Each year, the image of the reindeer finds its way onto cards, sweaters and into people’s imaginations, but to the world’s Indigenous peoples of the Arctic, the animal is not just for Christmas.
As news emerges that the world’s largest reindeer herd is in serious decline, and that RAIPON, an organization representing Indigenous peoples in Russia has been ordered to close, Survival International has published a seasonal picture gallery to emphasise the reindeer’s key role in the lives of the world’s northern tribes.
Survival International has campaigned for the rights of reindeer herding tribes in Siberia, and those of the Innu tribe in north-eastern Canada for decades.
The gallery uses images and words to tell twelve fascinating stories, including:
- More than 500 reindeer and Sámi herders sailed from Norway to New York City in 1898 as part of the ‘Reindeer Project’, which aimed to introduce the practice of herding and husbandry to the Indigenous Inupiat people of Alaska.
- The Eveni people have more than 1,500 words to describe the body parts, diseases, diets and moods of their reindeer.
- The Nenets tribe of Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula migrate seasonally with their reindeer along ancient migration routes. Their lands and way of life are threatened by resource extraction.
- Every autumn hundreds of reindeer belonging to the Sámi tribe swim across the waters of Norway’s Kågsundet fjord, migrating between their summer pastures and the wintering mainland.
Today, however, the development of huge industrial projects in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions is harming the lives of reindeer herding peoples.
© Alex Andrew
Migration routes are being disrupted, vital grazing grounds destroyed, and previously plentiful herds reduced to a fraction of their previous size.
One Nenets man told Survival, ‘The reindeer is our home, our food, our warmth and our transportation.’
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘For many people around the world, reindeer are synonymous with the festive season. Few of us know, perhaps, that for various northern tribes the animal is integral to their survival and their human story. It is a great tragedy that the burgeoning Arctic extractive industry is exacting such a heavy toll on reindeers and their herders alike.’
View Survival’s gallery ‘People of the Reindeer’