Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

Ninety years ago, a 3,000-strong herd of reindeer led by a Sámi herder, made a five-year-long journey to Canada to replace declining caribou. What the government had hoped would be a solution to food scarcity was not so simple, finds Karen Gardiner.

Through swirling snow, I can barely pick out the reindeer. To my eyes, streaming from bitter cold, they’re scarcely distinguishable from the dwarf birch and stunted spruce that, bent by the Arctic elements, are strewn across the snow-blanketed tundra. Tony Lalong, the herder who my small group followed here, signals to us that we may move forward, a little, on our Ski-Doos. Gently, though, so we don’t startle the skittish creatures.

We’re in the far north of Canada’s Northwest Territories, a remote landscape in the Canadian Arctic. Our guide, from Inuit-owned Tundra North Tours has driven us up from Inuvik, Canada’s largest community north of the Arctic Circle, and far off the highway that runs through the eastern channel of the Mackenzie Delta. From here, we ride our Ski-Doos onto the winter grazing grounds of Canada’s only reindeer herd.

We creep to around a hundred feet’s distance, from where I can hear their snuffling and see their warm breath in the frosty air. Hundreds of reindeer, huddled close despite the vast range at their disposal. But if these creatures seem to lack the wildness of this place, it’s because they’re not from here.