Located on tiny King Island off the 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 hunt 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.
However 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 actually worked to facilitate this, allowing some members of the original population to return to the village.