King Island (Ugiuvak) is located in the Bering Straits, approximately 40 miles due south of Cape Prince of Wales and the village of Wales. The village site on King Island which is located on the south side facing Russia is called Ukivok (OO-Q-Vok).
King Island was located and named by Captain James Cook in 1778, although no mention is made in a history of the regions of any inhabitants on the island at that time. Photography of King Island in the late Nineteenth Century indicated a settlement of walrus-skin dwelling lashed to the face of King Island’s cliffs.
By the early Twentieth Century, King Island was reported as the winter home of 200 Eskimos, proving a good base for walrus and seal hunting. Each summer the entire population voyaged by kayak, and umiak to the Alaskan mainland for a few months of fishing and, later, to sell traditional handicrafts. After Nome was founded, they summered near the town, where they sold intricate ivory carvings and seal skin sewing to tourists and locals.
In 1937 there were 190 residents, 45 houses, a Catholic church, and a school in the village. In the early 1960’s, social and economic pressures and opportunities persuaded island residents to relocate to Nome. In Nome, King Islanders have maintained a distinct community identity. Former residents visited King Island in the spring and summer months to hunt walrus, pursue other subsistence activities, and maintain dwellings.
Although vacant most of the year, King Island is recognized as a distinct village corporation under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), has an operative IRA Council, and conducts itself as a community organization based in Nome, Alaska. The King Island Native Corporation has 206 shareholders and owns several businesses.
Source: State of Alaska DCRA