Bethel, Alaska

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Bethel (Mamterillirmuit in Central Alaskan Yup'ik) is a city located near the west coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, 340 miles (550 km) west of Anchorage. Accessible only by air and river, Bethel is the main port on the Kuskokwim River and is an administrative and transportation hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and in the Unorganized Borough, as well as the 9th largest in the state, with a population estimated to be 6,356 in 2006.[3] Bethel is home to the lone detention center in southwestern Alaska, the Yukon Kuskokwim Correction Center.[4] Bethel is also one of the latest communities in Alaska to become a "wet city" (to allow the sale of alcohol within the city).[5]

Annual events in Bethel include a noted dogsled race, the Kuskokwim 300, and Camai, a traditional dance festival held each spring.



Bethel, at its original location, was a Yup'ik village called Mamterillermiut, meaning "Smokehouse People," after the nearby fish smokehouse.[6] It was an Alaska Commercial Company trading post during the late 19th century. It had a population of 41 people in the 1880 U.S. Census. The Moravian Church established a mission in the area in 1885, under the leadership of Rev. John Henry Kilbuck, Jr. Kilbuck learned Yup'ik, which greatly enhanced his effectiveness as a missionary. Missionaries moved Bethel from Mamterillermiut to its present location on the west side of the Kuskokwim River. A United States Post Office was opened in 1905.

Alaska Natives in this area also have a long Christian history, in part from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Moravian influence. As in many Alaskan villages, Christian tradition has become interwoven with its cultural history.

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