Anchorage: An Alaska pastor has launched a campaign to help an impoverished Aleut village create a new economy with the plentiful supply of reindeer that roam its isolated island home.
John Honan sees great potential for establishing a small commercial reindeer processing plant in Saint George, home to 60 people and an estimated 350 reindeer.
Honan, a Protestant pastor who runs an emergency housing ministry on another island, has started a donation drive for equipment, contacting local businesses to get involved, and has set up a relief fund for Saint George.
Donations so far include a portable band saw, a table saw, two sets of butchering knives and $730 to go toward a refrigerated shipping container he envisions serving as the processing plant building.
“Saint George is a neighbouring island, and we love our neighbours,” Honan said. Honan got involved when Saint George Mayor Pat Pletnikoff reached out to tribal leaders in Unalaska for help after an Alaska airline began offering regular flights between the two communities last year.
Pletnikoff says at least half of Saint George residents are on welfare, and other than a small halibut fishery, the few jobs available come from the local and tribal government. He envisions a reindeer plant creating three or four jobs, which would be a big deal in the village, he says.
The tribal leaders introduced Pletnikoff to the pastor, who was eager to help after the two brainstormed ideas and arrived at the concept involving the non-native reindeer.
The US government initially introduced 15 reindeer on the Bering Sea Island in 1911 to provide a stable source of meat.
In 1980, long after the animals had died off, the village Native corporation, Tanaq, transported another group of reindeer from Umnak Island, about 230 miles (370 kilometres) south in Alaska’s Aleutians. Honan delivered the equipment gathered so far during trips to the village 220 miles (354 kilometres) from Unalaska Island.
Pletnikoff said the village is waiting for all the equipment to come through before contacting state officials about the required next steps. “It’s just the genesis of an idea, of what can we do to develop an economy on the island,” he said.