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The Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta    by Gerald T. Conaty & Lloyd Binder order for
Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta
by Gerald T. Conaty
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta is a 'circumpolar epic', the historical account of a union of two cultures - the Sami of Scandinavia and the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic - as part of a Canadian government effort to fight famine in the late 1920s, an 'attempt to impose a southern view on a northern way of life.'

It's also a personal story, that of a marriage between two families, the Pulks of Norway and the Binders of the Canadian Western Arctic ... and it's a true tale set in 'a world of tundra, permafrost, caribou and reindeer.' Text is interspersed with old photographs (mostly black and white but a few in color) that remind us of a disappearing way of life.

Read the book to learn about a nomadic lifestyle in which small groupings of Inuit family members pursued game and plants, gathering together in spring and fall to take advantage of concentrations of migratory animals. I enjoyed details of traditional life, especially the use of string illustrations for storytelling, and tidbits on Sami reindeer herding, such as the animals' love for lichen, 'reindeer candy'.

In the early 1920s, there was a big change in patterns of caribou migration, that threatened the Western Arctic peoples' very survival. The southern solution was to import reindeer, along with Sami experts on their herding and husbandry. A United States program began in 1892 Alaska, leading to a successful U.S. market for reindeer meat, up to the time of the Great Depression.

The Canadian Reindeer Project began in the late 1920s, and its story is told through the voices of members of families involved in it. They share details of Inuit and Sami daily life, accounts of RCMP activities (including a murder), of children taken from their parents and enrolled in mission schools, and of reindeer patrols, first on skis and later on snowmobiles.

The book ends on a brief discussion of the challenge of cultural survival, and how to keep the diversity that enriches us all. Read The Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta for a fascinating, documentary style, peek into history.

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