The Koyukon Athabaskan Indian village of Kaltag is located on the west bank of the Yukon River, 33 miles southwest of Nulato. It is situated on a 35-foot bluff at the base of the Nulato Hills, at the Yukon River end of the Unalakleet-Kaltag portage.
Kaltag's location at the end of the old portage trail led to the village being used as a cemetery site for surrounding villages. Thus, in Athabaskan tradition the community became a "Stickdance" village. The "Stickdance," or Koyukon Feast for the Dead, is a complex and distinctive series of Athabaskan mourning rituals performed over several days by villagers in memory of their lost loved ones who died during the previous year. The Stickdance ceremony draws visitors from many neighboring villages. This celebration of potlatches and gift giving rituals is sponsored by relatives of the recently deceased, in appreciation of those who helped during their time of mourning.
Kaltag had its roots as one of several fishing camps located on the Yukon River. The camp became a village, and the village became a burial ground when a smallpox epidemic struck the Koyukon in 1839. More disaster came in the era of the gold rush. By 1900, when steamboats were barging prospectors and supplies up and down the Yukon, a measles epidemic struck down a third of the Native population. Kaltag was established shortly thereafter, when survivors from three nearby fishing camps moved there to regroup. The village was named by Russians for the Yukons called "Kaltaga."
Being on a major transportation route, Kaltag witnessed rapid economic change. A post office opened in 1909. Kaltag's first school opened in 1925. But the old cemetery, which was located on Front Street, caved into the river around 1937. Present day Kaltag has a population of about 205 according to 2011 Alaska Department of Labor Estimates. Subsistence remains an important part of the local economy. Salmon, whitefish, moose, bear, waterfowl, and berries are harvested.
Missionary activity in Kaltag began near the end of the nineteenth century. Catholic baptisms by missionaries from the Society of Jesus were recorded as early as 1890. The first church was built in 1931-32 and replaced by the present church, which was built in 1965-66. Both were dedicated to St. Teresa, the Little Flower.
Priests of the Society of Jesus continued to serve the Kaltag community in residence or by visiting from other villages into the 1980's. Since then Franciscan and Diocesan priests have tended the flock.
Religious sisters have also been an important Catholic presence in the village including Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Sisters of St. Joseph and Sisters of Notre Dame.