Domesticated reindeer were introduced to Alaska from the Russian Far East at the end of the nineteenth century as a project in social engineering designed to assist in the assimilation of Alaska Natives into Euroamerican society. Most previous discussions of Alaska Native reindeer herding have focused on reindeer introduction as an agent of culture change associated with culture contact and economic modernization. This diachronic study of more than a century of Bering Strait Inupiaq reindeer herding, however, demonstrates that reindeer herding was incorporated into traditional Inupiaq culture and society to the extent that it now helps to maintain and reproduce traditional Inupiaq values and social relations. Inupiaq reindeer herding emerged as a result of the previous experience the Bering Strait Inupiat had with the intercontinental trade of Chukchi reindeer herding products prior to reindeer introduction. Bering Strait Inupiat were already aware of the economic potential of reindeer herding, such that reindeer herding was incorporated into traditional Inupiaq conceptions of property, wealth, prestige, social organization, subsistence, and land use practices. This incorporation provided the opportunity for the Bering Strait Inupiat to improve standards of life during a period of rapid social change associated with increasing Euroamerican influences. Furthermore, it also provided a means to maintain Inupiaq cultural identity through the emergence of reindeer umialiks and through the importance of reindeer herding in maintaining traditional social relations. In effect, reindeer herding became part of Bering Strait Inupiaq traditional culture through its importance to Inupiaq cultural reproduction.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1998
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