Named Changunak by her Inupiaq Eskimo mother and Russian trader father, Mary grew up in St. Michael, Alaska. She single-handedly did more than anyone else to protect the reindeer herds that had been reintroduced to Alaska did. Because Mary could speak several languages - Inupiaq, Russian, and English she was hired to go on the ships as they government tried to learn more about Alaska. The work of Mary and her husband Charlie was invaluable to the ship captain.
In 1889 Mary married Charlie Antisarlook and moved to Cape Nome. Before Mary moved to Cape Nome she had not had to rely solely on a subsistence lifestyle to feed her family. She commented, "there were no people there [in Nome], not any groceries, either. Their food wasn't like what the Eskimos of St. Michael work hard to have." Living in Nome meant learning how to live on "real simple food, like whale meat, seal oil, rabbits, and ptarmigan." Mary rose to the occasion and her family did well.
After years of assisting with government reindeer herds, Mary and Charlie became the first Natives given their own reindeer. They moved to a settlement near Cape Nome called Sinrock. After Charlie died in 1900, Mary fought hard her brothers-in-law for the right to own half of the reindeer that belonged to Charlie and her. After a long legal battle, she won and so began the legendary reindeer herd of Sinrock Mary.
After Mary acquired the reindeer for her own the prospectors who had come to Nome for the gold rush courted her. They offered money, liquor, and marriage so that they could gain control of Mary's herd. Having the herd meant having wealth and power. Mary repulsed them all and sold her reindeer meat to the army post, to the stores in St. Michael and to the miners. She became the richest Native woman in the North and grew famous for her herd of reindeer.
In 1901 Mary moved her herd to Unalakleet to get away from the gold miners and their greed and sickness. There were those who tried to stop her because they wanted her for food and to use them as pack animals but Mary continued moving her herd. A year later she married Andrew Andrewuk but he had no interest in the herd so Mary still had control of it.
She realized that others needed to know how to care for the animals so she began training Inupiaq men as herders. Mary's life was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which, is that she maintained the herd as her property, even though she was often told that as a Native and a woman that she could not do this. Mary never had any children of her own but she adopted several children and many of them grew up to care to herds of their own. In Alaska today there are still people who tell stories of Mary and her generosity and how she truly knew how to share her wealth in the Eskimo way.
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