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The Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta Paperback – Bargain Price, February 7, 2004

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About the Author

Gerald T. Conaty, PhD, is the Senior Curator of Ethnology at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. He is the author of many articles on museology and ethnology and co-author of Nitsitapiisinni: The Story of the Blackfoot People.

Lloyd Binder is a third-generation reindeer herder. He is the co-owner of the Kennek Resource Development Corporation which owns a herd of 5,000 reindeer.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


The Reindeer Herders of the Mackenzie Delta tells a unique story: how two families, the Pulks of Norway and the Binders of the Canadian Western Arctic, joined together in marriage. However, the marriage of Ellen Pulk to Otto Binder was much more than just a joining of two families; it was the union of two circumpolar cultures -- Sami of Scandinavia and the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic. The incentive for the marriage was true love; the union of two cultures was a result of American and Canadian government efforts to stave off a famine in the Western Arctic in the late 1920s. Their idea was a simple one: to take Sami reindeer husbandry to the Inuvialuit.

The Sami are Scandinavia's indigenous people, a reindeer-herding culture of about 51,000 people, spread over the tundra lands of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Traditionally Sami have followed an annual season: reindeer calving took place between May and June; movement of the reindeer north to the Norwegian and Barents Sea coast happened between June and October; and the return of herds to interior forest lands for wintering near Sami settlements occurred from November to May While the richness of Sami culture and its close connection to the reindeer is well understood by Scandinavians, little is known of them in the rest of the world. Some may have read about "Lapps" and "Lapland," but modern Sami do not like the use of these old Scandinavian terms. The essence of their culture is best summed up by their maxim: "What is good for the reindeer is good for Sami."

The Canadian Inuvialuit are at home in the Mackenzie Delta communities of Aklavik and Inuvik, and the Beaufort Sea communities of Paulatuk, Holman, and Sachs Harbour. They are part of the great Inuit culture that still embraces whaling, caribou hunting, and fur trapping, along with present-day participation in the oil and gas developments in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. On June 5, 1984, they signed the Inuvialuit Final Agreement with the Government of Canada. This comprehensive land claim settlement has three goals: to preserve Inuvialuit cultural identity and values within a changing northern society; to enable the Inuvialuit to be equal and meaningful participants in the northern and national economy and society; and to protect and preserve Arctic wildlife, environment, and biological productivity The Binder family of Inuvik are beneficiaries of the Western Arctic Claim, and their family story shows how modern land-claims negotiations set the stage for traditional pursuits, like reindeer herding, to continue.

This story traces Sami Pulks and the Inuvialuit Binders from Norway across the north Atlantic, and by train, boat, foot, and hoof to Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. It is a circumpolar epic that proves both the power of an idea and the combined strength of northern cultures in a world of tundra, permafrost, caribou, and reindeer.

Michael P Robinson
President and CEO
Glenbow Museum

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