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Herman Toolie is Siberian Yup'ik from Savoonga, Alaska on St. Lawrence Island. His family's heritage is in reindeer herding traced back to both sets of grandparents when reindeer were introduced to Gambell. His father, Jimmy Toolie, got involved in herding when he was twelve years old based out of Savoonga, which had been a reindeer camp, and herded until the "great die out of reindeer" around 1943. Bad winter weather of rain and freezing conditions made it difficult for the reindeer to access vegetation to eat, so many of them died. In 1964, the community of Savoonga and its IRA Tribal Council took over management of what had previously been Gambell's reindeer herd. Herman got involved in reindeer herding around 1967, having learned from his father and elders about reindeer, their behavior, and herding techniques. Herman also carves ivory.