Alaska Native Heritage Center
INUPIAQ AND SAINT LAWRENCE ISLAND YUPIK
Who We Are
The north and northwest region of Alaska is vast. The land and sea are host to unique groups of people. To the people of the north, the extreme climate is not a barrier, but a natural realm for a variety of mammals, birds and fish, gathered by the people for survival.
The Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik tended to live in small groups of related families of 20-200 people. Population at time of contact included five main units:
House Types and Settlement
The people used a variety of designs and materials, but three key features were common:
Community houses, called qargis, were used as a work area in Inupiaq settlements.
Traditional Subsistence Patterns
Traditional subsistence patterns depend upon location and season of the resources, such as whales, marine mammals, fish, caribou, and plants. For instance:
Traditional Tools and Technology
The traditional Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik tool kit had a variety of stone, wood, bone and ivory tools made for butchering, tanning, carving, drilling, inscribing, sharpening and flaking. The bow drill was an important tool, used for starting fires, drilling holes in wood, bone, ivory. Hunting equipment and tool kits are kept in different containers.
A sophisticated package of toggle-headed harpoons, lances, lines, and seal bladder floats was used for the bowhead whale hunt. Seal skin floats are used for whale hunts, as are water-filled seal bladders which attract and lead bowhead whales closer to the shore.
Trade has always been important, but became even more important after the arrival of Europeans.
Traditional clothing consisted of outer and inner pullover tops (parkas or kuspuks / qiipaghaq - the outer garment); outer and inner pants, socks, boots (kamiks). Tops and pants were made of caribou skin, with the fur facing inward on inner garments and outwards on outer. The womans pullover had a larger hood for carrying small children, except on St. Lawrence Island, where they do not carry the baby in the parka. Gloves were made from various skins, with the fur turned inside and usually connected with leather strip around the neck. Waterproof outer garments made from sea-mammal intestines completed the wardrobe.
Ceremonial / Beliefs
Both groups believe in reincarnation and the recycling of spirit forms from one life to the next, both human and animal. Names of those who died recently are given to newborns.
Only if animal spirits are released can the animal be regenerated and return for future harvest. This explains the elaborate treatment of animals killed, even today.