Caribou have been the mainstay for people on the Porcupine Caribou range for upwards of 20,000 years. For many of those centuries, caribou were hunted by ancestors of the Gwich'in, Northern Tutchone, Han, Inuvialuit and Inupiat peoples. Today these people reside in 16 communities scattered across Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Their lifestyles are a blend of ancient traditions and modern technologies.
Despite the many changes these communities have experienced, their strongest bond remains with the land and its wildlife, which each culture sees as its duty to respect and protect. Every year these bonds are renewed with the annual caribou harvest. At this time, many of the cultures' best traditions are revitalized in training young people to observe proper rules and best practices of the hunt, sharing of meat and giving thanks in time-honoured ways.
Most of these remote caribou communities cannot be reached by road. From a strictly economic point of view, caribou meat provides a healthy, nutritious staple which has no equivalent either in dollars or in quality. The price of beef that has been shipped across the continent to these isolated communities is staggering, compared to fresh caribou meat available for pennies a pound. It is easy to appreciate the concern each community exhibits for the herd, as the migration of caribou determines whether or not animals will be available for the coming year.
According to tradition, all parts of the caribou are used; there is no waste. To this day, the skins are used to make traditional clothing from head to toe – from hair pieces to moccasins – and ornamented with beadwork. Furs line mukluks and parkas for warmth and decoration. Bone and antler are fashioned into tools. The caribou heads are roasted over a fire and eaten. For special feasts, a delicacy of head soup is served. Bone marrow is extracted, cooked and eaten. Even the hooves are jellied and eaten.