Information for this section is from the work of
Sandra S. Sobelman Economics of Wild resource use in Shishmaref Alaska”
Residents of Shishmaref refer to themselves as Tapkakmiut which means when translated “people of the sandy strand”. Prior to the establishment of Shishmaref Village, the Tapkakmiut had permanent winter settlements located along a stretch of coastline from about 25 miles north of Wales to Cape Espenberg. People ranged east to the Goodhope River and inland as far as Serpentine Hot Springs to hunt and fish.
The first reported sighting of the Tapkakmiut occurred in 1816, when a Russian expedition led by Otto von Kotzebue
was searching for a water route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. As the expedition traveled north from the Yukon River, von Kotzebue noted in his journal that the coastline from Wales to Cape Espenberg was inhabited.
On July 4, 1816 the party landed at an island and approached several dwellings which appeared to be deserted. The inhabitants may have fled at the sight of the intruders or they may have been at seasonal campsites. In his records, von Kotzebue named the island after Gavrill Sarychev (Sarichef),the vice-admiral of Russia, and attached the name of his lieutenant, Gleb Shishmarev (Shishmaref) , to the village. After leaving the village, von Kotzebue and his party went on to explore the northern Seward Peninsula coastline.
Shishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, known originally by the Inupiat name, Kigiqtaq. Surrounded by the waters of the Chukchi Sea and Shishmaref Inlet, it is five and one-half miles long and one-half mile wide. The island lies at 660 5’ north latitude and 1660 05’ west longitude. From Shishmaref’s westernmost point, it is a little over 60 miles to the Asiatic coast.
Situated along an extensive coastal plain marked by thousands of lakes and numerous rivers, Shishmaref lies on the northwestern border of Seward Peninsula, a 20,000 square mile land mass extending westward from the Alaskan mainland.
The climate of northern Seward Peninsula is transitional between the maritime arctic and more continental temperature extremes found in the Alaskan interior. Weather in Shishmaref is characterized by long, dark, and cold winters and short, cool summers. Winter temperatures range between 20 F (-170 C) and -120 F
(-240 C) with snowfall measuring 33 inches a year. Summers tend to be foggy with temperatures ranging between 540 F (110 C) and 470 F (80 C). The frequently fierce north and west winds plunge the effective temperature lower by as much as 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit.