National Trust for Historic Preservation
King Island was on the 2005 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The four-square-mile island is in the Bering Strait, 95 miles west of Nome, Alaska.

Alaska Writer Raises Money to Visit Ancestral King Island Home

ICTMN Staff
6/1/13

Writer, poet and mother of two Jane Naviyak Kane has successfully raised the money needed to make the trip to her native community’s ancestral home—the abandoned King Island, 40 miles off the coast of Alaska.

The King Island Native Community hasn’t occupied its ancestral home in the village of Ukivok since 1959, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed its school there, fearing a rockslide on the island’s sheer cliff. That decision forced several hundred families to relocate to Nome, about 95 miles away.

The BIA said its reason for the move was that a boulder was threatening to roll down the hill and crush the school. That boulder still hasn’t moved.

Jane Naviyuk Kane looks at photos of Alaska’s King Island. (Rachel D'Oro/AP)

Life in Nome was different than life on the island.

“Even the Iñupiaq vocabulary was different from Nome; there was a word on King Island for ‘pour it over the front walkway,’ which meant the liquid would disappear faster down the steep hill. Nome is flat,” says a 2011 article in the Alaska Dispatch. “Life on the island was full of joy and communal celebration along with the everyday stresses of a harsh climate in a most isolated place.”

It’s those differences that Kane wants to learn about and document during her trip, the funding for which was raised through online donations. At first the donations to reach Kane’s $31,000 goal trickled in—like the $41 donated by Laureli Kinneen’s daughter and her friend during a Lemonade Day in Nome. Kane had raised more than $15,000 this way when an anonymous group put up $32,000 to fund her trip.

“I’m still in disbelief,” she told the Associated Press. “I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.”

The large donation came from a foundation that chose to not be publicly identified.

Kane, who is half Inupiat, has now raised more than $49,000 to cover the cost of getting to the island—which is no easy feat—and staying there for two weeks to do research, learn and be inspired.

To get to King Island—known as Uguiviak by its former residents—Kane must secure chartered boats or helicopters, as the island is not accessible by airplane and has no viable landing docks for the types of boats that travel the Bering Sea.

The abandoned stilt village of Ukivok, photographed in 1978. The large white building near the bottom of the slope is the former Bureau of Indian Affairs school. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Once there she and the 20 descendants traveling with her plan on spending at least two weeks in tents, which have to be durable enough to withstand strong winds. While there she will maintain trip journals and take photographs, and record video.

“Like many King Islanders in my generation, I have never been to my ancestral home. My mother last returned in 1974, before my birth,” Kane says on her fundraising website at USAProjects.org. She also says that she wants to go while “my mother and her remaining siblings—as well as others who were born and raised on the island—are still alive, interested, and capable of making the trip together to ensure that King Islanders remain connected to our ancestors, culture, and place of origin.”

Jane Naviyuk Kane examines a walrus ivory letter opener carved by her late grandfather. (Rachel D'Oro/AP)

Kane plans on writing a book of poetry based on her reflections while on the island as well as reflecting on her experiences in the novel she is currently working on. She’ll also be publishing non-fiction accounts of her experiences online.

She’s currently working on a novel that looks at the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. While it will be a work of fiction, she says “its narrative arc is based on the history of the creation, passage, and implementation of the Act over its 40 years; its protagonists’ actions are inextricably linked to the tribal/village relationships and sites designated and chosen according to ANCSA.”

The 35-year-old Anchorage writer says this trip will inform that book as well. The trip is planned for July. Kane told Yahoo News she is looking forward to seeing the house her mother grew up in.

“It’s important to me to understand the language, to understand the place where our language and our dialect originated,” Kane says in a video posted at USAProjects.org. “It’s also very important for me and for my kids to go and to begin to build our relationships with our relatives who also haven’t been to King Island maybe ever, or who haven’t been back in a long time… I think the time is now for us to go back.”

Kinneen, who was mentioned above, is news director at KNOM Radio and interviewed Kane and some of her family members about the trip. Watch that below:

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veronica Phillips's picture
veronica Phillips
Submitted by veronica Phillips on
I enjoyed reading this interesting story of Jane Naviyuk Kane! Sounds like it will be a fun, great learning, adventurous, and very meaningful trip!!! Look forward to her writings and photos!! : D
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