Wonderlust: King Island (Ukivok)
There are still places on earth so remote, so far, so foreign that instill a deep wonderlust in us. Ukivok or King Island lost in Bering Straight between Alaska and Russia is one such place.
The island is about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. It was once the winter home of a group of about 200 Inupiat who called themselves Aseuluk. The Aseuluk spent their winters engaging in subsistence hunting on King Island and their summers engaging in similar activities on the mainland near the location of present-day Nome, Alaska. After the establishment of Nome, the islanders began to sell intricate carvings to residents of Nome during the summer. By 1970, all King Island people had moved to Nome year-round.
The island was named in 1778 by British explorer Capt. James Cook for James King, a member of his party. But it's unclear how long Inupiats lived there.
A century ago, about 200 people dwelled in walrus-skin homes tacked to the face of the cliffs. They hunted walrus, seal and seabirds and collected berries and plants. Every summer, they traveled by kayak and skin boat to the mainland 40 miles to the east, camping near Nome, where they sold ivory carvings.
Starting in the 1950s, fewer people returned to King Island. The 1960 U.S. Census counted only 49 residents. The 1970 census found none. King Island is among 16 federally recognized Native villages that were deserted or used as seasonal camps.
Today, many former King Island residents and their descendants live in Nome.
Kingston said several factors contributed to the demise of King Island. Pregnant women were choosing to stay in Nome, where there were doctors. Many of the men were drafted into the military during World War II. In the late 1940s and 1950s, tuberculosis killed some people and hospitalized others. And ultimately, as with other Alaska villages vacated in modern times, paying jobs were available in more accessible towns.
Close your eyes. Travel.