Alaska's Ukivok Fishing Village Is a Ghost Town on Stilts

Alaska's Ukivok Village Is a Ghost Town on Stilts

Alaska's Ukivok Village Is a Ghost Town on Stilts

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
July 15 2015 3:48 PM

The Stilt Village of Ukivok

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Located on tiny King Island off the western coast of Alaska, the stilt village of Ukivok was once the winter home of sea-faring natives who have left it abandoned for the last half-century.

King Island is surrounded on all sides of its squat, mile long width by steep slopes and cliffs that make inhabiting the already hostile environs an even greater challenge. However a local Inupiat population calling themselves the Aseuluk ("People of the Sea") or Ukivokmiut, built a small village on one of the slopes using a precarious arrangement of stilts and huts. The Ukivokmiut subsisted mainly from fishing and whaling during the summer which they did from the mainland, but during the winters when thick ice formed, they would migrate to the village of Ukivok to poach crabs, seal, and other game for the cold season.


The cliff village was in use until the mid-1900's when the Bureau of Indian Affairs forced the closure of the school on Ukivok, requiring all of the Aseuluk children to return to the mainland year-round. Without the support of the younger generation, the gathering of winter food became too much and eventually the entire Ukivokmiut population migrated permanently to mainland Alaska.

The stilt village remains, clinging to the seas-swept slope of King Island, essentially left as though they would return the next year. In recent years, local researchers have worked to facilitate this, allowing some members of the original population to return to the village. 

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Eric Grundhauser is a head writer and editor at Atlas Obscura. He lives in Brooklyn with his comic book collection. Follow him on Twitter.