St. Lawrence Island has been inhabited intermittently for the past 2,000 years by Yup'ik Eskimos. The island had numerous villages with a total population of around 4,000 by the 19th century.
Read Bering Sea Project investigator Henry Huntington's account of elder interviews and other fieldwork on Savoonga.
Above: Elders Morris Toolie, Caleb Pungowiyi, and Chester Noongwook confer over a map of St. Lawrence Island. (Tom Van Pelt)
Savoonga is located on the northern coast of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, 164 miles west of Nome. See a larger map of Savoonga
It is a traditional St. Lawrence Yup'ik village with a subsistence lifestyle surrounding walrus and whale hunting.
Savoonga is hailed as the "Walrus Capital of the World." Whale, seal, walrus and reindeer comprise 80% of islander's diets. Due to the island's isolation, most residents are bilingual; Siberian Yup'ik is still the first language.
After a famine occurred on the island in 1878-80 and severely reduced the population, a herd of reindeer was moved to the island. By 1917 the herd had grown to over 10,000 animals. A reindeer camp was established in 1916 at the present village site, where grazing lands were better, and the herd tended to remain. Good hunting and trapping in the area attracted more residents. The Native Village of Savoonga, a federally-recognized tribe, is located in the community.
The economy of Savoonga is largely based upon subsistence hunting of walrus, seal, fish and bowhead and gray whale, with some cash income. Reindeer harvests occur, but the herd is not managed. Fox are trapped as a secondary source of income. Islanders are known for their quality ivory carvings. Some tourism occurs by bird-watchers.