Inupiaq of Alaska

     Inupiat of Alaska

Winter! The life of Inupiat People can be fairly much defined by that word and, at that far North, it is the greatest word of the language. Winter can last for as long as eight months some years, unrelenting the entire time. Their food, water supply, clothing, shelters, celebrations, spirituality, and world-view are all inter-dependent with snow, ice, temperatures colder than the freezing point, wind, and nights that last up to 24 hours for a few months of the year. The rapidly changing environment, melting ice, and changes in animal and bird behavior and migrations continue to impact the world of the Arctic People.

The area traditionally occupied by the Inupiat People in Alaska spans from most northern point of the U.S. & Canada International Boundary and then west along the coast of Alaska, down to the Seward Peninsula and Nome. Most lands that the Inuit occupy are quite flat and near sea level in elevation. The biome is tundra or rocky coast.

Traditional life meant a somewhat nomadic existence dictated by climate cycles and animal movements. Living on the mainland included sod and/ or animal bone frame houses, while life on the sea was conducted with watercraft, the kayak or umiak, when sea ice thawed. Clothing and bedding were of animal skins.vThe high caloric diet of seal mammals (blubber) provided the necessary means to stay warm in the intense cold. Spiritualism, based on the natural world and led in practice by shamans, guided the conduct of the people and established social norms.

Contemporary life still has many aspects of the traditional ways, but it is the materials of life—from white flour that gets flown into remote villages on a bi-weekly basis to aluminum skiffs with outboard engines—that has changed. The material change inevitably has affected other aspects of life as well. Religion has supplanted spiritualism to a certain degree. English is spoken and heard as often (or more often) as is Inupaiq, in all communities. While next week's existence now is more likely assured, unlike the past when it could be somewhat tenuous, the dependency on foreign items has perhaps sapped a joy and positive outlook. No matter, when winter comes around, traditional or contemporary, the climate dominates all.

Note: The Inupiat of Alaska and the Canadian Inuit are similar enough that they should be thought of as cultural brothers and sisters, rather than just cultural cousins. Part of that is due to the climate of their regions dominating their ways of life. The greatest differences that exist between this Peoples today might be as a result of having been exposed to and then governed by the United States or Canada.

Regarding art in particular, the U.S. Inupiaq artists lack the organizational support that the Canadian Inuit developed for their artisans through Co-ops, which are based in home villages. Over the last 30 years, Alaska Native Artist Co-ops in Anchorage have come and gone, part of the difficulty being that artists who locate there are removed from their villages and must face the challenges and economic consequences of city life. Some retail outlets exists, especially during winter events like the Fur Rendezvous when artists gather from all over the state of Alaska.

Raven Makes Gallery can acquire and sell works containing sea mammal parts, from Alaska Native Peoples, as defined by the Marine Mammals Act of 1972. We will not sell the item, however, if it is going to be taken outside of the U.S.