The Central Yup'ik Eskimo village of Newtok is on the Kealavik River, just north of Nelson Island, in the Yukon- Kuskokwim Delta. It was once referred to as "New Keyaluvik" because its people had moved there in the 1940's from Keyaluvik, ten miles away, due to flooding.
The people of Newtok share a heritage with Nelson Island communities; their ancestors have lived on the Bering Sea coast for at least 2,000 years. The people from these communities are known as Qaluyaarmiut or "dip net people," for their fishing skills. Only intermittent outside contact occurred until the 1920s.
A school was built in 1958, although high school students were required to travel to Bethel, St. Mary's, Sitka, or Anchorage for their education. This was often their first exposure to the outside, and students returned with a good knowledge of the English language and culture. A high school was constructed in Newtok in the 1980s. Still, relative isolation from outside influences has enabled the area to retain its traditions and customs, more so than other parts of Alaska. The 2011 population, according to Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, was 370. Villagers have a subsistence lifestyle.
The Catholic faith came to the Keyaluvik people around 1895 when a missionary priest from the Society of Jesus visited the area. It wasn't until the mid-1950's, however, that a church was built in what was by that time Newtok. This burned to the ground in August, 1974. A new church, dedicated to the Holy Family, was blessed by Bishop Robert Whelan, S.J., four years later, July 26, 1978.
Newtok has been served both by visiting and resident Jesuit and Diocesan priests over the years. In the 1970's, Religious Sisters of Providence also visited the village from Fairbanks to assist with the teaching of catechism.
Because of priest shortages, parish administrators have served in recent years to take charge of the day to day activities of parish life. Eskimo deacons often celebrate liturgies at Holy Family, giving homilies, and assisting with marriages, baptisms and funerals. Presently, parishes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are served on a rotating schedule by ministry teams which may include priests, deacons, and religious and trained lay staff members. Holy Family is served by visiting priests and ministers from the Diocesan Yukon-Kuskokwim Subregion D.