“Caribou meat is our meat since I was born. I was raised with it. The skin was my clothes. The meat was my diet and the broth was my drink… Without caribou meat, what would I eat...?”
Rachel Riley, Nunamiut Elder
In Northern Alaska, people and caribou have lived in a close, intricate relationship for at least 11,000 years. Caribou have been vitally important for the survival of all native people whose homelands are now partially encompassed by Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve—Nunamiut Eskimos, Eskimo people of the Kobuk and Noatak Rivers, and Koyukon Indians.
For some tribes, caribou is just part of a diet which also includes other game, fish and marine mammals. But for inland mountain people—the Nunamiut Eskimos—caribou is by far the single most important food source. Since a time far beyond memory, Nunamiut people have eaten meat, fat, and many other parts of caribou and have sipped broth made from caribou meat and bones. Caribou skin clothing—parkas, pants, boots, socks and mittens—has protected them from the arctic cold. They have slept under caribou skin blankets and have sheltered in caribou skin tents. Caribou hides have also provided rawhide line for making snowshoes and sleds. And sinew from caribou tendons, in single or braided strands, has been used to make nets to catch ptarmigan and fish, as lashing for hunting tools, and as a strong and durable thread.