Commercializing caribou - what is culturally appropriate?

Posted: February 27, 2012 1:00 p.m.

Aldene Meis Mason is a specialist in Indigenous entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Business Administration.
Aldene Meis Mason is a specialist in Indigenous entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Business Administration. Photo: U of R Photography Dept.

Caribou is a staple food in small, isolated Arctic communities and has been for generations, but the Inuit have just begun to commercialize this resource in the last ten years.

Aldene Meis Mason, a specialist in Indigenous entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Business Administration, has travelled the north to talk to Inuit leaders and explore with them how caribou could be used in ways that are culturally appropriate.

Meis Mason's work, done in collaboration with Dr. Robert Anderson of the Faculty of Business Administration, began with studying opportunities for meat processing. She also looked at other uses of caribou and most recently zeroed in on health uses.

Commercial caribou hunts are held as a herd control measure, and the meat is sold in national and international markets. 

Meis Mason says the Inuit are also open to the sale of caribou products for health purposes if the government allows it, but they won't consider selling products for cosmetic purposes.

Their number one concern is protection of caribou as food — they don't want to create a demand that would put its availability as food at risk. They are also adamant that there shouldn't be waste and the caribou should not be penned.

"The Inuit wouldn't want people to kill caribou just for parts to sell because this is their food security," she says.

Meis Mason has also studied how the Sámi, the Indigenous peoples of Sweden, use reindeer. This was of special interest to the Inuit because they are looking to learn from studies of other northern peoples.

The Inuit Caribou Case is part of a larger Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research project titled Finding the Balance in the Bio-Economy: New Partnerships between Indigenous Socioeconomic Enterprises, Research Institutions and Corporations (principal investigator Robert Anderson).