Fighting Back: Nunivak Island Health Aides Hit 100% Vaccination Goal

  Nunivak Island's People Show Their Strength Of Culture By Vaccinating Every Single Adult In Village Of Mekoryuk  Nunivak woman, photog...


Nunivak Island's People Show Their Strength Of Culture By Vaccinating Every Single Adult In Village Of Mekoryuk 

Nunivak woman, photographed by Edward Curtis, 1928 

In 1928, Edward S. Curtis visited Nunivak Island off the coast of Bethel. He reported that he had never seen a happier people. 

Curtis is well known throughout the world for his photographs of indigenous peoples, including Native Americans all over the West. 

In his book, The North American Indian, written in 1930, Curtis wrote of disease in Alaska and elsewhere, which was rampant. Curtis marveled at the healthiness and isolation of the Nunivak people. 

Without irony or realization of his possible role in bringing deadly germs to the island, Edward Curtis somberly noted that a year after he was there, 30% of the people of Nunivak had died. 

He said: with whites and the acquirement of their diseases have worked a tragic change during this period.  A notable exception was found in the natives of Nunivak island, whose almost total freedom from Caucasian contact has thus far been their salvation; and yet within a year of the writer’s visit it was officially reported that the population decreased nearly thirty percent.  In all the author’s experience among Indians and Eskimo, he never knew a happier or more thoroughly honest and self-reliant people. 

Edna Mathlaw of Nunivak at Dimond Center Art Show (Photo, Linda Weld) 

In 2021, decades later, Nunivak Island showed its continuing self reliance in a powerful way: by vaccinating everybody.

Like many Alaskan Native communities, Nunivak has been strongly proactive about keeping history from repeating itself and killing off its people through epidemic diseases that track in from the outside. 

Two health aides in Nunivak, Linda and Shara Davis (who are mother and daughter) had vaccinated 98% of Nunivak by late March, 2021. 

Now, in mid-April, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has confirmed that there is 100% vaccination compliance for everyone on the island, 16 years and over. 


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