Woman raises funds to visit Alaska ghost town with family ties

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Upbeat

Forty miles off the coast of Alaska lies an uninhabited island, abandoned for the past 50 years.

For Joan Naviyuk Kane, who launched a crowdsourced Web-funding campaign to visit the island, it's rich with family history and ancestral roots.

Now, an anonymous donation has assured the 35-year-old’s travel to King Island this summer, which is a rough ride over the Bering Sea, about six hours by boat or two hours by helicopter.

Kane wants to visit the place she has only heard about from her mother and grandparents: An isolated spot where the King Island tribe subsisted for thousands of years, until being relocated a half-century ago.

Her fundraising success “is very surreal but in a very positive way,” Kane told Yahoo News by phone from Anchorage. “All my knowledge of King Island are stories that are told to me, my relatives talking to me about it."

The island, which once had a population of about 200, was depleted when men were shipped off to fight in World War II, and then further diminished by a tuberculosis outbreak. The islanders had previously managed to survive for thousands of years as hunters and ivory carvers.

Finally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the remaining school in 1959 for fear of a rockslide, according to Kane, which forced the last of the population to relocate.

“My family comes from King Island,” Kane, a member of the island tribe, explains on the USA Projects website. “I am seeking funding in order to research, undertake, and document a trip to the King Island while my mother and her remaining siblings—as well as others who were born and raised on the island—are still alive, interested, and capable of making the trip together to ensure that King Islanders remain connected to our ancestors, culture, and place of origin,” she added.

Kane has raised more than $49,000, surpassing her goal of $31,000 for the two-week trip.

The response to her story has overwhelmed the writer, who plans to document the experience. “I’m still trying to process it,” the mother of two told Yahoo News. She says she is looking forward to seeing the house where her mother grew up.