The ancestors of the contemporary Yup'ik Eskimos were originally shore dwellers, settling primarily on the coastal headlands of western Alaska three thousand years ago. Population pressure combined with the need for a more reliable food supply produced migrations of these shore dwellers up the drainages of the coastal rivers around A.D. 1400. At the beginning of the 1900s, Yup'ik Eskimos were still moving slowly but surely upriver, intermarrying with and gradually displacing the Ingalik Athapaskan population that bordered them on the west and with whom they shared largely friendly relations.
The first nonnatives to make a direct impact on the Region were Russian traders and explorers who sought to expand the fur trade into western Alaska prior to 1850. The traders were accompanied by Russian Orthodox priests. After the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, the hegemony of the Orthodox mission was challenged by the establishment of a Roman Catholic mission along the Bering Sea coast in 1888 and a Moravian mission on the Kuskokwim River in 1885. Together the missions constituted the major nonnative influence in the region until 1900, when the discovery of gold on the Yukon River inspired a dramatic increase of traffic on both the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.
Although rich deposits of gold were never discovered in western Alaska, the decades between 1900 and 1920 saw a steady increase in the nonnative population at the same time the influenza epidemics of 1900 and 1919 continued to undercut the region's native population. Government and mission schools, regular steamship and air transportation, and, in the 1960s, increased federal and state subsidy of housing, health care, and social services also worked to increase nonnative influence. But the region's geographical isolation, as well as the lack of large amounts of commercially valuable resources, limited nonnative activity. The region is at present dominated by Yup'ik-speaking natives, and the only significant populations of nonnatives live in the regional centers of Bethel and Aniak on the Kuskokwim River and Dillingham on Bristol Bay.