Kivalina is at the tip of an 8-mile barrier reef located between the Chukchi Sea and Kivalina River. It lies 80 air miles northwest of Kotzebue. Kivalina is located in the Kotzebue Recording District. The average low temperature during January is -15 °F; the average high during July is 57 °F. Temperature extremes have been measured from -54 to 85 °F. Snowfall averages 57 inches, with 8.6 inches of precipitation per year. The Chukchi Sea is ice-free and open to boat traffic from mid-June to the first of November.
Kivalina has long been a stopping-off place for seasonal travelers between Arctic coastal areas and Kotzebue Sound communities. It is the only village in the Northwest Arctic Borough region where people hunt the bowhead whale. At one time, the village was located at the north end of the Kivalina Lagoon. It was reported as “Kivualinagmut” in 1847 by Lt. Zagoskin of the Russian Navy. Lt. G.M. Stoney of the U.S. Navy reported the village as “Kuveleek” in 1885. A post office was established in 1940. An airstrip was built in 1960, using metal mattings. Kivalina incorporated as a city in 1969. During the 1970s, new houses, a new school, and an electric system were constructed in the village. Prior to 1976, high school students from Noatak would attend school in Kivalina and board with local families. Due to severe erosion and wind-driven ice damage, the city intends to relocate to a new site 2.5 miles away. Relocation alternatives have been studied, and a new site has been designed and engineered.
Kivalina is a traditional Inupiat village. Subsistence activities, including whaling, provide most food sources. Inupiaq dancing was reintroduced by a group of young people in September of 2008. The sale or importation of alcohol is banned in the village.
Kivalina’s economy depends on subsistence practices. Bearded seal, walrus, bowhead whale, Dolly Varden trout, tomcods, blue cods, salmon, whitefish, and caribou are utilized. The school, city, Maniilaq Association, NANA Regional Corporation, tribal council, airlines, and local stores provide year-round jobs. The Red Dog Mine also offers some employment. Two residents hold commercial fishing permits. Native carvings and jewelry are produced from ivory and whalebones. The community is interested in developing an Arts and Crafts Center that could be readily moved to the new city site.
Water is drawn from the Wulik River via a 3-mile surface transmission line to a 700,000-gallon raw water tank and then to a 500,000-gallon tank, where it is treated when it is pumped. The water lasts the community only for a six-month period, and the washeteria is closed to the public when the last tank is down to 12 feet, and only the school uses the water, so it can last through May. Water is limited to 30 gallons a day for the public during this period. Water is hauled by residents from this tank, which can be difficult during winter, given that there are snowhills 20 to 30 feet high in the community. One-seventh of residents have tanks which provide running water for the kitchen, but homes are not fully plumbed. There is only a public washeteria with three showers available. The school and clinic have individual water and sewer systems. Residents haul their own honeybuckets to the landfill disposal wite, which has no barrier around it and is subject to visits from wild animals, such as bears and foxes. The seagulls and crows that forage for food at the landfill are a threat to incoming airplanes.
Borough Assembly Member
Austin Swan, Sr.
P.O. Box 50047 Kivalina, AK 99750