Wainwright is an established village in arctic Alaska located on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. Though the region around Wainwright was traditionally well-populated, the present village was not established until 1904, when the Alaska Native Service built a school and introduced medical and other services. A post office was established in 1916 and a city was formed in 1962.
The majority of Wainwright residents are Iñupiat whose ancestors inhabited the region for thousands of years. Many hold strong to traditional values and maintain their ancestral subsistence practices of hunting, fishing and resource gathering from the land and sea. Rich Iñupiat culture is celebrated throughout the community through dancing, music, arts and other traditions that depend on sharing and cooperation. Many residents are bilingual, speaking both Iñupiaq and English. Elders are revered by the community and pass down treasured cultural and historical traditions through storytelling and lessons for younger generations.
What’s in a Name?
In 1826, an English naval officer named the inlet separating the village from the Chukchi Sea after his officer, Lt. John Wainwright. A map of 1853 indicates the name of the village as “Olrona.” Its Iñupiat name was Ulġuniq or, in English, “Olgoonik.”
Demographics and Economy
The population (2010 regional census) of Wainwright is approximately 556 people living in 147 households. The village workforce includes about 380 people, with principal employers being the North Slope Borough and Olgoonik Corporation. Olgoonik subsidiaries manage contracts in the village that involve training and hiring residents in the areas of construction, equipment operations and maintenance, and environmental services. Seasonal subsistence hunting, fishing and whaling activities remain a significant part of the community and household economies.
Services and Infrastructure
The North Slope Borough provides public electricity, and maintains a water and sewer treatment facility. A health clinic staffed by health aides is open daily and available 24/7 for emergencies. Other public facilities include the police station, fire station/search and rescue base, vehicle maintenance facility and community center. Alak School provides K-12 education and offers adult basic education and vocational education as well. The school has a swimming pool and gymnasium open to the public.
Transportation to Wainwright is only available by scheduled and chartered air service. Freight arrives by cargo plane and barge.
Telecommunications include telephone and cellular service, Internet, public radio, cable television and VHF radio.