Kaktovik Presbyterian Church

Barter Island

Kaktovik is located about 300 miles from Barrow and has a population of approximately 150 people. It is currently the DEW line headquarters and supplies all the DEW line sites. Kaktovik Presbyterian Church at Barter Island was officially organized February 27, 1966. It had been a mission of the Utkeagvik Presbyterian Church at Barrow from October 15, 1889 to January 1951. They received pastoral care from Barrow but had never had an "ordained" minister of their own. 

Andrew Akootchook, a lay preacher trained by Dr. Henry W. Griest, itinerate along the Arctic coast from Barrow to Demarcation Point, conducting services for scattered families. Dr. Griest also trained Dr. Roy Ahmaogak. The Rev. Fred Klerekoper assisted with this ministry from Barrow between 1936 and 1945. 

Diary of Fred G. Klerekoper, Dogsled Trip from Barrow to Demarcation Point, 1936-1945. Published by the North Slope Borough Commission on History and Culture, June 1977. 

Klerekoper writes in April of 1937:

"We finally arrived at Barter Island." 

Klerekoper meets Tom Gordon; Andrew Akootchook; Mildred Keaton, a nurse; and Daugherty, the schoolteacher from Barrow and reindeer advisor. Klerekoper is there for a meeting of the church session. He observes:

"Here is a woman living with a man as common law wife, not exactly their fault. It is 400 miles plus to the nearest licensed commissioner and preacher over the tough trail we have just traversed.

We come to Andrew Akootchook's home. There is a polar bear cub in the house. To enter this place, you go through a low snow entrance into a snow hallway. Many entrances lead from it. Here are kayaks, pieces of sheet iron, and room for dogs. Inside are ten children and a polar bear cub. Andrew has just been elected president of the reindeer company. He is the father of 13 children. Behind the house is a cemetery.

Takpuk and his wife.

April 28, 1937:

“Arrive at Takpuk's. Their whole camp is out to meet us. Takpuk has lost his wife last fall but has the assurance that she is in heaven. It is his greatest comfort in sorrow. On the North Star, are Germans who said Eskimos receive nothing from religion and that missionaries are wasting their time. He should hear Takpuk. We have a service and to me the spiritual strength of the Eskimo is evident. He lives closer to his Creator then at least one German I know -- There is something contagious about the calm, large personality of Takpuk.” (Takpuk was The Rev. Roy Ahmaogak's maternal grandfather.)

The beginnings of the Kaktovik Presbyterian congregation dates back to 1941. In that year, Andrew Akootchook, a lay preacher trained by Dr. Henry W. Griest of Barrow, made his home at Barter Island and conducted worship services in his home. The Charlie Gordon family also participated. 

(Andrew kept a diary concerning his ministry from 1920-1951, which was lost for several years following his death. It was later located and forwarded to the United Presbyterian Church USA Historical Society in Philadelphia. The editor wishes the diary was among our Presbytery records here in Alaska, but apparently it is safe.)

A letter written in 1950 revealed that of the 43 Eskimos then living on Barter Island per se, 29 or 31 of them were Andrew Akootchook's own family. He was recommended for special ordination to carry on this ministry. However, before the ordination could take place, he was accidentally killed.

Following Andrew's death, worship continued in the Akootchook home from 1951 through 1953, under the lay leadership of Herman Rexford. From 1953 through 1956, the congregation met in the village school, which also doubled as the home of Harold Kaveolook. From 1956 through 1965, the congregation met in a quonset hut.

Groundbreaking for the present church structure occurred in 1963, and the people begin worshipping in the unfinished building in October of 1964. In April of 1965, Presbytery began procedures to organize the chapels at Barter Island and Anaktuvuk Pass as official churches.

The Barter Island congregation organized February 27, 1966 with 45 charter members. All 45 joined by transfer of letter from Barrow’s Utkeagvik United Presbyterian Church. The new church was called Kaktovik United Presbyterian Church of Barter Island.

Elders in 1966 were Harold Kaveolook acting clerk; Herman S. Rexford, acting chairman; and Perry Akootchook, elder.

In 1968, the records show that the church was attempting to get a deed to the church property, which was made more difficult by the fact that the village was unincorporated. In 1984, the records show that a part of the church property was dedicated for a road and road right away to the new school and teacher housing.