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The Sami / Inupiaq / Yup’ik Reindeer in Alaska & Canada Story
(Including important dates in contemporary Sami history)
By Nathan Muus

The Time of Oral Tradition It is known that prior to contact with the Europeans, both the Sami (Lapp) Peoples and the Inupiaq /Yup’ik (Eskimo) Peoples enjoyed self-sufficiency that was based on a spiritual relationship to Nature. Their technologies did not destroy the Arctic environment they shared. Then European colonizers began to move in. These newcomers based their religion and technologies on the domination of nature and the conversion and assimilation of Indigenous People.

When European colonizers moved into Sami areas, the drum, yoik singing, and spiritual traditions were outlawed, the Sami language was forbidden and the Sami culture was degraded when children were removed from their extended families and sent away to boarding schools.

In the 1800s many assimilated Sami began to emigrate to North America as “Scandinavians” or “Finns,” and hiding their Sami identity. When Russians began to colonize Alaska the Natives met them with heavy and often successful resistance. On the Aleutian Islands however, the violent confrontations led to the near extermination of the Aleuts, and laid waste to their homeland. And so begins our Sami / Inupiaq / Yup’ik chronology in Alaska.

1741: Vitus Bering, a Danish sea captain is employed by the Russian Czar to map land east of Siberia. He sights land on the southeast coast of Alaska, but is shipwrecked on Bering Island, west of the Aleutians and dies of scurvy, as do some of his crew. The survivors bring valuable sea otter furs back to Russia, and prove the material value of this land. Russian hunters soon arrive in the western Aleutians brutally clashing with the Aleuts.

1784: The colonization of Alaska by Russians begins.

1823: A Russian-American treaty permits the two countries to navigate and fish the Pacific Ocean.

1824: Russia claims Alaska as its territory, and controls it until 1867.

1852: The Kautokeino Rebellion by Sami of the Laestedian Lutheran sect takes place in northern Norway as a reaction against state and church domination and the sale of alcohol. A riot ensues, the local sheriff and liquor salesman are killed and the local pastor is roughed up. A number of people are put on trial and two are hanged. Their skulls are sent to the University of Oslo as labratory specimens.

The border between Norway and Finland is closed by the Russians. This disrupts reindeer migration routes.

1867: Alaska is purchased by the United States from Russia for $7,200,000.

1877: Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary, arrives in Alaska to set up a mission at Port Clarence on the Seward Peninsula.

1880: The Alaska Commercial Company brings 14 Chukotka reindeer to Bering Island, just east of the Chukotka Peninsula.

1884: On May 17th the U.S. Congress passes the Organic Act making Alaska a civil and judicial district. A Bureau of Education is set up to oversee Native education and welfare programs.

1885: Congress appoints Sheldon Jackson to be Alaska’s General Agent of Education. Jackson is also the superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Missions in Alaska. He sees boarding schools as a way to christianize the Native children.

1888: Two Sami, Samuel Balto and Ole Ravna, accompany explorer Fridtjof Nansen and two other Norwegians on an expedition across Greenland. Balto receives a silver medal from King Oscar II of Sweden-Norway. He writes a book in the Sami language about the expedition. He will later come to Alaska on the Manitoba.

1889: Russia closes the border between Sweden and Finland to reindeer migrations, this upsets Sami herders in four countries and leads to the overcrowding of animals and other problems. Some Sami quit herding.

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