Building Leadership Capacity with Rural Alaskan Youth

Final report for OW16-031

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2016: $49,355.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Greg Finstad
University of Alaska Fairbanks
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Project Information


Our goal is to use the 4-H model coupled with reindeer herding in our sponsored events to develop the practical skills, leadership and business acumen in youth to expand agricultural (economic) production in underserved rural Alaskan communities. We anticipate giving youth the opportunity to develop a connection with the local landscape, livestock and a unique lifestyle that provides food and employment for local communities and overall food security for the state. We believe if the youth are not just exposed, but immersed in the unique activities of a reindeer producer they will develop the practical and leadership skills and passion for developing a reindeer business.

Project Objectives:

To engage youth of rural Alaskan communities to build leadership and life skills. 4-H sponsored camps were conducted during the summer of 2017 with youth from geographically isolated villages in Alaska. The theme of each camp was designed to fit the local environmental and cultural context of each location.


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  • Dr. Lauren Divine


Materials and methods:

This is not a research project but instead educational and outreach

Participation Summary
3 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

6 Consultations
14 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
20 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Tours
16 Webinars / talks / presentations
11 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

20 Farmers participated
10 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:

A camp held in the village of St. Paul on St. Paul Island of the Pribilof Islands. This camp was offered to 10 youth, ages 8-18. St. Paul Island is a 40 square mile island with a small subsistence reindeer herd of less than 300 reindeer. The purpose of this camp was to introduce youth to reindeer ecology, proper harvesting and meat processing techniques, and permitting requirements to establish a commercial reindeer meat enterprise. The student were also given instruction and an experience in field data collection.

The participants were given instruction on local land use and were given instruction on  what permits were required for harvesting of reindeer . Participants were given instructions and demonstrations with hands on experience on the equipment needed to have a successful hunt. Most, if not all, of the youth had previously participated in a hunter safety course earlier in the year. After safety and permits had been covered the youth ventured out on to the tundra. They learned about minimizing their footprint in certain sensitive areas of the island, what vegetation reindeer eat, and how to identify scat and tracks of reindeer and other animals. Unfortunately, no reindeer were found (it was a very foggy day, typical of St. Paul weather), but there were fur seal and fox sightings.

A reindeer had been harvested prior to the camp which was used and to provide experiential learning.  The participants were able to skin, debone, and process the carcass into retail cuts. They gained knowledge in differences of meat characteristics and quality of the different muscle groups, how to grind meat in to burger, and how to cook the meat. Additionally, they were able to dissect the skull which led to discussions about adaptations of reindeer; teeth, antlers, and animal diseases and herd health. As with many dissection projects, some participants were hesitant to get their hands dirty, but by the end there wasn’t a clean knife left on the table.

For the second event youth and chaperones were flown to Fairbanks from the interior Alaska villages of Ruby and Steven’s Village and were transported to the Steven’s Village Bison Farm in Delta Junction, Alaska for a 4 day overnight camp. Participants first toured the Reindeer Research Program facility located at the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Fairbanks. They were able to interact with a 70 head herd of reindeer and were exposed to animal nutrition, animal husbandry, pasture management, and facility design. Participants fed and handled and socialized with the herd of reindeer. Over the next three days participants were taken on a tour of of a slaughter facility and retail outlet; Delta Meat and Sausage where they watched facility staff slaughter and process a reindeer from hoof to sausage.  The youth participated in a hands on demonstration of the techniques of hide processing and brain tanning. During the camp a number guest lectures were given by Alaska Farm to School Program staff on reindeer economics. To promote responsibility and leadership the youth were responsible for helping farm staff with daily chores which included feeding and watering reindeer and bison, picking lichen and bottle feeding a bison calf.

The final 4-H sponsored Reindeer Youth Camp was conducted July of 2018. Ten youth participants from interior Alaska villages congregated at the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (AFES) to utilize the Reindeer Research Program (RRP) reindeer herd. The two 2017 camps taught participants different aspects of the reindeer industry, but both locations lacked a facility where participants could gain hands-on reindeer handling experience. To keep with the rural component of the camp, youth and chaperones were flown in from Tanana, Ruby, Venetie and Shageluk. The villages of Tanana and Ruby are actively trying to acquire reindeer so this camp was particularly beneficial to those participants.

Camp days were broken down in to themes. Participants learned about reindeer from the ground up. The first day was a basic introductory day with airport pick-ups, a short lecture on reindeer in Alaska (history, adaptations, etc), followed by a tour of the RRP facility. The second day was Reindeer Nutrition. Camp participants listened to a lecture on nutrition/feed and compared what fenced herds eat to free range herds. The youth then weighed out the feed and fed the reindeer. The afternoon was full of activities which included stacking hay in the barn, harvesting willows and fireweed on the farm, followed by lichen picking on a local hill approximately 20 miles from the farm. The youth were able to see the differences in vegetation and the amount of work it took to harvest the different types of reindeer feed.

Day 3 consisted of a lot of hands-on reindeer time, perhaps the most fun of all the days. The morning lecture covered proper herding and handling techniques in order to prepare the youth for the rest of the day’s activities. Youth were able to take turns walking Roger, the halter trained reindeer, around the farm. They practiced herding the reindeer out of the pastures and in to the corral. When the reindeer were in the corral, the youth took turns “pushing” one reindeer in to the squeeze chute, using the squeeze chute, ear tagging, weighing, and writing down data.

The final day was reindeer processing. A lecture on meat quality and value added products prepared the youth for the tasty portion of the camp. We were fortunate to fly in an elder from Beaver, Alaska who showed the youth how to tan reindeer hides. The youth not only learned the process of hide tanning, they also learned all the tools and techniques in Gwich’in, the Alaska native language of the area. Paul Williams Jr. was a remarkable guest speaker. After lunch participants cut up a reindeer carcass, continued hide tanning and the camp concluded with a reindeer steak barbecue.

Two youth from Ruby had participated in the 2017 Reindeer youth camp and were eager to return this year. All other participants were new and had minimal contact with reindeer prior to the camp. These camps have been a great introduction to the reindeer industry for Alaskan youth. The benefit of having a university herd where youth can get hands on herding and handling experience was significant. The connection to the reindeer was greatly improved when the youth were able to feel, smell, see, and taste the reindeer. Multiple participants asked about Reindeer Camp for next summer.

18 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Our future goal is to bring in more youth and adult leaders into 4-H. Interior Alaska is unique in that youth are spread throughout many villages and may not live in their village year round. For example, the 4 participants from Ruby attend 4 different schools in 4 different locations: Ruby, Galena Interior Learning Academy, Nenana and Lathrop High School in Fairbanks. This adds to the complexity of a ‘local’ 4-H chapter. But there is interest in a 4-H reindeer group and the summer of 2018 we plan to bring in more youth participants and adult leaders to help start a local 4-H Reindeer Club.

There are obstacles with forming a local 4-H chapter in Rural Alaska due to the geographic spread and isolation of youth participants. The 4 villages that participated in the 2018 reindeer youth camp are 60 (closest 2) to nearly 500 miles from each other. If youth were interested in a year round 4-H chapter, I would suggest getting the schools involved, perhaps as an after school program. The Internet would be available for Skyping or online discussions so youth could talk among villages. The summer Reindeer Camps are great for teaching hands-on reindeer handling and herding techniques, but continued teaching on economics and nutrition for example could be accomplished without being in the same village at the same time.

13 Producers reported gaining knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness as a result of the project
Key changes:
  • We are strengthening a local food production system by cultivating youth enterprise in local. Participants in the reindeer 4-H club now know the employment opportunities available to them in a food production system. The members have practical training and a hands on experience for many of the activities associated with taking a product from the pasture to plate. The 4-H members are now able to identify and seek the level of training and or education that is required to attain those jobs. In addition, being a part of the 4-H club has fostered a connection to their local culture and a self-determining industry.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.