Alaska poet and artist Joan Naviyuk Kane recently made a three day trip to King Island. It was part of a crowd-funded effort Kane designed to experiencing first hand where her mother’s family came from.
“It was important for me to do it now, just to understand the place that was my mother’s home as a child. And be able to talk to my mother with a real understanding of what it meant to move, to have to move to Nome, to have to move to Anchorage. Sort of the complex choices that King Islanders had to make and we continue to have to make,” Kane explained.
Preparations for the trip were more than a year in the making, and included contingency plans in case of weather, as well as Kane pitching tents in her Anchorage yard during spare moments. Just to practice in case of any emergencies.
Earlier this month, Kane and three other women of King Island descent left Nome in a chartered ship. As Kane explained, “It took us 12 hours to get by boat over 90 miles from Nome—the small boat harbor—to King Island, involving Adem Boeckmann’s boat, Anchor Point, and a dingy we had to get back and forth from ship to shore.”
The group arrived near King Island at 3AM, and slept before ferrying equipment from the boat. Then, for several hours, they carefully ascending from the shore. Erosion and weather have erased many of the pre-made steps and trails, which meant Kane and her companions were making decisions about where and how to go on the fly. Concerns over safety and coordination were educative, Kane said.
“There’s nothing that actually stands in for going and making the trip first hand and try[ing] to understand the complexity of the place, and really deeply appreciating, one, how beautiful—absolutely beautiful the island is and the abundance of natural life there.”
After several more hours studying the original King Island settlement, the crew made their way carefully down to the boat before setting back off for Nome.
For Kane, the difficulty of simply getting to and from the island, along with extremeness of the terrain itself, was one of the experiences that has stuck with her since the trip.
“One of the big things that was on my mind was the tremendous amount of technology, and communication, and strong relationships that our King Islanders had. People that were not only able to make this trip as part of their yearly life, but also were able to do it and sustain such tremendous culture, complex language, ya know, a really sustainable–truly sustainable–lifestyle on the Bering Sea.”
Kane raised $49,000 in individual and match-funded donations through the Hatchfund organization.