Our Community (Kotzebue History & Today)
The site of Kotzebue, or Qikiktagruk (as it is called in Iñupiaq), has been occupied by Iñupiat Eskimos for at least 9000 years and is believed to be the oldest settlement in both North and South America. "Qikiktagruk" was the hub of ancient Arctic trading routes long before European contact due to its coastal location near a number of rivers. The German Lt. Otto Von Kotzebue "discovered" Kotzebue Sound in 1818 while sailing for Russia. The community took its name from the Kotzebue Sound in 1899 when a post office was established. Since the turn of the century, expansion of economic activities and services in the area has enabled Kotzebue to develop relatively rapidly.
Indigenous peoples have inhabited the NANA region since the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. The roots of today’s modern Iñupiat people stretch back more than 4,000 years, to people living along the coast (who subsisted primarily on sea mammals), and to those living inland (who depended on caribou). Over many generations cultural values developed that were, in large part, sculpted by the unforgiving climate of the Arctic. These values continue to serve both the physical and spiritual needs of the Iñupiat.
New life was breathed into these cultural values during the "Spirit Movement", when they were identified by the Elders and codified under the Inupiaq Ilitqusiat program supported by NANA Regional Corporation, Inc. The name means “Iñupiat Spirit,” or “those things that make us who we are.”
The Spirit Movement is firmly rooted in the history of the region. As Iñupiat, we know the land is our home, and the movement formalized the deep spiritual connection we have to the land and all it provides.
Comprised of 11 villages, the NANA Region is a vast, beautiful 38,000 square miles located in Northwest Alaska. The borders of our lands, and those of the region’s main governing body, the Northwest Arctic Borough, are the same and cover an area of land that is roughly the size of the state of Indiana. Distinct from other areas of Alaska, most of the NANA Region is located above the Arctic Circle and, does not receive much precipitation. Winter lasts nine months of the year, and temperatures often stay well below freezing during that time. Rivers wind through the landscape, and the terrain varies dramatically from mountains and sand dunes - to tundra and boreal forests. Much of the region is designated as National Park land.
More than 7,300 people call our region home. Of these, more than 85 percent of our region’s residents are Iñupiat, descendants of the people who settled the region more than 10,000 years ago. Subsistence plays a key role in the lives of our people. For centuries, we have relied on hunting and fishing. For most families in our region, the household economy is a mix of participation in these subsistence activities and full-time or part-time employment.
Subsistence is not just economic necessity – it also plays a strong cultural and social role in our lives - and the preservation of our subsistence resources is a vital element of our cultural identity and values.