The Inuvialuit - A Brief History

Bob Cockney

Inuvialuit have a rich history preserved in stories that were traditionally passed on by word of mouth, and for this reason are called oral histories. Many Inuvialuit oral histories tell about life in the era they call ingilraan - ‘a time long ago’ - when people lived on the land relying on skills and knowledge passed through the generations for survival. Inuvialuit today are also writing books, filming documentaries and preparing websites to communicate their traditions and history.

Image Description: Nuligak, also known as Bob Cockney (b. about 1895, d. 1966), shown in the centre in this photograph taken about 1955 with his brother Jim (l) and son Walter (r), remembered stories told to him by his elders and told them in turn to the next generation of Inuvialuit. He included information from oral histories in writing I, Nuligak, his autobiography that is also a history of the Inuvialuit. (Photo credit: Roman Catholic Church, Mackenzie Diocese, Yellowknife).

Frank Umoak

Archaeologists interpret past cultures based on the evidence they find in the ground. Arctic archaeologists suggest that the Inuvialuit descended from the Thule people, Inuit who moved eastward from Alaska nearly one thousand years ago and settled in the area around the mouth of the Mackenzie River. There they continued to use the ways of their ancestors for hunting on land, ice and water, and they also developed new skills such as hunting beluga whales from kayaks and fishing using nets.

Image Description: Inuvialuit elder Frank Umauk uncovering a beluga skull while assisting with the excavation of a 600 year old archaeological site near the mouth of the Mackenzie River in 2007 (Photo credit: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre).

Siglit Regional Groups

Regional Groups

By the 1800's, when they first came into contact with traders, missionaries, priests and other people they called Tan'ngit - 'foreigners' - several thousand Inuvialuit lived along the shores and in the hinterlands of the Beaufort Sea and in the outer Mackenzie River Delta. Inuvialuit oral histories and historical documents record the names of as many as eight regional groups who are remembered today as the Siglit. The meaning of that name has been lost to memory, and they are today referred to as the 'coastal people.'

The name of each Siglit regional group refers to a main gathering area where people lived in sod houses during the winter period. The suffix -miut that forms part of each name means 'people of' in Inuvialuktun.

Image Description: Regional coastal Inuvialuit groups in the early 1800s.



The Qikiqtaryungmiut territory included Herschel Island and the Yukon coast. The main winter village of the Qikiqtaryungmiut was Qikiqtaruk, which simply means 'island'. Maps today show Qikiqtaruk as Herschel Island.

Image Description: Engraving of a Qikiqtaryungmiut woman made from a sketch by Captain George Back in 1826 (Franklin, 1826).



The Kuukpangmiut territory was on the west side of the East Channel of the Mackenzie River. The main winter village of the Kuukpangmiut was Kuukpak, meaning 'Great River', and is also the Inuvaluit name for the Mackenzie River.

Image Description: Kuukpangmiut women and child, circa 1905. (Dartmouth College Library/Stef ms. 226)



The territory of the Kitigaaryungmiut was on the east side of the East Channel of the Mackenzie River. The main winter village of the Kitigaaryungmiut was Kitigaaryuk, referring to the shape of the 'high banks cut through by gullies' along this part of the shore.

Image Description: Ovayuk, shown third from the left in this photograph circa 1900, was a leader of the Kitigaaryungmiut in the late 1800s. (Photo credit: C.W. Mathers)



The territory of the Nuvugarmiut was on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. The main winter village of the Nuvugarmiut was Nuvuraq, meaning point of land. On maps, this area is called Point Atkinson.

Image Description: Winter houses at Nuvugarmiut, 1826 (Franklin, 1826). 

Raddi Kuiksak


The Imaryungmiut (also known as Inuktuyiut) occupied the area around the Eskimo Lakes. They ceased to exist as a regional group many years ago. Some Inuvialuit legends say they moved far to the east, and perhaps as far as Greenland. It is unknown if the Imaryungmiut had a main winter village. The name Imaryungmiut comes from Imaryuk, the Inuvialuktun name for Eskimo Lakes.

Image Description: Raddi Kuiksak, shown in this photo taken in Tuktoyaktuk circa 1948-56, was a descendant of the Imaryungmiut (Terrance Hunt/NWT Archives/N-1979-062-66).

Noulloumallok Innonaraana

Anderson River People

The Inuvialuit name for the Siglit who lived along the lower Anderson River and at Liverpool Bay has been lost to memory, although they may have been called Kuukugmiut after the Inuvialuit name for the Anderson River, Kuuk. The Anderson River People, as they are now called, dispersed after many of their numbers succumbed to foreign diseases in the 1860s.

Image Description: Noulloumallok-Innonarana, a 'chief' of the Anderson River people, circa 1865 (after a drawing by Émile Petitot, 1887).


No photographs exist of Avvarmiut.



Inuvialuit oral histories speak about people who lived at Franklin Bay, on the eastern fringes of their territory. An abandoned village called Iglulualuit, meaning 'many houses' may have been their main winter village. In keeping with naming practices elsewhere, the Inuvialuit who lived in that area may have called themselves Igluyualumiut or Igluyuaryungmiut.

Image Description: Archaeological sites, such as these remains of a sod house at Iglulualuit, and oral histories are the only surviving records of the Igluyuaryungmiut (D. Morrison/Canadian Museum of Civilization).



The Inuvialuit Settlement Region also includes western Victoria Island, the territory of people known as the Kangiryuarmiut - 'People of the large bay'. Up until the advent of the fur trade era of the early 1900s, when interactions with people to the west increased, the Kangiryuarmiut were more closely affiliated with Inuit of the Central Arctic who are known as the Copper Inuit.

Image Description: Water colour image of Inuit living in western Victoria Island during the winter of 1851/52 by Edward Adams, assistant surgeon on HMS Enterprise (courtesy of the archives of the Scott Polar Resarch Institute).



Starting in the late 1800s, several waves of Alaskan Inupiat immigrated to what is now the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Those who settled into the forested Mackenzie River Delta are known as Uummarmiut, 'People of the green trees and willows'.

In working together towards their land claim, Siglit, Uumarmiut and Kangiryuarmiut agreed to use the terms Inuvialuit - 'Real People' - to collectively refer to themselves, and Inuvialuktun to refer to their three dialects.

Image Description: Uuarmmiut couple (Fleming/NWT Archives/N-1970-050-0962)