One of the key scenes in the Miss Navajo beauty pageant is when contestants must slaughter a sheep. Well, for the Sami – aka the Reindeer People – it’s all about Reindeer. The freezer in the entrance hall of the house we were staying in was stuffed with reindeer. They eat reindeer with everything. Smoked. Boiled. Stewed. Even reindeer omelettes for breakfast.
And according to John, who came round to cook us reindeer, the way to kill the animal is to cut its throat out in the wild and then drain the blood because a) it makes for better dried meat and b) the way to show respect and be sure the reindeer is happy when it dies. Slaughterhouse meat is invariably spoiled by the fear the animals experience. I only ever thought of Reindeer as mythical things pulling Santa’s sleigh. But out here reindeer are the backbone of the Sami economy. Shoes, gloves, hats, and coats are all made out of reindeer. If they had dollar bills, they would put reindeer heads on them instead of Uncle Sam’s.
Inger – who here looks like a contestant from America’s Next Top Model – attends Reindeer University in Kautokeino, and was our guide and took us out to the tundra to hang with the herd. Because they really love them, too. The other interesting thing about the Sami is that they are huge fans of That ’70s Show. Particularly Fez.
– Text and photos by Fenton Bailey