Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Heritage of Reindeer Herding Radio Programs

Heritage of Reindeer Herding: Voices of Herders on the Seward Peninsula and Alaska is a four-part radio series based on a collaborative research project between the Institute of Arctic Biology, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), and the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association. The project was supported by the National Science Foundation's Arctic System Science Program. The series was produced and is copyrighted by Kathy Turco of Alaska's Spirit Speaks: Sound & Science. The interviews were directed by Dr. William S. Schneider of UAF's Oral History Department.

These radio shows were originally aired on KUAC FM radio in 2004:
Wednesday, July 7, 2004: Episode One: "The History of Reindeer Herding" (ORAL HISTORY 2004-07-07) -- 
It could be said that human culture is what it is today because of our long history with other animals. First as hunters, then as domesticators, we have been profoundly shaped by the many species we have learned to depend on. In this episode, herders tell how Laplanders from Norway came to Alaska to teach reindeer herding techniques, how the herding business grew and flourished, and how the herds thrived, crashed, recovered, and are again facing decline. Read transcript

Wednesday, July 14, 2004: Episode Two: "The Heritage of Herding in Families" 
(ORAL HISTORY 2004-07-14) -- 
The tradition of reindeer herding on Alaska's Seward Peninsula stretches back more than 100 years. Through apprenticing and watching, and hearing Elder's stories, generations of Alaskans have learned the skills necessary to succeed. In this episode, herders such as Palmer Sagoonick tell how they draw a sense of identity from their ancestors' skills; other herders tell how children were taken out of school for months at a time to learn the customs of Norwegian herders, and why they have hope for the future of herding. Read transcript

Wednesday, July 21, 2004: Episode Three: "The Technology of Reindeer Herding" 
(ORAL HISTORY 2004-07-21) -- 
In recent decades, the practice of reindeer herding on Alaska's Seward Peninsula has dramatically changed. Once the herders lived in camps and followed their animals on foot, with the help of trained dogs. Today technology makes their work easier even as it introduces new challenges and problems. In this episode, herders tell how new technologies such as helicopters, four-wheelers, snowmachines, satellites, and radio collars have provided improvements to herders, but at a cost that is not always affordable. "I have to pay for my snowmachine parts, like a track, skis. With 800 to 1000 reindeer, you can operate with what you make off reindeer all year round. You can't handle reindeer if you got 200, unless you got money in the bank, but that money in the bank don't last because you got to buy a new snowmachine to keep up with the reindeer," said Merlin Henry of Koyuk. Read transcript

Wednesday, July 27, 2004: Episode Four: "The Caribou Crisis" (ORAL HISTORY 2004-07-28) -- 
Reindeer herds on Alaska's Seward Peninsula can be lost literally overnight when caribou migrate through the area. Today's herders must struggle to keep their livelihood and tradition alive. In this episode, herders tell about the challenges they face from wild caribou streaming onto the Peninsula in record numbers and "taking" reindeer with them when they migrate, how climate change and depleted food sources in the caribou's range may be prompting the influx of caribou to the Peninsula, and how Peninsula range depletion from caribou may permanently affect future reindeer herding. Read transcript

For questions regarding the interview material and more information about this multidisciplinary project contact:
Knut Kielland (Principal Investigator) at the Institute of Arctic Biology:
Greg Finstad (Co-Principal Investigator) at the Reindeer Research Program:
William Schneider (Co-Principal investigator) at the Oral History Department (retired in 2013):
Rose Fosdick at the Kawerak Reindeer Herders Association (retired in 2019): (Reindeer Herders Association main email)