Project Caribou
An educator's guide to wild caribou of North America

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Adapting Project Caribou - or how the Yukon is helping address caribou education efforts in Northwestern Alaska

by Sue Steinacher, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, Nome, Alaska

It was several years ago, and only a few months into my position as a wildlife information/education specialist with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, that I attended a conference where Remy Rodden had a display of wildlife education programs and materials from the Yukon. I immediately zoomed in Project Caribou, knowing that at some point in the future I would need to develop caribou education materials for the 42 villages that fall within the range of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd in northwestern Alaska.

Teachers in our Native villages have a tremendous need for locally relevant teaching materials. As my single position covers public information/education on a host of wildlife management issues from Bethel to Barrow - a huge territory encompassing over 100 remote villages - I simply don't have the time or budget to create quality curriculum materials from scratch. That why I turned to Remy and Project Caribou.

Project Caribou already had lesson plans on the biology and natural history of caribou, as well as activities that addressed the complex social and political issues surrounding caribou management. Even though these activities are obviously related to caribou in Canada, I have been promoting Project Caribou to teachers throughout northwestern Alaska. The fact that the materials are available on the web, and all the activities downloadable, is an incredible bonus! It costs me and the teachers nothing to have immediate access to these great teaching resources.

A year ago I had a village teacher who was following the 'Quality Schools' model of theme-based curriculum, and wanted to build his entire junior high curriculum, including language arts, social studies, math and biology, around the theme of caribou. Needless to say, I sent him directly to Project Caribou, which provided him the foundation for his teaching year. His students even went on to give a presentation at the 10th Annual International Caribou Workshop in Girdwood, Alaska, in May 2004.

I recently edited the latest edition of Caribou Trails (PDF file, 1.0 MB), a twice-yearly newspaper about the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which includes the wisdom of Elders, student writings, and the latest biological research on caribou. I wanted to create some lesson plans specifically related to the newspaper for the junior and senior high teachers in our villages, and asked Remy for permission to modify some of his Project Caribou activities. He not only gave me permission, but also provided me with the editable publication files on disk. You cannot imagine the savings of time and effort this affored me!

I was able to open and edit all of the Project Caribou files, and simply modify the terms, locations and issues to suit the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. I produced a packet of three lesson plans, which I recently mailed to 42 schools along with additional copies of Caribou Trails. Praises are already coming in from teachers, biologists, and the Native representatives on the regional Caribou Working Group.

It is my intention to keep working my way through the Project Caribou master files, editing as necessary, until I have an entire caribou-based curriculum about Alaska' Western Arctic Caribou Herd to offer teachers in northwestern Alaska.

With limited time and budgets, and an ever-increasing need for public understanding and support for the needs of wildlife, this sharing and modifying of education resources is immensely valuable. The people and the caribou of Northwestern Alaska thank you! Quyannapuk!

Download a file with three adapted activities (PDF, 373K)

The following is the article that ran along with the student writings in a recent edition of Caribou Trails. While it doesn't mention Project Caribou directly, many of the ideas that this teacher used in shaping his curriculum were drawn from Project Caribou.

Caribou in the classroom

The Bering Strait School District has encouraged teachers to build curriculum around a locally relevant theme. In 2003, White Mountain junior high teacher, Chris Brown, settled on the theme of caribou. The Onion Portage experience led to classroom projects that ranged from developing graphs and charts based on harvest assessment numbers, to creative writing projects about the experience of handling live caribou. These stories were published in local papers, on the ADF&G website, and now in Caribou Trails.

The students also joined local hunters on a caribou hunt, learning how to stalk, shoot and butcher a caribou. Each student prepared their own caribou dish, and the class hosted a caribou potluck for their families and village Elders.

Each student created their own computerized 'PowerPoint' slide show demonstrating math, science and writing skills all related to caribou. After the potluck the entire village was invited into the classroom and view the students' presentations

The highlight of the students' 'Caribou Year' came at the Tenth North American Caribou Symposium in Girdwood, Alaska, in May 2004, where together with their teacher and Jim Dau, ADF&G wildlife biologist, they gave a presentation to several hundred caribou biologists from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. The students' demonstration of the value of involving kids and communities with a caribou collaring project was met with enthusiastic applause, and was considered the highlight of the three-day event.!

Another Project Caribou Workshop: Annual conference of the Yukon Teachers Association (May 1-2, 2003)

A keen group of Yukon and northern BC teachers attended this workshop, choosing it over a great number of sessions on other important topics. The weather was great, and activities appreciated by all.

Our first Project Caribou Workshop: Annual conference of the Alaska Natural Resource and Outdoor Education Association (November 7-9, 2002)

Barren Ground Caribou MigrationAbout 30 people attended our first ever workshop in Anchorage, Alaska recently. By all reports, folks are impressed by the manual and will be able to use it in their various situations. A sunny afternoon and well-groomed lawn at the conference site encouraged us to get outside and try out the Barren Ground Caribou Migration activity (pdf here).

Special thanks to Pete Robirds for his help with the workshop.

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Img: Caribou Herd