'I'm gonna miss the reindeer': Inuvik's chief reindeer herder hangs up his lasso

Henrik Seva, the chief herder of the Mackenzie Delta's reindeer herd, is moving back to Sweden after nearly 20 years on the job.

Henrik Seva is moving back to his native Sweden where he'll continue to work with reindeer

Henrik Seva, the chief reindeer herder of Inuvik's free range herd, is leaving Canada and heading back to Sweden after 17 years. Here he is at his camp on Richards Island, between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, on his last day of work. (submitted)

Henrik Seva spent his last day as a reindeer herder singing to the animals he looked after for nearly 20 years.

Seva, who grew up herding reindeer in northern Sweden, is retiring as chief herder of the Northwest Territories' free range herd — the only one in the country.

He said goodbye to the roughly 3,000 animals in his herd with a traditional Sami song.

"I yoik for them. It's a song that we used to sing for reindeer," he laughed during an interview on his last day of work.

"I used to yoik for the reindeer, because they are not fussy. I'm not a good yoiker."

In 1999, Seva moved to Tuktoyaktuk to work with the herd, and he gained a reputation for his adept taming skills.

"When I began to work with the reindeer, they were wild. Because the Inuvialuit reindeer herding system had been different than what I have grown up with."

In 2014, Anna Johannson, Henrik Seva's wife, trained Addjub to take part in Inuvik's Santa Claus parade. (submitted by Anna Johannson)

The herd's calving grounds were eventually moved to Richards Island, where Seva says he worked with the reindeer from infancy.

He was also instrumental in training reindeer for Inuvik's Christmas parade — something he did in Sweden, as well.

"I've grown up with sled deers, and I trained sled deers," he says. "We wanted to try it out here, and it worked out. People was happy with that, to see the reindeer in town."

'You have to love the reindeer'

Seva says the secret to a successful herd is simple.

"Main thing from the beginning, what I understand is, you have to love the reindeer, the animal you work with," he says.

"From that, you have already win a big step forward."

The herd of about 3,000 reindeer cross the ice road near Tuktoyaktuk on their way from their winter grounds at Jimmy Lake to their summer calving grounds at Richards Island. (David Thurton/CBC)

Seva says that successful herders need to spend a lot of time with the animals, getting to know their distinct personalities.

"They are individuals like everybody else."

Over the years, Seva says both Inuvialuit and Sami groups have worked with the herd, which he calls a "unique" arrangement that he was really happy to be involved in.

"What I gonna miss? I am sad, I'm gonna miss the reindeer and the land here. And then the people what I have met here."

But he won't be saying goodbye to reindeer. Seva is heading back to his own clan in northern Sweden, where he's planning on starting a tourism business, taking people on reindeer and sled dog rides.

However, he'll still take part in reindeer herding and training sled deers.

"In our tradition, we work until we can't do it anymore."

with files from Loren McGinnis and Marc Winkler