Last week, the Baranov Museum hosted several speakers who talked about Sami reindeer herders and their history in Alaska. The museum recently opened an exhibit on the subject.
The Sami people are indigenous to the Arctic areas of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia, and in the 1800s taught Inupiaq people how to herd reindeer through government funding.
Some herds still remain as a subsistence option among other purposes.
Pearl Johnson is a member of the Sami Cultural Center of North America, which loaned the exhibit to the museum, and explains the difference between the reindeer and its cousin, the caribou.
“The reindeer cannot keep up with the caribou. The caribou migrate for thousands of miles. The reindeer basically stay in one area, one region. And the reindeer are much smaller.”
She says there are still seven reindeer herds on the Seward Peninsula, the largest concentration of reindeer.
Lois Stover who’s descended from the Sami reindeer herders, says the reindeer are pretty self-sustaining livestock.
“You just have to learn their habits so you can work along with ‘em. They didn’t have to carry food for the reindeer because the reindeer live on reindeer moss and so they could just take their hoof and just push the snow away and ice away and find their own food.”
She says Sami and Inupiaq – or Eskimo – people didn’t have to haul food around for them, like with sled dogs for instance. She says the two cultures also established a good working relationship.
“Eskimos and the Sami people had pretty much the same lifestyle, so they just got along real well and had high respect for each other.”
Reindeer are still scattered around the state and often used for subsistence purposes.
Johnson says the places where there are herds include St. Lawrence Island, St. Paul Island, Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula, Nunivak Island, and Delta Junction.