Off the far west coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea lies Nunivak Island, a massive 1600 square mile remote island of volcanic tundra and coastal cliffs. First settled by native Alaskans over a thousand years prior, the population of the island has whittled from nearly a thousand to 200. Those who remain live in the native Cup’it village of Mekoryuk on the north coast. Physically isolated in one of the most remote reaches of American soil, villagers here persevere through the collision of tradition and modernity.
One of the last native communities to come under western influence, a number of factors converge to make the island a poignant study of identity in the face of constant transition: a generation of Cup'ig youth navigating two economically and philosophically divergent cultures, a tight-knit Christian community combating decades of substance abuse issues, a threatened subsistence lifestyle and unique language, the rapid onset of social media and connected devices, severe climate change, emigration in pursuit of opportunity, and a growing reindeer operation that promises wider economic prosperity.
The images below were taken during four separate visits as part of an ongoing yearlong project.
Dedicated to my sister Colleen and Harvey Whitman, one of the first to welcome us to Mekoryuk and who knew what it was like to lose a sister. Thank you both for showing me the way forward, and may you both be at peace.