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Photos: Daily life on Alaska's St. Lawrence Island

The village of Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Graffiti in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
This GCI cell phone tower is the only one in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
People traveling by 4-wheeler in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Kids playing with dogs in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Wind turbines in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Rocky shoreline outside the village of Gambell, on St. Lawrence Island. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Gravel beach in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. On a clear day you can see Russia from here. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Children playing in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Gambell artist Marvin Kulowiyi displaying a whale bone and polar bear fun mask, St. Lawrence island. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
An artifact digger in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. The sale of artifacts from the island is controversial, with some pieces eventually selling for millions of dollars, with only a fraction of that price going back to the village. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Gambell residents Travis Kaningok, his 3-year-old son Travis Jr., and fiancee Roxanne Campbell digging for old bones, ivory and artifacts on St. Lawrence island. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Gambell resident James Walunga digging for artifacts, ivory and bones, St. Lawrence island. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
7 and 8-year-olds ride around the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell on ATVs. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Walrus carcasses hanging to dry in the St. Lawrence island village of Gambell. August 29, 2012
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Unloading groceries in Gambell. The St. Lawrence island village receives most of its supplies by air. August 29, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Residents of the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga play drums and dance in anticipation of fall whaling. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Savoonga residents breakdancing to traditional native drumming, in a song entitled "Rock and Roll." August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Savoonga resident George Noongwook, chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, drumming in anticipation of the fall whaling season, set to start the next day. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Wood frame umiaks, or traditional skin boats, in the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Waves crash against the shore in the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga. The island is one of the last remnants of the Bering Land Bridge. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A halibut processing plant in Savoonga. While much of the hunting and fishing that occurs on and around St. Lawrence island is for subsistence use, there has been a good halibut fishery this year. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The Savoonga store. Most products sold in Savoonga are flown in, with prices reflecting the high cost of transportation. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Girls at the Savoonga store play on their cell phones. Cell service has only been available on St. Lawrence island for a few years. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Sewage pipes in Savoonga. The insulated, above ground pipes are common in rural arctic Alaskan communities. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Hand prints decorate a transformer in the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Leo Akeya, two years old, plays with an internet-connected iPad in his family's home in Savoonga. With him is his mom Bonnie Akeya and cousin Tina Akeya, seven months old. As recently as last year the Akeya's toy of choice was a toy gun, reflecting the still important role of subsistence hunting in this remote St. Lawrence island community. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
New homes and sewer system in the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Denny Akeya, a native of the St. Lawrence island village of Savoonga. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
A boy plays with a toy gun in Savoonga. August 30, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Loren Holmes,Craig Medred

STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL ON ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND

GAMBELL -- Off the far western edge of the North American continent, nearly 1,500 people struggle in a daily battle for survival on Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. There isn't much of an economy in this village of 677 near the northwest tip of the island. The people here are closer to Russia, 36 miles to the west, than the United States, more than 150 miles to the northeast. To earn enough money to survive, residents carve walrus ivory, guide a handful of bird watchers who make the 200-mile flight from Nome, or dig into old graves for prehistoric artifacts.

Illegal in much of Alaska, the practice remains legal on the island because the residents of Gambell and Savoonga, the only other village, chose to opt out of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. To settle aboriginal land claims, ANCSA created 12 regional Native corporations and more than 200 village corporations that gained title to 44 million acres of land and nearly $1 billion. Instead of joining that settlement, Gambell and Savoonga settled for title to the 1.14 million acres of land in the former St. Lawrence Island Reserve – nearly the entire island.

Now jointly owned by Savoonga and Gambell, the island is private property, which entitles the people there to take advantage of what their ancestors left behind over the course of an estimated 2,000 years or more of occupation on a 90-mile-long island. In the 1800s, there were an estimated 4,000 people living in 35 villages on the island. They lived on whales, walruses, seals, birds, eggs, fish and what plants they could wrest from land or sea. They suffered mightily as the whales began to disappear to American whalers supplying a country hungry for whale oil.

Between 1878 and 1880, famine decimated island residents. Missionaries -- Gambell is named for two of them -- tried to help. Reindeer were introduced to the island in 1900 to provide food and transport for people who no longer had the food to feed their dogs. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt ...

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STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL ON ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND