The Sugpiaq are maritime people of south and southwest Alaska, adept at utilizing water-based resources and handling intense coastal weather. The name Sugpiaq comes from the word “Suq,” meaning “real people.” Alutiiq, the Sugpiaq term for the Russian name “Aleut” has been adopted by many contemporary Native people of this diverse heritage; both terms are commonly used today. The Sugpiaq who inhabit the outer coastline of the Kenai Peninsula are known as the Chugachmiut, or the people of Chugach.
The innovative skin-covered kayaks of the Sugpiaq, the quayaq, called baidarkas by the Russians, feature a split bow. This equipped hunters to approach game with stealth and stability on the water. Hunters wore intricately sewn skin and gut waterproof clothing and bentwood visors for sun protection. The Sugpiaq also built larger, flat-bottomed boats, the angyat. The largest angyaq could carry up to 30 people plus cargo. These larger vessels were used to relocate and move families to fish camps along the coast or for trade or war expeditions. Tipped over on land, an angyaq made a convenient summer shelter.
The Chugachmiut occupied a dynamic exchange route in Prince William Sound and along the southern Kenai coast, trading with Sugpiaq of Kodiak Island, called the Koniagmiut, Tlingit and Eyak of southeast of Prince William Sound, Dena’ina of Cook Inlet, and Ahtna of Copper River. Although neighboring peoples exchanged technology and diversified foods via trade, they also warred. In raids, hostages from other tribes were taken. Conflicts between tribes disrupted transportation routes. War made travel between villages and hunting and fishing sites dangerous, diminishing a community’s ability to prepare for winter- and winter’s festivities. Winter was the time for celebration and ceremony, marriage feasts and spiritual rituals to ensure continued abundance of the waters.