History of the Musk Ox Project
In the 1940’s and 50’s wild musk oxen were a disaster or two away from extinction and the villages of coastal Alaska were being compared to some of the most impoverished in the world. Where others saw two utterly hopeless situations, John Teal’s eyes sparkled and a vision was born. In this windswept and inhospitable land he saw an opportunity for Native people to live together peaceably with this animal such that both would thrive.
After more than a decade of research, Teal started what came to be known as the Musk Ox Project in Alaska. Supported by funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as well as assistance from the University of Alaska and countless volunteers, the Project started Alaska’s first domestic musk ox farm in Fairbanks in 1964. Each year the herd grew. Each year their qiviut was combed and spun into exquisite yarn.
The Knitters’ Cooperative
In 1968 the Project began workshops teaching native Alaskan women in villages such as Mekoryuk, Bethel, St. Mary’s and Tununak how to knit the unique lacy pattern for qiviut garments. Within a year, a knitters’ cooperative was formed- Oomingmak, Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative– and within ten more years over two hundred native women were earning some of the cash income so vital to get their families through the year.
The Project Today
The farm is presently located in the Matanuska Valley near Palmer, Alaska, where members of the project and a host of volunteers continue the work begun forty years ago. Our commitment to the domestication of the musk ox, and to the establishment of a cottage-based textile industry, is as strong now as it was when John Teal began the project in 1954.
Emma and Ingrid with their babies on the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer.