Kobuk is an Iñupiat Eskimo village practicing a traditional subsistence lifestyle, dependent on whitefish, caribou, and moose for meat sources. The Inupiaq name for Kobuk is Laugvik. High school students attend school in Shungnak. Kobuk is the smallest and most remote organized village in the Northwest Arctic Borough. The population is currently about 119.
Kobuk was founded in 1899 as a supply point for mining activities in the Cosmos Hills to the north. A trading post, school, and Friends Mission drew area residents to the settlement. Due to river erosion and flooding, the village was relocated in the 1920s to a new site 10 miles downstream, called “Kochuk,” now Shungnak. The few who remained at the old village renamed it Kobuk. Ice jams on the river cause high water each year. In May 1973, a flood covered the entire village.
The economy of Kobuk is based on subsistence. Cash employment is limited to the school, city, I.R.A. council, and Maniilaq Association village clinic. Seasonal construction and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fire fighting provides some income. The city is interested in developing a limited sport fishing enterprise for sheefish in summer and burbot in winter under contract to a private company.
Kobuk’s major means of transportation are barge, plane, small boat, and snow machine. Daily scheduled air carriers serve a state-owned 2,500′ lighted gravel airstrip. Crowley Marine Services barges fuel and supplies to Kobuk during the summer and fall, when high water stages occur. Boats, ATVs and snow machines are used for local travel. There are several trails along the river for year-round inter-village travel and subsistence activities, including a 7-mile ice road to Shungnak during the winter.
Kobuk has a mayor/council form of government, employing a city manager, treasurer, and volunteer fire department. One Village Patrol Safety Officer (VPSO) is located in the village. The community has a village clinic, community hall, two stores, and a post office. A piped water and sewage system has recently been constructed, providing household plumbing to some residences. However, many homes still use honeybuckets and privies. A 30-foot well provides water, which is treated and hauled from the washeteria, which has its own septic tank. Kobuk Valley Electric Co-op purchases power from AVEC over a power line that connects Kobuk with nearby Shungnak.