Kotlik is a Central Yup'ik Eskimo village located on the east bank of the Kotlik River and on the northern mouth of the Yukon River, 35 miles northeast of Emmonak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The village got its name from the Yup'ik Eskimo word "kotlik" or “pants” because the river in front of the village has two branches in the shape of a pair of pants.


Prior to the 1960's, Kotlik was a small settlement of only a few families. About that time the channel from Norton Sound to the nearby village of Chaneliak became too shallow for barge traffic, so the residents of Chaneliak moved to Kotlik. In the early 1960's the Bureau of Indian Affairs constructed a school at Kotlik, and residents of three more nearby villages, Hamilton, Bill Moore's Slough and Pastoliak, also moved to Kotlik. By the mid 1960's Kotlik had emerged as one of the larger ports and commercial centers of the lower Yukon. The population, which had fluctuated between 10 and 83 from 1880 to 1960, soared some 300 percent during the 1960's, then continued to grow steadily. The 2011 population, according to Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, was 601.


Kotlik's economy is seasonal. Fishing, fish processing and trapping are primary income generators. Kotlik's residents rely heavily on subsistence foods, and many families have fish camps on the Yukon River. Salmon, moose, beluga whale, and seal are harvested.


The Kotlik Catholic mission, dedicated to St. Joseph, was first served in the early 1930's by a Jesuit priest out of St. Michael. In the 1930's and 1940's a Kotlik resident collaborated with a Jesuit priest on a monumental undertaking and achievement: the production of idiomatic translations into Central Yup'ik Eskimo of the Catholic Baltimore Catechism, a number of hymns, and texts of Sacred Scripture, the Mass, and the Sacraments.


The old church, which once stood in Chaneliak, was disassembled when the original village was abandoned and reassembled at its present site in the mid-1960's. Priests from the Society of Jesus continued to serve Kotlik in residence or by visits from other villages into the 1980's.


Because of priest shortages, parish administrators and pastoral coordinators have served in recent years to take charge of the day to day activities of parish life. Eskimo deacons often celebrate liturgies at St. Joseph, giving homilies, and assisting with marriages, baptisms and funerals.


Ursuline Religious Sisters, as well as Sisters of St. Francis and School Sisters of Notre Dame have also been an important presence at Saint Joseph.

 

St. Joseph parish is now served by visiting priests and ministers from the Diocesan Yukon-Kuskokwim Subregion A.