Kotzebue Travel Guide

Kotzebue

Most of the 3,000 or so residents of this coastal village are Inupiaq, whose ancestors have lived and moved throughout the region for thousands of years, creating seasonal camps when following caribou, moose, and other wildlife. Even today, the Inupiaq people depend on whales, seals, fish, and the wide variety of berries and other plants for their food and culture. The Inupiaq are skilled providers, craftsmen, and artists, known for their rugged gear, ceremonial parkas, dolls, caribou-skin masks, birch-bark baskets, and whalebone and walrus-ivory carvings.

Built on a 3-mile-long spit of land that juts into Kotzebue Sound, the village lies 33 miles above the Arctic Circle on Alaska's northwest coast. Before Europeans arrived in the region, the Inupiaq name for this locale was Kikiktagruk, later changed to Kotzebue after German explorer Otto von Kotzebue passed through in 1818 while sailing for Russia. Kotzebue is the region's economic and political hub and headquarters for both the Northwest Arctic Borough and the NANA Regional Corporation, one of the 13 regional Native corporations formed when Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Nearby villages also use Kotzebue as a hub for business, services, and travel.

Many people in Kotzebue still fish, hunt, and gather wild food as their main meal source. Some residents also fish commercially. The government and the Native corporation provides most of the jobs in education, health care, utilities, and other services, with other employment opportunities found via small businesses and the area's biggest private employer, the Red Dog Mine. As in many Bush villages, local government here is a blend of tribal government and a more modern borough system.

Kotzebue has dark, cold winters and short, cool summers. The average low temperature in January is –12°F, and midsummer highs rarely reach the 70s. "We have four seasons—June, July, August, and winter," a tour guide jests. But don't worry about the sometimes chilly weather—the local sightseeing company has snug, bright-color loaner parkas for visitors on package tours. And there's plenty of light in which to take in the village and surrounding landscape; in fact, the sun doesn't set for 36 days from June into July. One of summer's highlights is the July 4th parade and fair with contests, food, and games, including a foot race, bike race, blanket toss, and other traditional games.

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