Savoonga is located on the northern coast of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, 164 miles west of Nome. It lies 39 miles southeast of Gambell.
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. A tragic famine occurred on the island between 1878 and 1880, severely reducing the population. In 1900 a herd of reindeer was moved to the island, and 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. A post office was established in 1934. The city was incorporated in 1969. When the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was passed in 1971, Gambell and Savoonga decided not to participate and instead opted for title to the 1.136-million acres of land in the former St. Lawrence Island Reserve. The island is jointly owned by Savoonga and Gambell.
It is a traditional St. Lawrence Yup'ik village with a subsistence lifestyle based on walrus and whale hunting. Savoonga is hailed as the "Walrus Capital of the World." Whale, seal, walrus, and reindeer comprise 80% of islanders' diets. Due to the island's isolation, most residents are bilingual -- Siberian Yup'ik is still the first language. Islanders today have successfully mixed the past with the present. The sale, importation, and possession of alcohol is banned in the village.
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