The History of Savoonga

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. It lies at approximately 63 42' N Latitude, 170 29' W Longitude (Sec. 08, T021S, R061W, Kateel River Meridian). The community is located in the Cape Nome Recording District. The area encompasses 7 sq. miles of land and 0 sq. miles of water.

St. Lawrence Island has been inhabited intermittently for the past 2,000 years by both Alaskan and Siberian 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 in 1878-80, severely reducing the population. In 1900 a herd of reindeer were 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 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. 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.


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History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development