Wednesday, May 22, 2024 – The Sami reindeer connection in Alaska

Reindeer weren’t always in Alaska, but now there’s a strong connection for Alaska Native herders. It all started in 1891, when the U.S. Government signed onto a plan by a Presbyterian missionary to recruit Indigenous European Sami people in order to spark economic development and relieve food insecurity in Alaska. The program took off, but was greatly hampered by subsequent policy decisions. Somewhere along the way, the Arctic reindeer herding lifestyle meshed well with the state’s Iñupiaq and Yup’ik residents.


Dr. Sean Asikłuk Topkok (Iñupiaq and Sámi), director of Center for Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bonnie Scheele (Iñupiaq), reindeer herder and the program manager for High Latitude Range Management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus

Marlene Wisuri (Sámi descendant), chair of the Sámi Cultural Center of North America

Varpu LotvonenUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks Anthropology PhD dissertation Ballad of the Laavlaaqs: The Relational Worlds of Sámi Reindeer Herders in Alaska.

Martha James Sara Jack (Yup’ik and Sámi), daughter of a Sámi reindeer herder in Alaska