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St. Paul to revitalize on-island reindeer meat processing

Ethan Candyfire
Reindeer were first brought to St. Paul in the early twentieth century, and subsistence hunting has been consistent since then.

The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the tribal government on St. Paul, was recently awarded a federal grant worth over $668,000 to commercially process reindeer meat. The tribe hopes the venture will open new revenue streams and lower prices in the island’s community store.

Lauren Divine, who directs the tribe’s wildlife research and management department, said the grant came after “persistent efforts” to give the tribe a more active management role over the island’s reindeer herd.

“We were looking at how we could develop the field protocols to harvest the reindeer and get meat to the grocery store to provide a low-cost, locally-produced, organic, healthy protein source to tribal members,” Divine said.

Reindeer were first brought to St. Paul in the early twentieth century, and subsistence hunting has been consistent since then.

With the grant, the tribal government wants to create two to three new jobs and fill those positions with experts in field butchering and safe processing.

“You need to have a team that can communicate, work in the field together, and be able to shoot multiple reindeer within a short timeframe — and then go through the entire butchering process as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Divine said. “The field protocol is very particular. In order to be able to sell the meat or sell any products from the meat, everything is very highly regulated.”

The reindeer meat will be sold fresh and frozen in the Aleut Community Store, with priority given to St. Paul residents. Divine also hopes to explore potential export opportunities to specialty markets in Anchorage. Some of the meat is expected to be donated to the local food bank, which is owned and operated by the tribal government.

“Everyone is very excited to see this get off the ground,” said Divine. “I am so thankful that it's a multi-year grant, and that it gives us the time to really look at three years of building and developing the programs so that we can have that time to fine-tune everything and be ready to transition into a longer-term implementation plan.”

Products are expected to be on the shelves next year.

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy Lusk is a writer, travel enthusiast and seafood aficionado who won the jackpot by landing in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. When he's not hiking or working on his latest story, you can find him curled up with his cats and a good book. Andy is a Report for America corps member and an alumnus of New York University.
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