Nunivak Island has been inhabited for 2,000 years by the Nuniwarmiut people, or Cup'ik (Choop'ik) Eskimos. The first outside contact was in 1821 by the Russian American Company, who recorded 400 people living in 16 villages on the Island. A summer camp called "Koot" was noted at the current site of Mekoryuk in 1874. In 1891, Ivan Petroff found 702 Eskimos in 9 villages, including 117 people at "Koot." An epidemic in 1900 decimated the population, leaving only four surviving families in the village. In the 1930s, the Evangelical Covenant Church was built by an Eskimo missionary, followed by a BIA school in 1939. People moved to the village from other areas of the Island to be near the school.
Reindeer were introduced for commercial purposes in 1920 by an Eskimo-Russian trader. The operation was purchased by the BIA in the 1940s and a slaughterhouse was constructed in 1945. The reindeer were crossed with caribou from Denali Park; the resulting animals are larger and harder to handle than other reindeer in the state.
In 1934, 34 musk-ox from Greenland were transferred to the Island in an effort to save the species from extinction. Today, the musk-ox herd numbers around 500, and calves from this herd have been relocated and introduced to other areas of Alaska. A post office was opened in 1940. In the 1940s, the women lived in semi-subterranean sod houses and the men stayed at one or more "kasigi", or men's community houses. At that time, traditional ceremonies and religious beliefs were still practiced. The 50s and 60s brought considerable change. An airstrip was built in 1957, and the Territorial Guard was formed. Men went to Fort Richardson near Anchorage for training. By this time, Mekoryuk was the only permanent community on the Island. During this time, many families moved to Bethel to be near the high school, returning during late Spring for fishing and sea mammal hunting. A high school was constructed in 1978.
To Community Histories Index Alaska DCCED Community Database Online
History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development