Diomede, Alaska

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Photo of Diomede (Inalik) village on the west coast
Photo of Diomede (Inalik) village on the west coast
Diomede is located in Alaska
Location in Alaska
Coordinates: 65°45′30″N 168°57′06″W / 65.75833°N 168.95167°W / 65.75833; -168.95167Coordinates: 65°45′30″N 168°57′06″W / 65.75833°N 168.95167°W / 65.75833; -168.95167
CountryUnited States
Census AreaNome
IncorporatedOctober 28, 1970[1]
 • MayorCassandra Ahkvaluk
 • State senatorDonny Olson (D)
 • State rep.Neal Foster (D)
 • Total2.84 sq mi (7.36 km2)
 • Land2.84 sq mi (7.36 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
95 ft (29 m)
 • Total115
 • Estimate 
 • Density41.53/sq mi (16.04/km2)
Time zoneUTC-9 (Alaska (AKST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-8 (AKDT)
ZIP code
Area code907
FIPS code02-19060
GNIS ID1401213
Diomede Drone Photo 2018

Diomede (Russian: Диомид, native name Iŋaliq, meaning "the other one" or "the one over there"[4]) is a village in the Nome Census Area of the Unorganized Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska, located on the west coast of Little Diomede Island.[5] Little Diomede is the smaller of the two Diomede Islands located in the middle of the Bering Strait between the United States Far Northwest territory and the Russian Far East, its neighboring island, Big Diomede, Russia, lies behind the International Date Line less than 2.4 miles (3.9 km) away. Diomede is the only settlement on Little Diomede Island; the population was 115 at the 2010 census, down from 146 in 2000.

Webcam across the Bering Strait


NASA picture of the Bering Strait area; Little Diomede Island can be clearly seen in the middle of the strait, to the right of Big Diomede.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 2.84 square miles (7.4 km2), all of it land.

Little Diomede Island is located about 25 miles (40 km) west from the mainland, in the middle of the Bering Strait, it is only 0.6 miles (0.97 km) from the International Date Line and about 2.4 miles (3.9 km) from the Russian island of Big Diomede.


Diomede's climate fits the Köppen climate classification ET, also known as a Tundra climate. Due to the harsh climate, most plants are unable to grow; the winters are icy and cold, while summers are usually cool but not cold. The hottest summer ever experienced temperatures up to 73 Fahrenheit (23 C).

Climate data for Diomede, Alaska
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 53
Average high °F (°C) 7
Average low °F (°C) −7
Record low °F (°C) −44
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.41
Average snowfall inches (cm) 4.3
Source: [6]


The Little Diomede island is composed of Cretaceous age granite or quartz monzonite;[7][8] the location of the city is the only area which does not have near-vertical cliffs to the water. Behind the city and around the entire island, rocky slopes rise at about 40° up to the relatively flattened top at 1,148–1,191 feet (350–363 m); the island has scant vegetation.


The current location of the city, which is believed to be at least 3,000 years old by some archaeologists,[5] was originally a spring hunting campsite and the early explorers from the west found the Iñupiat (Eskimo/Inuit) at Diomede had an advanced culture including their elaborate whale hunting ceremonies.[9] Trade occurred with both continents.[citation needed]


The first non-native to reach the Diomede Islands was Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev, in 1648; the next was Danish navigator Vitus Bering, who re-discovered the islands on August 16, 1728, and named the islands after martyr St. Diomede who was celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church on that date.

The United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, which included the Little Diomede; the new boundary was drawn between the two Diomede Islands, and the Big Diomede was left to Russia.


According to traveler John Muir, on his visit to Diomede Islands in the 1880s they found the natives eager to trade away everything they had; the village was perched on the steep rocky slope of the mountain, which has sheer drops into deep water. The huts were mostly built of stone with skin roofs, with whalebone posts set up and framed at the top to store their canoes out of reach of the dogs that would otherwise eat them.[10]

During the Nome gold rush at the turn of the 20th century, Diomede villagers traveled to Nome along with the gold seekers, even though Nome was not a native village. People from Diomede arrived in umiaks and stayed in Nome for the summer, trading and gathering items before they returned to their isolated village.[11]


According to Arthur Ahkinga, who lived on Little Diomede island at the turn of the 1940s, the Iñupiat on the island made their living by hunting and carving ivory which they traded or sold, they caught fish such as bullheads, tomcods, bluecods and a few others, although fishing was not a major activity . During the winter time they used fur parkas and skin mukluks made out of hunted animals to protect themselves from the cold and wind. Recreational activities were skating, snowshoeing, handball, football[clarification needed] and Inuit dancing. After dark, people spent the rest of the evening telling jokes and stories. In summer time they travelled with skin boats equipped with outboard motors to either Siberia or Wales, Alaska. Winter travel was limited to neighboring Big Diomede due to weather conditions. Between July and October half the population went to Nome to sell their carvings and skins and trade for supplies.[12]

Despite being separated by the new border after the Alaska purchase in 1867, Big Diomede had been home to families now living on Little Diomede and the people living on the American side of the border were very close relatives to those living on the Russian side; the communities on both islands were separated by politics, but connected by family kinships. Despite being officially forbidden, the Inuit from both islands occasionally visited their neighbors, sometimes under the cover of fog, to meet their relatives and exchange small gifts; the local schoolteachers on Little Diomede counted 178 people from Big Diomede and the Siberian mainland who visited the island within six months between January and July in 1944.[5]

At the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s, Big Diomede became a Russian military base and all its native residents were removed to mainland Russia;[5] when people from Little Diomede went too close to the Russian side or tried to visit their relatives on the neighboring island during World War II, they were taken captive. According to one of the survivors, Oscar Ahkinga, after 52 days of internment and interrogation, the Iñupiat were banished and told not to come back.[13]


The school year 1953–1954 in Little Diomede Island was adapted to better serve the local needs. Teaching took place throughout the holidays and also on some weekends in order to complete the 180 days of schooling before the walrus migration started in Spring; the annual walrus hunt was a major source of supplies and income, and required the help of all inhabitants. The primary language at the time was Inupiat, and students were also taught English; the only means of communicating with the outside world was by so-called "Bush Phone," provided through the Alaska Communication System station in Nome.[citation needed] Previously non-existent health care was improved with basic medication knowledge provided by seasonal teachers.[5]


During the seventies, the village on Little Diomede was gradually inhabited as a permanent settlement and the entire island was incorporated into the city of Diomede in 1970.[14][15]


After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, interest in reuniting with families across the Bering Strait grew. In 1994, the people of Little Diomede island collected cash and groceries while local dancers practiced almost every night; the islanders prepared for a visit of more than one hundred friends and relatives from Siberia and they wanted to be hospitable and generous hosts.[5]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 2016118[3]2.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

Diomede first appeared on the 1880 U.S. Census as the unincorporated Inuit village of Inalit, it returned as "Ignaluk" on the 1890 census.[17] It next appeared on the 1910-40 censuses as "Little Diomede Island." In 1950, it returned as Diomede. It was incorporated as a city in 1970. Diomede also appears on the census as Inalik, designated as an Alaska Native Village Statistical Area (ANVSA).

As of the census of 2000, there were 146 people, 43 households, and 31 families residing in the city;[18] the population density was 51.4 people per square mile (19.8/km²). There were 47 housing units at an average density of 16.5 per square mile (6.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.47% Native American, 6.16% White and 1.37% from two or more races.

There were 43 households out of which 37.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 20.9% were married couples living together, 32.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.9% were non-families. 18.6% of all households were made up of individuals and none had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.40 and the average family size was 4.00.

In the city, the population was spread out with 43.8% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 25.3% from 25 to 44, 17.1% from 45 to 64, and 6.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22 years. For every 100 females, there were 114.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 121.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $23,750, and the median income for a family was $24,583. Males had a median income of $41,250 versus $26,875 for females; the per capita income for the city was $29,944. 41.4% of families and 35.4% of the population were living below the poverty line, including 33.8% of under eighteens and 44.4% of those over 64.


Little Diomede Island village

The location of the city is believed to have been used for at least 3,000 years as a hunting campsite. In the late 19th century, travelers reported people living in huts made out of rocks and with skin roof. (see History).

The first square building in the island was a small Catholic church, which was planned by Father Bellarmine Lafortune in 1935 and built by Father Thomas Cunningham during his residency on the island between 1936 and 1947, it was built from donated lumber from Nome. The next square building in the island was a one-room school house,[19] which also served as a home for the teacher's family. A new larger church building built by Father Thomas Carlin and Brother Ignatius Jakes was completed on March 3, 1979.

Today there are about 30 buildings [20] on the island, including the residential housing that was mainly built in the 1970s and 1980s. A washeteria has been built to serve the community with a laundromat and showers.[21] A clinic for basic health care is located on the upper floor of the washeteria building; the island also has a school, library, heliport and a satellite dish for television, telephone, fax, and internet service. There is no bank or restaurant, and the main store on the island has its supplies mainly limited to food, beverage, clothing, firearms, ammunition, and fuel. Snacks, clothing, diapers, and other items are often ordered from Anchorage Walmart and Fred Meyer stores by mail or parcel; as in many other Alaska Native villages, the import and sale of alcohol is prohibited.


An electric system was built on the island in the 1970s[5] and electricity is provided by city-operated Diomede Joint Utilities, they provide houses and other facilities with electricity produced by diesel generators. Diesel fuel is stored in large tanks which are placed at the furthest possible location from the housing. While the electric facility owns the largest fuel tank measuring 80,000 U.S. gallons (303 m3), the school and the village council store both own tanks measuring about 41,000 U.S. gallons (155 m3) each.[22] (Some sources[21] suggest the school has upgraded its fuel storage to two 85,000-U.S.-gallon (322 m3) tanks). Gasoline and propane are also used for fuel.

Water and disposal[edit]

Water for winter use is drawn from a mountain spring, then treated and stored in 434,000-U.S.-gallon (1,640 m3) storage tanks. Because the permafrost prevents pipelines from being installed underground, residents must manually carry water from the tank. Even with a tank this size, the water supply usually runs out by March, washeteria[clarification needed] is closed and residents must melt their drinking water from snow and ice.

Funds for improving the water system have been requested both by the city and the school. Having a separate tank for the school would decrease the usage of city water and would also serve as a backup water supply for the whole city. Funds have also been requested for improvements to refuse collection and for an incinerator, because the ground conditions on the island limits waste disposal to burning combustibles and disposing of everything else on the ice. Honeybuckets and privies are used except in the washeteria, clinic, and school which are served by a septic system.[22]


The island's only school, and likely the most isolated school in the United States, the Diomede School has grades from Pre-K through 12 and approximately 40 students and 5 teachers, it is part of the Bering Strait School District. The number of teachers fluctuates based on the student population.

Health care and emergency services[edit]

There is no hospital on the island and emergency services are limited due to the remoteness of the island. A City Council-owned clinic operates in the Washeteria building, providing basic health care.

While other emergency services are provided by volunteers and a health aide, the fire and rescue service is provided by Diomede Volunteer Fire Department and First Responders.[22] In case of a major health emergency, patients are airlifted to the mainland hospital in Nome, weather permitting;[21] the closest law enforcement are dispatched from the Alaska State Troopers barracks on the mainland in Nome.

Frozen ground and lack of soil on the rocky island also prevents digging graves, but rocks are piled on top of the burial sites instead.[23]

On 7 November 2009, it was announced that one inhabitant was infected with H1N1 swine flu.[24]



Employment on the island is mostly limited to the city, post office and school. There have been a few seasonal jobs, such as mining and construction, but recently these have been in decline; the Diomede people are excellent ivory carvers and the city serves as a wholesale agent for the ivory.[25] Ivory works are mainly sold in mainland Alaska in Fairbanks and Anchorage, but can occasionally be purchased online;[26] the inhabitants also hunt whales during spring from openings in the sea ice. Whaling largely ceased from the middle to late 20th century, before resuming again in 1999.[27]


The city levies a 3% sales tax,[28] but there are no property taxes on the island.



When Alaska was still connected to Siberia over 10,000 years ago by the Bering Land Bridge, the Little Diomede was not an island, but was a part of the Beringia and accessible by foot. However, it is unknown if humans visited the grounds of the Little Diomede at that time. Most likely, first visitors to the island came simply by foot on top of the sea ice. Later, Umiaks were used to visit the neighboring Big Diomede island, whale hunting, fishing, and later, to access mainland Alaska and Siberia. Boats made out of driftwood and whale skin are still used today.[citation needed]

In the early 1940s, one of the Little Diomede villagers wrote "No airplane comes to Diomede except for some very special reason, during the winter; the MS North Star brings groceries for the people on the island from Nome. At the same time she unloads freight for the school teachers; the Coast Guard cutter Northland comes in twice during the summer to look after the natives".[12]

Internal transport[edit]

There are no roads, highways, railroads, or internal waterways on the island. There are ancient but faint rocky trails heading north and south from the City of Diomede. There are also trails between the buildings. In the fall of 2008, many of the footpaths within the city were replaced by a system of boardwalks and stairs.[29] On the small island with total land area of only 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2), the only ways to get from place to place are by foot, ski, or snowmobile. Because only the city is inhabited, no internal transport systems have been constructed.

External transport[edit]

Due to the remoteness and severe weather, Little Diomede Island is very difficult and risky to access from the outside world. An average of 12–15 knot (6–8 m/s; ) winds with gusts up to 48–68 knots (25–35 m/s), a prevalent fog and cloudy sky limit transportation to a minimum. Even medical evacuation from such a location has its own difficulties.

Mail has been delivered to the island by helicopter since 1982 and is currently delivered weekly (except in winter months when the ice runway allows more frequent deliveries by plane); the postal contract is one of the oldest in the nation, the only one that uses helicopters for delivering mail, and with a cost of over $300,000 annually, is the most expensive in Alaska.[30]

An annual delivery of goods and supplies is made by barge during the summer, which usually is the only cargo delivered during the year; when the supplies come, all the men rush down and pull them off and carry them up.[29] Other visitors to the island include the occasional visits by research teams, rare extreme tourists and other Alaska Natives visiting from the mainland Alaska.

Due to its location and weather conditions, transportation to the island is very expensive. Having very few economic development opportunities and a tight budget, the city charges non-business visitors arriving by plane or boat a $50.00 fee.[11]

When U.S. Senator Ted Stevens arrived to the island on October 29, 2002, for an overnight visit, he commented "I did not realize you were this remote", he arrived by a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter, and it was the first time the island was visited by a statewide elected official.[5]


Main access to the island is by helicopter; until the late 1990s, the bow of a shipwrecked old barge served as a temporary landing platform. Today the village has the Diomede Heliport (FAA ID: DM2, IATA: DIO) constructed by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2000 and owned by the Alaska Department of Transportation. The concrete-surfaced heliport measures 64 feet x 64 feet (20 m x 20 m), it is open to the public, has no control tower and is only about 0.6 miles (0.97 km) from the International Date Line and less than 2.4 miles (3.9 km) from Big Diomede. It is the closest United States heliport to Russia.

Since 2012, the United States Department of Transportation has subsidized scheduled weekly passenger service via helicopter between Diomede Heliport, Nome Airport (IATA: OME) and Wales Airport (IATA: WAA).[31][32]

Erickson Aviation[33] Nome Airport (by helicopter)


Currently there are no airports on Little Diomede Island because of the island's rocky, steep slopes. Most winters, a temporary ice runway is cleared on top of the sea ice just off of the coast of the village, however in some years (e.g. winter 2009) ice conditions have prevented construction. Some bush pilots have occasionally landed on the top of the tuya which is rocky, but has a somewhat flat surface during the snowy winter; the only way to land with an airplane during the few summer months is on water with a float plane. Any type of airplane landing on the island is very rare due to the high risk and severe weather. There have been studies on the construction of a permanent runway.

Bering Air Nome Airport (by plane, seasonal, winter only)


There is no port in Little Diomede Island, and surrounding thick Arctic sea ice limits boat access to the island to only a few summer months. High waves and huge blocks of ice in the area make navigation very risky and difficult. Landing by boat is also difficult and dangerous because of the rocky shoreline of Little Diomede Island; the barge delivering supplies once a year and occasional other water crafts usually stays offshore due to conditions of the shoreline.

Transportation improvements[edit]

There have been studies of improving the transportation system within and out of the island. Proposals and studies vary between a port, runway and the Intercontinental Tunnel or Bridge. According to the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP)[34] the difficult and limited access to the island has put economic pressure on the community, and the tribal council has already voted to begin planning for relocation of the community to the mainland if access and housing conditions are not improved. No plan for constructing a port, airport, runway, tunnel or bridge has been put into action. According to 2006 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documentation,[35] however, better access to the island will raise issues with its dedicated nature, environment and local traditions and also impact the identity of the Iñupiat community by increasing social contacts with the outsiders.

Air and water[edit]

There have been multiple studies of navigation improvements, a feasibility study of constructing an airport or runway on the island, and studies of any multi-use potential of the port and airport projects as a storm damage prevention.

Bridge or tunnel[edit]

There have been proposals to construct an intercontinental bridge or tunnel between the Alaskan mainland and mainland Siberia, which in some proposals is tied to the possibility of closing the 800-mile (1,300 km) gap in railroad between Alaska and British Columbia. Service access to one or both Diomede Islands from such bridge or tunnel would dramatically improve transportation to the Little Diomede and also make access safer. Though these proposals date back as far as the early 20th century, most of them have been just visions of individuals or groups or media, and have not resulted in governmental study by either the USA or Russia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Directory of Borough and City Officials 1974". Alaska Local Government. Juneau: Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs. XIII (2): 30. January 1974.
  2. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jun 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  4. ^ Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska Map
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Diomede, The American Local History Network, 2005
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Till, A. B., et. al., Bedrock Geologic Map of the Seward Peninsula, Alaska, and Accompanying Conodont Data, Pamphlet to accompany Scientific Investigations Map 3131, USGS
  8. ^ Gualtieri, Lyn and Julie Brigham-Grette, The Age and Origin of the Little Diomede Island Upland Surface, Arctic, Vol. 54, No. 1 (March 2001) pp. 12–21
  9. ^ Paul C. Barry (2001), Native American nations and languages
  10. ^ John Muir (1881) The cruise of the Corwin, Chapter 3 Siberian Adventures
  11. ^ a b State of Alaska, Nome census area tourism Archived 2004-09-16 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b Arthur Ahkinga, Alaska Villages 1939–1941
  13. ^ Peter A. Iseman (1988), Lifting the Ice Curtain
  14. ^ Everette Carr, American Local History Network (2005)
  15. ^ Kawerak, Inc., Tribes of the Bering Strait
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=Rr9RAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=%22Agaligamute%22&source=bl&ots=Tzy-F6Dup7&sig=B81GmrTlcKv3jtL_iWMYTwV3FSo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj69sDB-MLUAhXD2T4KHTt1Dc0Q6AEILjAD#v=onepage&q=Ignaluk&f=false
  18. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  19. ^ Building completion date missing, but was already being used by teachers Gerald F. and Donna Carlson in 1953
  20. ^ Google satellite image of the City of Diomede
  21. ^ a b c State of Alaska, Northwest Arctic Subarea Contingency Plan (2001)
  22. ^ a b c State of Alaska, Community Database Online / Diomede Archived 2013-04-19 at Archive.today
  23. ^ Travelogue associated with the St. Roch II Voyage of Rediscovery expedition (2000) / Arianne Balsom Includes pictures
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-11-08. Retrieved 2009-11-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ Northwest Arctic Subarea Contingency Plan (2001)
  26. ^ (Personal searches from eBay during Oct 2007 – Mar 2008)
  27. ^ Alaskan Whaling Villages – Diomede Information
  28. ^ Alaska Division of Community Advocacy Archived 2013-04-19 at Archive.today
  29. ^ a b Trembly's Travels: Little Diomede Island and Gambell Archived 2008-03-07 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Diomede mail run is often a white-knuckle ride Archived 2008-07-05 at the Wayback Machine James Macpherson, Alaska Journal of Commerce (2002) interviews a former Army pilot Eric Penttila
  31. ^ "Order 2012-9-25". Docket DOT-OST-2009-0260. United States Department of Transportation. September 28, 2012. selecting Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., to provide Air Transportation to Noneligible Places (ATNEP) at Diomede, Alaska, for $377,520. Following this Order, the Department will enter into a contract with Evergreen and the applicable non-Federal party or parties (i.e., Kawerak, Inc., a relevant State of Alaska government entity, etc.) responsible for payment of its 50 percent share to ensure funding for ATNEP at Diomede based on 49 U.S.C. § 41736(a)(1)(B), in which the Department will only pay 50 percent of each monthly bill from Evergreen after the applicable non-Federal party or parties directly pays Evergreen the remaining 50 percent. Effective Period: Start of Service under this Order through June 30, 2013. Scheduled Service: Nome to Diomede to Wales to Diomede to Nome. Frequency: One round trip per week. Aircraft Type: BO-105, 4-seat, twin-engine helicopter. External link in |work= (help)
  32. ^ "Order 2013-6-11". Docket DOT-OST-2009-0260. United States Department of Transportation. June 11, 2013. re-selecting Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., to provide Air Transportation to Noneligible Places (ATNEP) at Diomede, Alaska, with an annual subsidy of $377,520 per year for the period July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. Service is to consist of one round trip per week, 44 weeks per year, routed Nome to Diomede to Wales to Diomede to Nome with 4-seat B-105 helicopters. External link in |work= (help)
  33. ^ "Diomede Helicopter Service Resumes". KNOM Radio Mission. July 18, 2014.
  34. ^ The National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) (2004), FY 2004 Accomplishments and Coordination of Funds, p. 2-3. Also includes plans and accomplishment report of public utility and housing improvements on the Little Diomede Island
  35. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2006) Federal Register / Volume 71 / No. 247, p. 77392-77393. Also includes a draft of feasibility study of constructing a small boat harbor and air transportation capability to the Little Diomede Island

External links[edit]