Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Kiana Village History Project Background

Kiana Village History Project banner

What is the Kiana Village History Project?

cabin.jpgThis is a program that blends audio taped interviews with historic photographs, drawings and maps to describe the early history of Kiana, Alaska, as told by local Elders. Kiana is one of nine villages in the region with cultural ties to the lands now encompassed by the Western Arctic National Parklands.

The information shared in this presentation is meant to inform and enlighten local residents as well as visitors who may be new to the region served by the Western Arctic National Parklands. For those visitors who may never have an opportunity to set foot in a northwest Alaskan village, the program offers glimpses of the people of Kiana, their history, and the setting of their community.

How did the Kiana Village History Project come about?

We are indebted to the late Dave Spirtes, former Superintendent of the Western Arctic National Parklands, for initially conceiving of the basis for this project and for dedicating ample funding and staff time to ensure its success. Throughout his tenure in northwest Alaska, Dave remained strongly committed to partnering with local communities on projects of mutual interest, as well as on efforts providing lasting benefits to the agency, area residents and newcomers alike.

The Kiana Traditional Council (KTC) has demonstrated a strong commitment to documenting aspects of their local community, history, traditions and knowledge. Local communities are important partners for the National Park Service (NPS), particularly in this region where the history of Native Alaskan occupation and traditional use can be traced back for centuries. The NPS recognized a need to inform visitors not only about matters directly related to park lands, but also to introduce them to the people who call these national parks their homeland.

Who worked on the Kiana Village History Project?

The National Park Service partnered with the Kiana Traditional Council on this project to introduce park visitors to area villages and to document local history for community members. Eileen Devinney, Cultural Anthropologist for the Western Arctic National Parklands, spearheaded the organization and coordination of this project. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library was also a vital partner in the project, providing technical expertise and personnel. Bill Burke, a research technician, and Karen Brewster, a research associate, helped design this program, and Ilana Kingsley, the web librarian, provided consultation on technical and design issues. Transcriptions for this project were produced by Carol McCue of Heartland Court Reporting in Fairbanks.

grpsess1.jpgThe National Park Service is grateful for the support of the Kiana Traditional Council and the Kiana Elders Council in making this partnership possible. Local Project Coordinators for the Jukebox Project were Hazel Apok and Vera Morris. Elders and residents who participated through interviews and the sharing of photographs include: Roger Atoruk, Walter Cook, Tommie Sheldon, Jr., Henry Jackson, Leo Jackson, Ruth Sandvik, Frank Gooden, Thomas Jackson, Martin Smith, Percy Jackson, and Lorenz Schuerch, Jr.

Thank you to Claudia Sampson, NANA Resource Specialist (for working with the Elders) and Mike Atoruk (for translation and transliteration assistance).

It is hoped that hunters and recreational users may find background information helpful for trip planning and perhaps encourage them to set aside time to experience Kiana during their journey down the Kobuk River. Through this introduction to the people of Kiana and their community, visitors may gain a greater appreciation of the rich heritage of the Inupiat people of the region and their enduring connections to the lands set aside as National Parks and Preserves in northwest Alaska.