Little Diomede Island (DIE-oh-meed)

A map of Little Diomede
    View a Map of Little Diomede

A Google Satellite Map of Little Diomede
    View a Google Satellite Map of Little Diomede

Walrus Skin Boats 1, Diomede, Alaska 1998
       Walrus Skin Boats 1, Diomede, Alasaka, 1998
       photo credit: State of Alaska DCRA

Latitude: 65º 45’ 15”
Longitude: -168º 55’ 15”

Current Population: 117  (2009 DCCED Certified Population)
Incorporation Type: 2nd Class City
Borough Located In: Unorganized
Taxes: Sales: 4%,  Property: None, Special: None
Coastal Management District: Bering Straits CRSA

Location and Climate
Diomede is located on the west coast of Little Diomede Island in the Bering Straits, 135 miles northwest of Nome. It is only 2.5 miles from Big Diomede Island, Russia, and the international boundary lies between the two islands. Diomede is located in the Cape Nome Recording District. The area encompasses 2.8 sq. miles of land and 0.0 sq. miles of water.  Summer temperatures average 40 to 50 °F. Winter temperatures average from -10 to 6 °F. Annual precipitation averages 10 inches, and annual snowfall averages 30 inches. During summer months, cloudy skies and fog prevail. Winds blow consistently from the north, averaging 15 knots, with gusts of 60 to 80 mph. The Bering Strait is generally frozen between mid-December and mid-June.

History, Culture and Demographics

Early Inuit on the islands worked on the ice and sea and had a culture with elaborate whale hunting ceremonies. They traded with both continents. The islands were named in 1728 by Vitus Bering in honor of Saint Diomede. The 1880 Census counted 40 people, all Ingalikmiut Inuit, in the village of "Inalet." When the Iron Curtain was formed, Big Diomede became a Soviet military base, and all Native residents were moved to mainland Russia. During World War II, Little Diomede residents who strayed into Soviet waters were taken captive. The city was incorporated in 1970. Some residents are interested in relocating the village, due to the rocky slopes, harsh storms, lack of useable land for housing construction, and inability to construct a water/sewer system, landfill, or airport.

A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community -- the Native Village of Diomede (a.k.a. Inalik). The population of the community consists of 93.8% Alaska Native or part Native. Diomede is a traditional Ingalikmiut Inuit village with a subsistence lifestyle. Seal, polar bear, blue crab, and whale meat are the preferred foods. Mainland Natives come to Diomede to hunt polar bears. Seal and walrus hides are used to make parkas, hats, mukluks, furs, and skins for trade. The sale and importation of alcohol is banned in the village. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 47, and vacant housing units numbered 4. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 45 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 2.17 percent, although 48.86 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $23,750, per capita income was $9,944, and 35.44 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.

Facilities, Utilities, Schools and Health Care

Water drawn from a mountain spring is treated and stored in a 434,000 steel tank, and families haul water from this source. The tank is filled for winter use, but the water supply typically runs out around March. The washeteria is then closed and residents are required to melt snow and ice for drinking water. All households use privies and honeybuckets. The washeteria/clinic is served by a septic system and seepage pit. Due to the soil condition, lack of ground cover and steep terrain, PHS has found limited waste disposal methods. Refuse is disposed on the pack ice in winter; combustibles are burned. Electricity is provided by Diomede Joint Utilities. There is one school located in the community,  attended by 32 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Little Diomede Clinic.  Emergency Services have coastal and helicopter access. Emergency service is provided by volunteers and a health aide  Auxiliary health care is provided by Diomede Volunteer Fire Dept./First Responders.

Economy and Transportation
Little Diomede villagers depend almost entirely upon a subsistence economy for their livelihood. Employment is limited to the city and school. Seasonal mining, construction, and commercial fishing positions have been on the decline. The Diomede people are excellent ivory carvers; the city serves as a wholesale agent for the ivory. Villagers travel to Wales by boat for supplies. Mail is delivered once per week.

Due to constant winds from the north, accessibility is often limited. A state-owned heliport allows for weekly mail delivery. There is no airstrip due to the steep slopes and rocky terrain, so skiplanes must land on an ice strip in winter. Few float plane pilots attempt to land on the rough and often foggy open sea during summer. Regular flights are scheduled from Nome, weather permitting. There is a breakwater and small boat harbor. Skin boats are still a popular method of sea travel to cover the 28 miles to Wales. Cargo barge stops are irregular, due to sea or ice conditions, but deliver at least annually. Lighterage services are available from Nome.

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