We’re listening to a traditional song of the Gwich-In tribe of northeastern Alaska. It’s a ritual welcome into the singer’s caribou skin hut. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
Caribou play a vital role in the traditions of many of Alaska’s native communities. Villages are built along traditional caribou migration routes, and many villagers rely on caribou for their meat and skins.
“My dad — he’s 86 years old, and he told me this morning when I came into his house. Is that, ‘Son I had a dream last night, a good dream.’ He said, ‘I see a lot of caribou that’s going to come into this village. So keep an eye out on the mountains for it.'”
Moses Sam, Jr., a Gwich-In hunter, tells us that, usually, the caribou follow the same migration path each year, but there are some years that the caribou just don’t come.
“There’s one year that I remember, that it didn’t came for all winter. If they shoot a caribou leader, that means they’ll turn around. So one year it happened. This hunters did that, and they shot its leader, and it turned around, and it just didn’t came around for the whole winter.”
If the caribou don’t return, then it’s time to fish and hunt for other game – like duck and moose.
“When there’s no caribou come around, there’s moose come around. That mean that we don’t get caribou, that we have to hunt for moose. That’s funny thing about moose and caribou, is that when there’s a caribou herd come into this area, the moose just moves away, and then when the caribou leaves, the moose return back –this same area. ”
Our special thanks to Gwich-In singer Sarah James. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.