Factors in the Adaptation of Reindeer Herders to Caribou on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska

William Schneider, Knut Kielland and Gregory Finstad

Abstract

Over the last century, reindeer herding has provided a major economic base in Eskimo villages on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska, and has come to represent an important dimension of Native cultural identity. As a result of the current population explosion of caribou from the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, along with a shift in the herd’s migratory patterns, reindeer ranges that were free of caribou for generations are now being flooded by tens of thousands. Reindeer join these migrating caribou and leave their ranges. As individual herders lose reindeer to the caribou, the impact is felt at the individual, community, and regional level. This paper describes some of the factors that influence modern-day Eskimo herders’ ability to cope with this devastating situation. The herders’ descriptions of the crisis lead us to a larger and more comprehensive picture of how they understand and respond to the environmental conditions, technology, and economic conditions that they face.

  • William Schneider, Oral History Program, Elmer Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775–6808

  • Knut Kielland, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Box 757000, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99775–7000

  • Greg Finstad, Reindeer Research Program, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Box 757140 , University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775–7140

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