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 History of Reindeer in Alaska 

By the late 1880s, there were reports of starving Alaska Native populations in western Alaska due to the decimation of marine mammals from the whaling industry and scarce numbers of caribou. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a U.S. general agent for education and a Presbyterian missionary, lobbied for federal monies to assist Alaska Natives. He built mission schools and in the late 1800s introduced reindeer into Alaska from Russia as a source of protein and revenue. Reindeer were brought to Alaska on Captain Healy’s U.S. Revenue Cutter, the Bear. Siberian herders and then Saami herders were brought to western Alaska to teach Native Alaskans how to herd reindeer. The reindeer industry grew until there were over 600,000 animals present in the 1930s. Mismanagement and losses to wolves and caribou sparked a dramatic decline to only 50,000 reindeer by the 1950s. The Reindeer  Act of 1937 allows only Alaska Natives to own reindeer. Today there are approximately 30,000 throughout the state and 20,000 in western Alaska, with most living on the Seward Peninsula and in island herds.

From Reindeer Roundup - A K-12 Educator’s Guide to Reindeer in Alaska


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