A Gift from a Far-away Land
In July of that year, 1909, the summer supply ship, the
North Star, anchored off the gravel spit of Sivukuk Village. The Eskimos all gathered at the shore to see what would be delivered to the village.
As they watched, they were surprised to see animals begin jumping off the ship into the water. Men in two boats herded the animals towards the shore and as the animals climbed up on the beach, the Eskimos exclaimed in surprise. The animals had big antlers but were different from the elk they had heard about.
“What are they?” asked one.
“These are reindeer from a far-away country,” the teacher, Mr. Campbell, said. “Mr. Sheldon, the superintendent, has sent them for you as a gift. Now, if there is another time of hungering, you will have second source of food.”
There was much nodding and approval among the villagers. The four men who got out of the boats were dressed in strange, very colorful clothing and each carried a staff.
“These men,” Mr. Campbell explained, “Have come from that far away country, called Lapland, to teach you how to care for the reindeer. These animals live in a climate very similar to yours and can live on lichens alone. They are very hardy, and their meat is good.
Following Mr. Campbell’s directions, the Lapland herders led the reindeer by the village and up on the small mountain behind the village towards the center of the island where there was food for them.
Other than polar bears, there were no natural predators to threaten the reindeer, and, as they would live inland, the bears were unlikely to find them. The reindeer also could not run off with a herd of caribou as they had done on the mainland, for there were no such animals on the Island.
Mr. Campbell had already selected several of his promising believing students to become herders. The Laplanders, who knew some English, began to teach these new herders how to care for the reindeer, which looked quite bewildered after their journey aboard ship and swim ashore, but the Laplanders led them confidently and they followed.
The central part of the island had lichens growing on rocks, as well as short tundra grass for the reindeer to feed on. The Laplanders had brought their equipment to use the reindeer as beasts of burden and loaded their supplies on them to make the trip inland.
Several of the budding Eskimo herders led the troop up into the center of the island to an area with several fresh-water springs. There the Laplanders set up camp.
The land was similar to the terrain in Lapland, so the reindeer quickly adjusted. By the time the supply ship made its return stop before going to Seattle, the Laplanders were ready to leave with it. The Eskimos had learned all they needed to know for the care and use of the reindeer. Other than dogs, this was the only kind of domesticated animal they had seen. And domesticated was not exactly the correct term. More like semi-wild animals.
The Eskimo reindeer herders settled in an old summer hunting camp called Savoonga, which was halfway down the north shore of the island, about 100 miles from the village of Sivukuk. This spot was closer to the grazing range of the reindeer.
The Eskimos soon abandoned the idea of using the reindeer for beasts of burden, as they had all the help they needed from dogs. But the herders carefully checked on their charges often and at various times, several deer were harvested, and the meat shared in both Savoonga and Sivukuk.
So, the missionaries added another blessing to the many they had brought to the Eskimos.