Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This is a photo taken of a king Island dwelling in 1888, by crew members on the U.S. Cutter Thetis. They might not have know it at the time, but King Island was going to change a lot soon after this photograph was taken, culminating in the desertion of King Island. This blog is dedicated to exploring this photograph. It is broken into two parts, the king Islanders themselves, and the U.S. Cutter Thetis and crew who took the photo.

The village that the people on King Island lived in was called Ukivok. The last people to live there left in 1969, and it has been a ghost town ever since. People started to leave Ukivok in the late forties for many reasons, ranging from job opportunities to medical care. Tuberculosis was, and still is, a real problem In all Native communities, Ukivok was no exception. The real blow to the community however came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA is the agency that is responsible for Native American affairs, and was the agency that condemned the school house on King Island. After the closing of the school no replacement was offered. Subsequently, families had to leave the island to seek an education for their children. For most families this meant a move to Nome, but some like Paul Tiulana, the co-author of A Place for Winter, eventually moved into larger cities such as Anchorage. Latter the BIA said that a bolder on the top of the island was in danger of rolling down the cliffs and destroying the school along with several houses. The bolder is still there today 40 years after the last family left.

This is a photo of the Thetis preparing to sail for the Alaska coastline in 1888. The Thetis was originally built as a sealer in 1881. It was constructed with 6 inch Scottish oak planking and wrapped in Australian Ironwood. With her strong hull she was able to break her own leads through light ice. The Thetis was part of the U.S. Revenue Cutter service, which was tasked to the Navy and was the predecessor of the Coast Guard. During the voyage these two pictures were taken the Thetis had surveyed 10,000 miles of Alaskan coastline and rescued the schooner Jane Grey.

These three photos show the change that took place on King Island in the last 80 to 100 years. The first was taken between 1913 and 1930. It shows king Island before the church and school where built. Presumably it looks much like King Island had always looked up to this point. The second photo was taken in 1949. You can see some obvious changes in this photo, there is now a church and a school built out of lumbar and painted white. At this point, even some of the dwellings are being built out of lumbar and not the traditional walrus hide construction. The last photo in this series is King Island as it looks today. It has been abandoned for nearly 40 years now.