Born in Browning, Montana, he grew up on the family ranch in Birch Creek but left as a teenager to study art. He was in the first class of artists graduating from the Institute for Native American Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kuka then briefly served in the military, and by 1978 he devoted all his time to his artistic endeavours. He became pivotal in the growing Native American Art movement feeling a responsibility to reach a wide audience with his work.
He painted in oil, then pastel, created sculpture and even jewelry. He had a very strong sense of color and design and his wife said: "His emphasis was on color and textures. He painted to produce a feeling. He didn't care for replicating reality, he wanted to realize a feeling or make a statement." Kuka is a published poet in several languages, and the inventor of "Kuka-graphs," which are prints on embossed paper, creating a ghostlike image. His work received international attention, and when he died of a stroke at age 57, he was praised as a much revered leader in the Native American art community who had encouraged others to pursue their goals and develop their own styles.
To quote a poem by King Kuka, published in 1991: "I will send my heart with the eagle carried on winds of trust, to be blessed by the sun and baptized in rain beneath nature's rainbow altar."