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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