Lying within the Arctic Circle in northwest Alaska, the Port of Kotzebue is almost 300 kilometers (186 miles) northeast of the Port of Nome and just over 321 nautical miles northeast of the Port of Providenija across the Bering Strait in Russia. Named after the Kotzebue Sound, the Port of Kotzebue recalls explorer Otto von Kotzebue who was here in 1818 while looking for a Northwest Passage for Russia.
The Port of Kotzebue is 53 kilometers (33 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. In 2000, the US Census reported 3,082 inhabitants of the Port of Kotzebue, almost three-quarters of them Native Alaskan. The Port of Kotzebue is the local center for both boat and air traffic. Located near the mouths of three rivers (the Noatak, Selawik, and Kobuk), boats carry cargo and people from the Port of Kotzebue into the neighboring valleys to villages like Ambler, Noorvik, and Noatak. With an airport, the Port of Kotzebue is also the center for regional air traffic.
The area surrounding the future Port of Kotzebue has long been the home of Inupiat Eskimos since before the 15th Century when it was a regional trading and gathering place. Natives called the Port of Kotzebue area Kikiktagruk or Qikiqtagruk (meaning "almost an island" in the Inupiat language.
The future Port of Kotzebue became known to outsiders when Otto von Kotzebue came through the area looking for the Northwest Passage in the early 19th Century. During the 19th Century, Russian traders joined the Native peoples from interior villages to trade furs, hides, seal skins and seal-oil, and rifles and ammunition. The Port of Kotzebue began to grow as missionaries, traders, gold prospectors, and traders learned of the abundant natural resources in the area.
In 1897, reindeer herding was brought to the Port of Kotzebue area when domesticated Asian reindeer were brought to Alaska. Soon after that, a post office was opened in 1899.
Today, the Port of Kotzebue is a regional center for transportation, service, and health care industries in Northwestern Alaska. The major employer is government, and tourism and fishing are important to the regional economy. The Port of Kotzebue is also home to the Chukchi campus of the University of Alaska.
The Port of Kotzebue is home to two top-ten finishers in the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: John Baker and Ed Iten. The Port of Kotzebue was also the location for the filming of Salmonberries in 1991.
The Port of Kotzebue is the base for two important non-profit Native groups: the NANA Regional Corporation and the Maniilaq Association. At one time known as the Northwest Arctic Native Association, the NANA Regional Corporation works to improve the quality of life for the Inupiat people in the Port of Kotzebue region by promoting economic growth, protecting tribal lands, and building healthy communities based on traditional values. The Maniilaq Association provides social, health, and tribal services to residents of Northwest Alaska.