Being part of the Herd
I had the chance again this year to go see the only free-range Canadian herd of reindeer in the Mackenzie Delta (Northwest Territories, Canada) at the end of March. Every year during early spring, a group of herders move the reindeer from their wintering area at Jimmy Lake to their calving grounds on Richards Island. During that migration they cross the ice road at midway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit hamlet located on the shore of the Arctic Ocean.
For this very particular event, the RCMP police officers allow the herders to define a specific segment on the road where they will lead the herd to cross. Then they close the road for a couple of hours until the herd has safely joined the hills on the other side. Reindeer are semi-domesticated but they still remain wild animals, it is so impossible to know exactly at what time they will cross the road. That is adding some excitement to our waiting. Suddenly, we see the herd appearing at the horizon. More than 3.000 reindeer coming closer and closer, straight to us, leaded by only two herders. That is pretty breathtaking; the firsts reindeer to cross the road are a little bit hesitating and shyly looking at people. Then when those firsts ones have joined the other side of the road, the rest of the herd follows confidently.
This year for the 80th anniversary, some herders from Russia and Norway came to join the local herders and celebrate the event. It was very nice to witness this exchange of tradition, listen to traditional songs by one of the Norwegian herder and meet the elders.
Visit the stories section to see the complete gallery Mackenzie Delta Reindeer Herd.