This article has been archived from the now-defunct MSU E-Museum (http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/)
for educational purposes. Please visit our Article Archive Index for
further information. If the author of this article would like to make changes to it, or if you are the author of another article you would
like us to add to our archives, please contact us.
The Inupiat (or Inupiaq) are situated in Alaska stretching from Norton Sound to the Canadian border.
Best Known Features:
The one important traditional ceremony still actively participated in is the nalukatak, or spring whaling festival. This ceremony takes place at the end of the whaling season. Formerly, one of the purposes of the festival was to propitiate the spirits of the deceased whales and ensure through magical means the success of future hunting seasons. Now, a modern adaptation of this religious belief can be seen. Christian prayers of thanksgiving are now recited during the ceremony.
Prior to western contact, the Inupiat lived as an egalitarian society (no specified leader), using the available land and sea mammal population to support them. Disasters such as tidal waves, diseases and unseasonable climatic changes sometimes caused famine. Cooperative hunting linked families together, even if they only saw each other once a year and served as a major form of community solidarity. Common food sources for the Inupiat were seal, ugruk, duck, ptarmigan, walrus, seal, caribou and fish. Trapping and whaling were also important sources of food and trade goods. Groups of kin and friends regularly played games, told stories, danced and participated in various rituals.
With colonization the need to enter the wage labor system increased and the cooperative nature of Inupiat life changed. Instead of hunting, most families bought their food at the village store with their earnings. Not only were village members moving away to work seasonally as common laborers or cannery workers, but new residents outside the culture moved in as government public health centers were established for the Inupiat. At this same time, there was a steady increase of white male military personnel, construction workers, scientists and other outsiders. The Inupiat have had to learn to balance traditional life with the effects of colonization.