New book showcases Indigenous Arctic cooking traditions and preparation methods

A reindeer ranch in Nome is nurturing a whole new generation of herders. (Photo by Mitch Borden/KNOM)

A unique guide that combines traditional knowledge of reindeer and caribou food preparation, as well as other Arctic recipes and cooking traditions, is expected to be released in a few months. The cookbook can provide Alaskans with new ideas for economic opportunities in a changing Arctic.

“It’s the plate with a lot of reindeer food. And it’s very traditional,” ViviAnn Labba Klemensson said in her video blog at is the reindeer’s tongue. It’s boiled and eaten as it is. It’s really delicious.”

“These are intestines filled with reindeer blood,” said Klemensson, a reindeer herder from the Swedish Sami people, describing some of her favorite dishes.

Klemensson’s video blog covers topics ranging from reindeer biology and herding techniques to commentary on development threatening his herd’s pastures and perseverance in a male-dominated profession.

“We’re actually doing something really essential,” Klemensson said from inside a cone-shaped lavvu, or tent. “We smoke reindeer meat. And it’s yum! It really is a delicious food, delicious when it is ready.

For indigenous peoples of the circumpolar north, nothing is wasted when harvesting domesticated reindeer or the larger migratory subspecies known as caribou. Everything from the animal is used.

The tendon is used for stitching. Skin, antlers and bones, of course, are used for clothing and tools.

“The Sami people and reindeer herders used a lot of skin and reindeer hide for making crafts,” Klemensson said in another segment of his video blog.

Now, perhaps for the first time ever, thousands of years of traditional knowledge are being compiled into a new book about Arctic culinary traditions and indigenous food culture. But it’s not just a cookbook.

“We call it more of a cookbook about people,” said Anders Oskal, director of the International Center for Reindeer Herding in Norway.

Oskal actually prefers to call it a cookbook.

“Traditional dishes, traditional ways of preparing food, traditional dishes, but also modern dishes, newer dishes,” Oskal said. “But we focused on what we might call the food systems of indigenous peoples of the Arctic and the culinary traditions that go with it.”

The project was commissioned by the Arctic Council with youth from various Arctic indigenous groups compiling traditional knowledge.

“We need to come up with long-term answers to this, which is one of the reasons why it makes great sense for us to work with young people,” Oskal said. “We need to work on these issues today. If we start working on this in 20, 30 years, we are going to lose it. We will run alongside the bike, so to speak.

Oskal said he wants to use traditional knowledge to develop local economies from within.

“It’s a path by which we can have development based on our own knowledge, our own premises and our own staff,” he said. “And try to make opportunities of a changing Arctic, opportunities for all.”

James Gamble of the Aleut International Association is one of the Indigenous representatives to the Arctic Council called permanent participants.

“It’s not just about reindeer,” Gamble said. “In the Aleutians, it’s pickled seal fins and other recipes from other permanent attendees.”

Gamble sees the food book as key to taking advantage of the latest educational and entrepreneurial opportunities opening up with potentially unsettling changes in a warming Arctic.

“But can we take advantage of it? asks Gamble. “There will be more shipping via the North Sea route. Does that mean there are more opportunities, for example, to bring groceries to different places and have a way to transport and sell things? »

Oskal said the food book is being edited and will be unveiled at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Fairbanks in May.


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