Meet the Iņuit
GO HOME, RIVER is a story of Iñuit (Eskimo) life on the Kobuk River in Northwest Alaska. The Iņuit of the Kobuk River contradict many Eskimo stereotypes. They live inland among trees rather than on the coastal tundra. They depend primarily on fish and caribou, rather than on marine mammals. They speak the same language as Iņuit throughout the Arctic, but have developed unique technologies such as birch bark kayak. They live in one of the more remote areas of Alaska, hundreds of miles from the nearest road. Today they enjoy many technological advances, but still depend on subsistence hunting and fishing for their livelihood.
The story told in Go Home, River occurs about 1875, before direct contact between Iņuit and Europeans on the upper Kobuk River. Most men and teenage boys spent summer and early fall hunting caribou and sheep in the mountains, while elders, women, and children remained in fish camps. But a few, like the family in this story, had a different life than their fellows. They journeyed every summer to the coast to trade.
Trade was an important aspect of traditional life. Long before European and Asian traders arrived in the Arctic, ivory, jade, and fur moved thousands of miles along a network of trade routes. One of the most important trade events in the Arctic occurred each summer at Sisualik, a long gravel spit about 10 miles northwest of the modern community of Kotzebue. It was a perfect location, near the mouths of three major rivers and rich in fish and marine mammals to feed the traders.
The Sisualik trade fair was well known among explorers, whalers, and traders. One who visited the fair in 1884 estimated that 1,200 people gathered to watch a single dance. Although the fairs primary purpose was trade, it was a major political and social event. A truce prevailed among warring Iņuit nations, and warriors aggression was channeled into intense contests of endurance and skill. The Sisualik fair would have been an exciting place for an Iņuit child.
From Alaska Northwest Books
For information contact Jim Magdanz
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