In bygone years Inuvialuit traveled widely, moving from location to location following an annual cycle of harvesting animals and some plants. They built and used several different types of dwellings depending on the season and where they were traveling. Today, Inuvialuit live in modern houses in towns but visit their camps on the land, where they continue to practice these same activities.
The photographs of seasonal activities shown here are from the early to mid - 1900s, just before and after Inuvialuit moved into permanent communities.
"During the period of darkness, (Inuvialuit) hardly left their igloos... the Inuit from the surrounding area would assemble... for the winter festivities." (I, Nuligak p.16)
1966 ‘I, Nuligak’. Translated and edited by Maurice Meteyer. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, Toronto.
Nuligak (Bob Cockney) was one of the first Inuvialuit to learn to read and to write. He was born about 1895, at a camp near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and lived until 1966, by which time most Inuvialuit had settled in modern communities. His autobiography, I, Nuligak includes oral histories told by his elders that had never before been recorded in writing.
People visit near the door to a snow-covered winter dwelling at Kittigaaryuk, circa 1925 (Danish National Museum/Fifth Thule Expedition/neg. 2845).
Raddi Kuiksak participating in a winter drum dance in Tuktoyaktuk, circa 1948-56 (Hunt/NWT Archives/N-1979-062-0066).
Winter in the Arctic is heralded by freezing temperatures, snow and days that shorten until the sun disappears below the horizon, and does not appear for weeks or months, depending on how far north you go. During the coldest period, people relied mainly on food caught and stored in other seasons for survival. Visiting and drum dancing are important social activities that create and strengthen bonds in the communities at this time of the year.
"At the beginning of spring the (Inuvialuit) scattered in all directions to hunt ..." (I, Nuligak p. 56)
An egging expedition to Manniliqpik, circa 1915 (R.M. Anderson/National Archives of Canada/172916).
'Looking Joe' ice fishing in spring (Jack and Kay Wood/NWT Archives/N-1988-041-0467)
In spring, as the days get longer and the weather becomes warmer, people are eager to go on the land. Favourite activities are hunting ducks and geese as they return from the south, and fishing through holes in the ice.
The very first among my early memories is of the white whale hunt... (I, Nuligak p. 15).
Butchering a beluga (white) whale at Horton River, circa 1935 (Charles Rowan/NWT Archives/N91-068-0475).
Margaret Cockney cutting and drying beluga whale meat for the winter, circa 1950 (Roman Catholic Diocese, Yellowknife).
Summer is the time of constant daylight, with many opportunities to hunt and fish. An abundance of beluga whales in the shallow waters at the mouth of the Mackenzie River provides a bounty that has supported a large population of Inuvialuit over the centuries.
"Thanks to our herring catch we had plenty of fish before freeze up. We dragged our nets…. There were traces of caribou. We followed them and found game… I had to make many trips to bring all the meat back to camp. (I, Nuligak p. 121)
Net fishing at Tuktoyaktuk, circa 1955. (Brown/NWT Archives/N-2001-002-3920).
Inuvialuit man and woman in winter clothing made from caribou skins, circa 1905. (modified from Mathers/NWT Archives/N-1988-039-0045).
In the Fall, as days shortened and the weather turned colder, people continued to hunt and fish in preparation for winter. Fish caught in nets were preserved by drying and by storing in pits dug into the frozen ground. The autumn skins of caribou were used to make winter clothing.
Next Page: Warm Season Dwellings