This piece was inspired by my stay on Nunivak Island back in 1962. I was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to sketch the reindeer roundup. My son Juan, age 7, and I eagerly went up and stayed a month on this remote island. While I sketched the various harvesting scenes, Juan helped the men by wrestling reindeer to the ground so they could cut off the antlers.
What’s the difference between a reindeer and a caribou? They are the same beast but a reindeer is a caribou that has been domesticated. Sixteen reindeer were first brought to Alaska from Siberia in 1891 to provide meat for Native villages. The herd now is about 24,000 with another 950,000 caribou roaming free in Alaska. In 1962 the Koreans started showing up during the roundup to harvest the antlers. The antlers of the caribou are in velvet during late summer, and are used as aphrodisiacs.
Nunivak had around 10,000 reindeer on the 40 square mile island. When it was time to roundup, 6 runners and a dog would go by foot to break off 1000-2000 reindeer and herd them back to the village. The villagers would meet the herders and reindeer at the opening of a large coral, making a human extension of the entrance which fanned out quite a distance. The thousands of reindeer would stampede into the coral. That is the scene pictured here.