Nanwalek Elder Nick Tanape dies at 72

May 8, 2018

Nick Tanape Sr.
Credit Pratt Museum

A Nanwalek elder with substantial knowledge about Sugpiaq culture and traditions died last month. On April 21, Nick Tanape Sr. died from heart complications. He was 72-years-old.

A lifelong subsistence hunter and fisherman, Tanape was considered an expert on the subject.  

Scott Bartlett is the curator of exhibits of the Pratt Museum. He said Tanape was integral to the development of several exhibits.

“He was very open and sharing and teaching all that he could with his community and with the wider community and visitors, a very generous man,” he said.

Tanape also organized celebrations of Native traditions from around Kachemak Bay in Homer, built a baidarka (kayak) for the museum and shared stories about Sugpiaq culture.

“We’re very grateful that he's left a lot of that with us through the pieces that he's made for the museum,” he said. “He's been in several videos. There's a video about a seal hunt. Basically the video follows Nick on a seal hunt and Nick talks all about it. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't watch that video.”

Tanape was born in Nanwalek in 1946 and spent nearly all of his life in the village. The only time he spent living outside of Nanwalek was when he joined the navy in the late 1960s.

Back in Nanwalek, he was a member of the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission and he worked on projects for Fish and Game. He also coauthored "Imam Cimiucia: Our Changing Sea” about a subsistence food known as bidarki disappearing from shorelines.

Sometimes he worked jobs in the community, but he was always connected with hunting. His daughter Christine Seville said he was always happy to share his goods. She knows people will remember his food.

“His duck soup at Christmas time!” she said. “He would cook all his Native Food. He was a great chef.”

She said his comprehensive knowledge is a rarity.

“He was rich all over, the hunting, the language, the culture,” she said. “When you lose somebody like that who's very knowledgeable, you lose a part of your history because they hold a lot of history.”

Tanape is survived by his daughter Seville and his son Nick Tanape Jr.