The taming of the stew: humans, reindeer, caribou and food systems on the southwestern Seward Peninsula, Alaska
AuthorMiller, Odin Tarka Wolf
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AbstractThis thesis addresses the question, what is the role of reindeer within communities of Alaska's southwestern Seward Peninsula, particularly as a food source? Employing a mixed-method approach, I conducted several months' fieldwork in the Seward Peninsula communities of Nome and Teller between 2016 and 2018, using methods that included participant observation, ethnographic interviews and a household survey designed to describe and quantify use of reindeer as food. As two varieties of the same species, Rangifer tarandus, reindeer and caribou are very similar in appearance. When caribou herds migrate nearby, reindeer tend to join them and become feral. Given the important role caribou played in Bering Straits Iñupiaq culture before their disappearance and the subsequent introduction of reindeer during the late 1800s, I contextualize the history of reindeer herding as part of a broader pattern of human-Rangifer relationships. During the past 30 years, reindeer herding has been disrupted by the return of migrating caribou to the region. Results from my fieldwork suggest that herding involves not only keeping reindeer separate from caribou, but also achieving community-level recognition of reindeer herds as domestic, privately owned and non-caribou. This is reflected in reindeer's role as a food source. Among Seward Peninsula Iñupiat, reindeer's gastronomic role is similar to that of caribou and other land mammals. Yet reindeer products can be monetarily exchanged in ways that caribou and other wild foods cannot. A further distinguishing feature of reindeer, as a domestic animal, is that it can be controlled and commodified while alive. As rural Alaskans seek to adapt their food systems to rapid social-ecological change, some have expressed renewed interest in reindeer herding. I conclude that herders must actively negotiate between views of reindeer herding as monetary and marketable, on the one hand, and as a food that embodies Iñupiaq values of generosity and (nonmonetary) sharing, on the other.
DescriptionThesis (M.A.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2019
Table of ContentsChapter 1: Introduction -- 1.1 Research questions -- 1.2 The setting -- 1.3. Literature review -- 1.3.1 Reindeer herding and food production in Alaska and the Circumpolar North -- 1.3.2 Community food systems in contemporary Alaska -- 1.4 Theory -- 1.4.1 Ambiguities of reindeer: wildness versus domestication -- 1.4.2 "Sentient commodity" and "Native food" -- 1.5 Methodology -- 1.5.1 Field methods -- 1.5.2 Initial fieldwork -- 1.5.3 Nome: Random-sample survey -- 1.5.4 Teller fieldwork and attempted census survey -- 1.5.5 Analytic procedures -- 1.5.6 Limitations -- 1.6 Summary, propositions and thesis overview. Chapter 2: History -- 2.1 Introduction -- 2.2 Human-Rangifer systems through the mid-20th century -- 2.2.1 Caribou hunting systems of the 19th century and earlier -- 2.2.2 Reindeer introduction and the early private period -- 2.2.3 Corporate/collective period -- 2.2.4 Post-reprivatization, 1940s-1960s -- 2.3 Development toward commercialization, late 1960s-1980s -- 2.3.1 Late 1960s: Rural Alaska economies and reindeer herding -- 2.3.2 Late 1960s: Introduction and adoption of snowmachines -- 2.3.3 Late 1960s-early 1970s: New herds and changing ownership -- 2.3.4 1960s-1970s: Institutional changes -- 2.3.5 1970s-1980s: Velvet antler sales, meat sales and increasing profitability -- 2.3.6 Late 1970s-1980s: New herd ownership and management -- 2.3.7 Herding activities and community involvement, late 1960s-1980s -- 2.3.8 Meat distribution and consumption during this period -- 2.4 Return of caribou, 1980s-present -- 2.4.1 1980s-1990s: Gradual caribou appearance on eastern Seward Peninsula -- 2.4.2 1980s-1990s: Caribou experience among nonherders on the western Seward Peninsula -- 2.4.3 1990s-2000s: Major declines in reindeer herds as WAH winter range expands westward -- 2.4.4 1990s-2000s: Changing community relationships to caribou and reindeer -- 2.4.5 2000s-present: Remaining enclaves of reindeer herding -- 2.5 Chapter 2 summary. Chapter 3: Human relations to living Rangifer -- 3.1 Introduction -- 3.2 Reindeer, caribou and the Seward Peninsula landscape -- 3.2.1 Reindeer and caribou: some pertinent biological traits -- 3.2.2 Overall Rangifer distribution on the Seward Peninsula -- 3.3 Current patterns of human interaction with Rangifer herds -- 3.3.1 Western Arctic Caribou Herd -- 3.3.2 Kakaruk herd -- 3.3.3 Davis herd -- 3.3.4 Olanna herd -- 3.3.5 Pet reindeer -- 3.4 Social representation of live Rangifer in Nome and Teller -- 3.4.1 Management of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd -- 3.4.2 Ownership and management of reindeer herds -- 3.4.3 Differentiation of wild caribou and domestic reindeer -- 3.4.4 Reindeer hunting and reindeer-caribou ambiguity -- 3.5 Communities, local economies and reindeer herds -- 3.5.1 Community relations to the Kakaruk herd -- 3.5.2 Community relations to the Davis herd -- 3.6 Chapter 3 summary. Chapter 4: Reindeer products and food systems -- 4.1 Introduction -- 4.2 Seward Peninsula food systems -- 4.2.1 General food patterns in rural and Northwest Alaska -- 4.2.2 Changes, challenges and broader trends in rural Alaska food systems -- 4.2.3 Local concepts: reindeer and "subsistence" -- 4.2.4 Nome: Food system overview -- 4.2.5 Teller: food system overview -- 4.3 Reindeer distribution and exchange in local economies -- 4.3.1 Use and sourcing of reindeer products in Nome -- 4.3.2 Use and sourcing of reindeer products in Teller -- 4.3.3 Sharing, commodification and monetization of reindeer products -- 4.3.4 Economic interests of herders and nonherders -- 4.4 Reindeer and food culture -- 4.4.1 Reindeer and taste -- 4.4.2 Relative preferences for reindeer and other large mammals -- 4.4.3 Preparation of Rangifer products -- 4.4.4 Reindeer commercialization, culinary tradition and innovation -- 4.5 Nonfood reindeer products -- 4.6 Chapter 4 summary. Chapter 5: Discussion and Conclusion -- 5.1 Economic implications of a specialized human-animal relationship -- 5.2 Reindeer, food systems and adaptation to change in rural Alaska -- 5.3 Further research opportunities -- 5.3.1 Women's roles in contemporary reindeer herding and food preparation -- 5.3.2 Human-Rangifer relations and animal agency -- 5.4 Conclusion -- References -- Appendices.
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