Old Crow, Yukon — After five months of migrating on foot with the 123,000-member Porcupine Caribou Herd, the Being Caribou expedition has completed a full circle from Old Crow, Yukon Territory in Canada to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and back.
Karsten Heuer, wildlife biologist, national park warden and author, and wife Leanne Allison are back in Old Crow tonight — thin and tired but well, and already knowing they will miss the caribou, the pristine and unpopulated land, and the difficult but poignant experience of life, death, hunger, thirst, discovery and ultimate simplicity of Being Caribou.
“We’re at a phone booth outside the RCMP office in a fly-in community of 300 people. There’s a grader working on one of the four or five gravel streets. We’re feeling a completely different kind of culture shock than most people experience when they come to Old Crow,” laughed Karsten. “We’re overwhelmed by the humanity and technology.”
They were welcomed to the remote Gwich’in community by medicine man Randall Tetlichi, who whisked them away for a specially-prepared traditional sweat to help them “turn from caribou people back into people people”, explained Tetlichi, and handle the depression of leaving the land that he and many Gwich’in foresee.
Karsten and Leanne present their observations to lawmakers, Canadian Embassy staff and environmental delegates in the United States. Their research comes at the opportune time with new debates on the Energy Bill and renewed vows to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the calving grounds to oil and gas development.
The couple plans to take their Being A Caribou experience on a tour this winter. Go to beingcaribou.com for more info.