• The taming of the stew: humans, reindeer, caribou and food systems on the southwestern Seward Peninsula, Alaska

      Miller, Odin Tarka Wolf; Plattet, Patrick; Finstad, Greg; Simon, James; Yamin-Pasternak, Sveta (2019-08)
      This 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.