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> May 24, 2006 – Island Adventure, Secrets of King Island
post May 30 2006, 07:57 PM
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May 24, 2006 – Aboard the Healy
Longitude: 168.097 W, Latitude: 64.950 N

As we continue to sample the waters north of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait, we come across a rare treat: land.

IPB Image
King Island pokes out of the waters of the northern Bering Sea.

Today we set eyes upon King Island, which is located roughly 35 miles from mainland Alaska. At first glimpse, this mysterious-looking island with steep cliffs looks so forbidding that it seems unsuitable for human habitation. But as the captain steers the Healy closer, my binoculars show a truer picture: There is an abandoned village clinging to the side of the rocky island. Each building is perched precariously on stilts.

IPB Image
In the 1930s, approximately 45 stilt houses clung to the side of King Island.

In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed King Island as one of America’s most endangered places. I can see why: As I peer closer, I view stilts leaning every which way and structures in disrepair.

After doing some quick research and talking with people onboard who are familiar with King Island, I learn that the village, called Ukivok, was once home to the Ugiuvangmiut people. At one time, nearly 200 people lived in the village. The residents were subsistence hunters, feeding on walruses, seals, birds, berries, and plants.

IPB Image
Subsistence hunters on King Island placed their meat in a cold cave to keep it fresh. The cave sits just to the right of the village.

Each summer, the island’s residents would row to mainland Alaska and stay in the town of Nome for several months. Over time, fewer and fewer people returned to King Island. And in 1959, the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the island’s school; families had no choice but to relocate to Nome. By 1970, the village was deserted.

References: National Trust for Historic Preservation, University of Alaska Press, NOAA, BeringSea.com
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