Originally a summer camp named “Koot,” Mekoryuk is now the only permanent settlement on the island of Nunivak. Nunivak Island, the eighth largest island in the world, is located in the Bering Sea, 30 miles off the coast of the Alaska mainland. The village is situated at the mouth of Shoal Bay along the north shore of Nunivak Island.
The Nuniwarmiut people, also known as Cup’ik Eskimo, have inhabited the island for over 2,000 years. In 1870, the entire island was reported to have 400 people living in 16 villages, 117 of which lived in Mekoryuk. In 1900 an epidemic decimated the village population, leaving only four families to survive.
In the 1930s, a Native missionary built the Evangelical Covenant Church in Mekoryuk, and in 1939, a Bureau of Indian Affairs school was opened. People moved from all over the island to be near the school, and today the population of Mekoryuk is closer to 200.
Reindeer were introduced to the island by an Eskimo-Russian trader in 1920 and were later crossed with caribou. The result was a larger breed, that was harder to handle than those anywhere else in the state. Greenlandic musk oxen were brought over in 1934 to save them from extinction, and now the herd numbers around 500.
With the high numbers of large game on the island, The Bering Sea Reindeer Products Company (opened in 1945) has become a major employer in the village. Most families engage in subsistence activities, and many have fish camps; 46 residents hold commercial fishing permits. Coastal Villages Seafood Inc., also located in Mekoryuk, processes the locally caught halibut and salmon. Seal meat and oil are common staples.
Mekoryuk is part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.