History of the Musk Ox Project

In the 1940s and 50s 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.

nuna- musk ox
Above: Wild musk ox in Greenland, in defense formation

 

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.

John Teal
Above: John J. Teal, Jr

 

In 1968 the Project began workshops teaching Eskimo 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 Eskimo women were earning some of the cash income so vital to get their families through the year.

knitters
Above: An early knitters' workshop

 

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.

farm from far field
Above: The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska








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All photos © 2010 Musk Ox Development Corporation