The Central Yup'ik Eskimo village of Alakanuk gets its name from the Yup'ik word alarneq, meaning "wrong way," or "mistake," referring to its close proximity to a maze of waterways. Alakanuk is located at the east entrance of Alakanuk Pass, the major southern channel of the Yukon River, 15 miles from the Bering Sea. It is part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
Alakanuk is a Yup'ik Eskimo village active in commercial fishing and subsistence. Salmon, beluga whale, seal, moose, and rabbit are plentiful in season. A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community, the Village of Alakanuk. Its 2011 population, according to Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, was 683.
There are no roads connecting Alakanuk with other population centers in the region but the Yukon River is used as an ice road during freeze-up, from November through May. Snow machines and boats are used for local travel. The village is easily accessible from the Yukon River and Bering Sea by barge and riverboat, and a state-owned and -managed 2,200' long by 55' wide gravel airstrip is available. Most passengers and mail arrive by air.
The village was first reported by G.R. Putnam of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey in 1899, and was reportedly settled by a Yup'ik shaman named Anguksuar and his family.
A Catholic presence was soon on the scene. In 1904 the first church was built and was dedicated to St. Ignatius. A new church was built in 1943. It was lost, however, in the Yukon River flood of spring 1952, but replaced with a new church that same year. In 1966-67, the present Saint Ignatius Church was built. It too has had its share of water related woes. The church has been moved twice due to riverbank erosion.
For generations people here were baptized by visiting priests stationed at Akulurak.
After the 1950's, the Society of Jesus served this village for periods which extended for one or two years, rarely more. Sometimes no priests were available to offer Mass and administer Sacraments. Other times, Jesuit priests visited Alakanuk from Sheldon Point, Emmonak or other villages.
Because of priest shortages, parish administrators have served since the 1990's to take charge of the day to day activities of parish life. Deacons often celebrate the liturgies at Alakanuk giving homilies, assisting with marriages and baptisms as well as funerals. Religious Sisters of Notre Dame, and Sisters of St. Dominic, have also been an important presence at Saint Ignatius Parish. Presently the parish is served by visiting priests and ministers from the Diocesan Yukon-Kuskokwim Subregion A.