Northwest Alaska


The Northwest Arctic Borough is located in Northwest Alaska on the Chukchi Sea. It encompasses the Kotzebue Sound, Noatak, and Kobuk Rivers, and portions of the Brooks Range and Seward Peninsula. The Borough is roughly the size of Indiana, and houses four National Parklands and a National Wildlife Refuge.


The Borough population is over 7,600, seventy-five percent of which is Iñupiat, making it the largest concentration of Iñupiat people
in the world. Subsistence activities remain an integral part of the lifestyle; caribou, moose, seal, and fish are important subsistence foods. The area boasts some of the most pristine, unperturbed wilderness in the world. During the comfortable summer months, residents enjoy unparalleled boating, fishing, and hunting.


The Borough has been occupied by Iñupiat for the past 10,000-15,000 years. Qikiktaġruk (now known as Kotzebue) was the hub of ancient Arctic Trading routes. In 1818, the Kotzebue Sound was “discovered” by a German Admiral, Otto Von Kotzebue, while sailing for the Russian Navy. Most of the villages have existed for thousands of years, but some developed as supply stations for interior gold mining. The present-day borough government was formed in 1986.


Transportation services, oil and mineral exploration, and development are the focus of economic activity in the region. The Red Dog Mine, jointly run by the Cominco Corporation and NANA Corporation, is the largest zinc mine in the world. It is the largest economic project in the region, providing 360 direct jobs. Maniilaq Association, the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, NANA Corporation, and the Cominco Corporation are the largest employers in the Borough.


The Northwest Arctic Borough has no roads connecting it with the rest of Alaska, and no roadways connecting any of the villages with each other. However, in the winter, once the Kotzebue Sound and the Kobuk River freeze, a road is plowed through the snow on top of the ice connecting Kotzebue with the Noorvik and Kiana along the Kobuk River. Kotzebue is the commercial center of the Borough, serving as both a shipping hub for Northwest Alaska and a transfer point between Anchorage and the villages. Kotzebue’s Ralph Wien Memorial Airport supports daily jet service to Anchorage and Nome, as well as smaller prop-driven aircraft to the villages.

The Borough has no natural harbor, and the Kotzebue Sound is ice-free for only five months of the year. Deep draft vessels must anchor 15 miles out, where cargo is transferred to smaller barges and transported to the shallow docking facility in Kotzebue. Supplies are then airlifted to the villages.


The area experiences a transitional climate, characterized by long winters and mild summers. Temperature ranges are some of the most extreme on earth, from -82 to 86 degrees. However, both of these extremes are very rare; lows in February average about -10 degrees, and highs in July about 60 degrees. Snowfall averages 47 inches, with total precipitation of 9 inches per year. From June 2 through July 9 every year, the sun does not set, basking the entire region in perpetual sunlight.