Abandoned Inupiat island to be studied


Oregon State University anthropologists are launching a four-year study of King Island and its former inhabitants, located in the Bering Sea not far from Nome, Alaska.

Researchers plan to record the oral history of former villagers as well as train Inupiat youth to collect vegetation and wildlife samples.

Next summer, researchers will scout the tiny island to see if any of the existing wooden buildings, which were built on stilts on the side of the island’s cliffs, are stable enough to serve as quarters for about 50 participants, including 10 scientists and 15 elders.

Volunteers will be enlisted to help elders get around the rocky terrain.

About 200 people once lived in walrus-skin homes tacked to the face of the cliffs, notes the Anchorage Daily News. They hunted walrus, seal and seabirds and collected berries and plants. Every summer, they travelled by kayak and umiat to the mainland 12 hours away, camping near Nome, where they sold ivory carvings.

Starting in the 1950s, fewer people returned to King Island. The 1960 census counted only 49 residents, but by the 1970 census, there were none.

Pregnant women chose to stay in Nome, where there were doctors, while many of the men were drafted during the Second World War. Through the 1950s, tuberculosis killed some people and sent others to hospital

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