Ublasaun Reindeer Herder Camp

Four reindeer running on the tundra.
Reindeer running on the tundra.

NPS Photo

 

The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve has many unique places within its boundaries. One place not
located on many maps is Ublasaun, a winter reindeer herding camp from the early part of the twentieth
century. Ublasaun has a history ranging back hundreds of years. The name Ublasaun means "first light"
in Inupiaq, which originates from young boys rising at first light to hunt for seals. In 1918, reindeer herders
set up a winter village at Ublasaun. Before reindeer herding, Alaska Natives depended heavily on hunting
sea mammals and wild caribou for survival. The introduction of reindeer, started to offset the gradual
disappearance of caribou on the peninsula, would change the way Alaska Natives interacted with the land of
the preserve for years to come.

Gideon Barr, a well-known Inupiaq elder, moved to Ublasaun with his family in 1918. His recollections
of living at Ublasaun help to paint a picture of what life was like for Alaska Native reindeer herders in the
early 1900s. Ublasaun was chosen as a winter reindeer herding camp because of the superior quality of
the pastureland in the area. Temporary houses were built in about three to four days from driftwood logs
and recycled materials. The houses were small with only enough room for close family members. An
elderly couple lived at Ublasaun full-time to help teach the younger generation. Barr had several mentors
during his time at Ublasaun. He remembered an elder teaching him how to hunt with a bow as a child.
The mentorship Barr experienced at Ublasaun was important to his growth because it helped him learn
the skills he would need as an adult. By 1925, with the changes to reindeer herding on the peninsula, Barr
and his family moved away from Ublasaun. The family reindeer herd was consolidated into other herds and
Barr moved to Deering to attend school. Still, Barr would remember the lessons he learned at Ublasaun for
the rest of his life.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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