bay and Tununak, and a bigger void in the hearts of those who make Nelson Island their home.
Residents and friends of Toksook Bay are heartbroken and angry that anyone would do such a disrespectful thing to the rock cairns on the well-traveled hill. These Stone People or Yuguat, approximately 8-10, were built by folks throughout the years using the moss and lichen covered rocks that are found at the summit of Nialruq Mountain, elevation 696 feet.
The stones were meticulously piled up, layer upon well-fitted layer, some reaching heights of about 5’ and from a distance resemble humans.
“I always thought they looked a little mysterious,” said Greg Lincoln, who is originally from Toksook Bay. The statuesque-like structures were visible from the village.
These ancient landmarks have stood for years, some for decades and hold special meaning to families of those who built them. It is a sensitive issue and the villagers are still confused and troubled by the complete lack of disregard.
“Our past relatives made those, made me proud to be who I am,” lamented one person in an online post.
Others named the loved ones who had passed on who had built some of the rock piles.
As a courtesy to the sacred nature of the site, it was not uncommon for visitors to add more rocks to the existing monuments, establishing their own connection to the land and to show respect by helping build up the towers.
The rock markers were also used as a navigational aid to travelers. It helped them to know where they were and which way they should go. Yup’ik stories have been told of the Stone People. There is also a story about the Stone Woman.
It is also a favorite place to take photos with the natural beauty of the Island above, below, and on every side.
These monuments are a part of the Yup’ik lore and legends and cultural knowledge specific and unique to Nelson Island and to the people who call it home. Some are hoping that the names of who is responsible for the damage will be revealed in time.
But not all is lost. There are already plans to rebuild and restore the monuments by local residents.
“As a team we can rebuild,” wrote one person. “There is enough young people, together we can do it.”
As of Sunday, August 5th, seven have already been rebuilt.
“A friend and I went up a couple days ago and rebuilt three,” said Casey Balluta, 25, a resident of the community of Toksook Bay. “And today I went up alone and rebuilt the biggest one. It took about two hours.”
With continued determination and effort, it looks like the Stone People will rise up once again to stand together on Nialruq Mountain as they have for generations.