Melting permafrost, erratic temperatures, forest fires—a perfect storm of global warming has helped cull the Porcupine Herd of caribou from 178,000 to 123,000. At stake is the sustenance of the millennia-old culture of the Gwich’in “caribou people” and hunters like Charley Swaney. But in a way we are all people of the caribou. If the ancient hunt is to endure, the United States and other industrial countries would have to eliminate or meaningfully reduce greenhouse gases. In doing so, members of the industrial world might be saving more than indispensable traditional knowledge. They might be saving themselves.

Nicolas Villaume, a French photographer based in Lima, is the director of Conversations du Monde and co-founder of Living Cultural Storybases. His work has been featured in a range of international exhibits and publications including Mother Jones, Magazine Grands Reportages, American Quarterly, and the Boston Globe. This photo essay is one of a series contributed to the Conversations with the Earth exhibit, which opens at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen on
December 7.

Laird Townsend, a freelance writer and editor specializing in social, environmental, and biocultural issues, is director of Project Word, a Massachusetts-based media NGO whose work has appeared in publications such as The Nation, Mother Jones, and the Boston Globe. This piece is part of a year-long reporting project on indigenous communities and climate change in more than a half-dozen countries.

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7 Comments on “Caribou People

  1. Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of selective information in such a clear way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the lookout for such selective information.

  2. Just want to add that it is really awfull how we are just consuming ever natural resource available on Earth. How will our children make it in the worl today. Please try to help by making some changes if not for me or yourself, do it for your children. I am doing my part here.

  3. There’s a scene in the first Matrix movie that pretty much sums up the human race, where Smith has Morpheus captured: “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

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