“I’d Be Foolish to Tell You They Were Caribou”: Local Knowledge of Historical Interactions between Reindeer and Caribou in Barrow, Alaska.

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Karen H. Mager


This study aims to understand the role of caribou in the decline of Barrow, Alaska’s reindeer industry and the fate of reindeer that joined caribou herds. During the reindeer herding era, 1898–1951, changes in the abundance and distribution of native caribou led to interactions with the introduced domestic reindeer. Herders remember losing their reindeer when the animals joined migrating caribou herds. Oral histories reveal a mismatch between herders struggling to prevent their reindeer from joining caribou herds and administrators who assumed that caribou problems could be eliminated through more careful herding. Hunter observations since the demise of herding suggest that some reindeer-like animals persist in caribou herds. These observations provide insights into the history of reindeer herding in the region, our biological understanding of how the two subspecies interact in the wild, and the influence of a heritage with reindeer herding on how Barrow people identify animals on the land today.

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