Crowdsourcing earns poet visit to remote western Alaska village

ANCHORAGE — An Anchorage poet gets to realize her dream to visit the ghost of a remote western Alaska village where her Inupiat Eskimo ancestors once lived, thanks to funds she raised through crowdsourcing.

Joan Naviyuk Kane far surpassed her goal of $31,000 that she said is needed for a two-week visit for 20 descendants of people who once lived on King Island, a tiny community built on stilts across the jagged face of the island. One benefactor alone donated $32,000 to Kane’s campaign on United States Artists, a fundraising site.

Altogether, Kane raised slightly more than $49,000 through the nonprofit’s USA Projects.

“I’m still in disbelief,” Kane, 35, said Tuesday. “I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it.”

USA program officer Armando Huipe said the $32,000 donation comes from a foundation that did not want to be publicly identified.

“It is unusual for an anonymous gift to come in this large,” Huipe said. “But it’s not uncommon for foundations and corporations to give to projects.”

Kane, who is half Inupiat, said the money will pay for the journey planned for July. It also will fund a follow-up visit next year to King Island, which was abandoned decades ago. Kane’s late grandparents were among the last residents.

Getting to King Island can be a formidable endeavor. There is no landing site for a large vessel, so the trip will have to be done by helicopter or smaller boats, or both, according to Kane. 

Durable tents will be necessary to withstand strong winds that blow through the island, which is 90 miles from the old gold rush town of Nome.

Kane, who has published two books of poems, plans to maintain a website throughout the project. She also plans to photograph the visit and gather information for future writings, including another book of poems and a novel.

King Island was home to about 200 people a century ago. Then people began leaving. During World War II, men were drafted. Later, tuberculosis killed some people and hospitalized others. Fewer people returned from summer camping grounds on the mainland, where there were jobs and doctors.

The island was unoccupied by 1966, several years after the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the school because of dwindling numbers and concerns about a potential rock-slide. To this day, King Islanders have held on to their lasting cultural distinction through stories, songs, dances and carving skills.