Copper Inuit

Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Northwest Territories;

Western Canadian Inuktitut
(also referred to as Inuvialuktun;


Animism; Shamanism

Holman, 1980s

Copper Inuit (or Kitlinermiut) are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in Nunavut's Kitikmeot Region and the Northwest Territories's Inuvik Region. Most historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.

Their western boundary was Wise Point, near Dolphin and Union Strait. Their northwest territory was the southeast coast of Banks Island. Their southern boundary was the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake, Contwoyto Lake and Lake Beechey on the Back River. To the east, the Copper Inuit and the Netsilingmiut were separated by Perry River in Queen Maud Gulf. While Copper Inuit traveled throughout Victoria Island, to the west, they concentrated south of Walker Bay, while to the east, they were concentrated south of Denmark Bay.[2]

As the people have no collective name for themselves, they have adopted the English term, "Copper Inuit".[3] It represents those westernmost Central Inuit who used and relied on native copper gathered along the lower Coppermine River and the Coronation Gulf.[4]

According to Rasmussen (1932), other Eskimo referred to Copper Inuit as Kitlinermiut, as Kitlineq was an Eskimo name for Victoria Island.[5]



Early millennia

Copper Inuit are descendants of Thule culture. Changes in the local environment may have resulted in the transition from prehistoric Thule culture to Copper Inuit culture, a modern people.[2]

For approximately three millennia[6] Copper Inuit were hunter-gatherer nomads. Their settlement and acculturation to some of European-Canadian ways has occurred only during the last 50–60 years, and they have also continued the hunting and gathering lifestyle.[7]

They lived in communal snowhouses during the winter and engaged in breathing-hole (mauliqtoq) seal hunting. In the summer, they spread out in smaller, family groups for inland caribou hunting and fishing.[1]

The people made copper arrows, spear heads, ulu blades, chisels, harpoons, and knives for both personal use and for trade amongst other Inuit. In addition to the copper products, Copper Inuit soapstone products were highly regarded in the Bering Strait trade network.[8] Other trade partners included Inuvialuit from Avvaq and Caribou Inuit to the south.[9] Many Copper Inuit gathered in the Cambridge Bay area in the summertime because of plentiful game.[10]

Post-Euro-Canadian contact

In 1771, Samuel Hearne was the first European to explore the Coppermine River region. It was here that Hearne's Chipewyan Dene companions massacred a Copper Inuit group at Bloody Falls.[1] Further exploration did not take place until the period of 1820-1853, which included the Sir John Franklin expeditions of 1821 and 1825. John Rae encountered Copper Inuit at Rae River in 1847, and at Cape Flinders and Stromness Bay in 1851.[11] Robert McClure abandoned his ship, HMS Investigator, at Mercy Bay on Banks Island in 1853 during his search for Franklin's lost expedition. It provided extensive amounts of wood, copper, and iron which the Copper Inuit used for years. Richard Collinson explored the area in 1850-1855.

20th century

Believing that the Copper Inuit had migrated to Hudson Bay for trading at various outposts, the Canadian government's 1906 map marked Victoria Island as "uninhabited".[1] It was not until the early years of the 20th century that trading ships returned to Copper Inuit territory. They followed Vilhjalmur Stefansson's discovery and report of the so-called Blond Eskimos amongst Copper Inuit[12] from his Arctic exploration trip of 1908-1912.[13] During the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918, Canadian ethnographer Diamond Jenness spent two years living with and documenting the lives of Copper Inuit. He sent thousands of artifacts of their material culture to the Geological Survey of Canada.[14]

Along with trade, European contact brought influenza and typhoid. These newly introduced infectious diseases likely weakened resistance of the natives. Between 1929 and 1931, one in five Copper Inuit died from a tuberculosis epidemic. Around the same time, the whaling industry deteriorated. Alaskan Inupiat and Mackenzie Delta Inuvialuit came into the Coronation Gulf area to co-exist with the Copper Inuit.[9] The first Holman-area (Ulukhaktok) trading post was established in 1923 at Alaervik, on the north shore of Prince Albert Sound, but it closed five years later. The post relocated to Fort Collinson on Walker Bay, north of Minto Inlet. Two other stores opened in Walker Bay but closed by 1939, in the years of the Great Depression.


In 1960, the federal government shipped three housing units to Holman, and another four in 1961. In the years to follow, some families moved to Holman permanently, while others lived there seasonally. Some Copper Inuit moved to the communities of Coppermine (Kugluktuk) or Cambridge Bay. Still others gravitated to outposts along Bathurst Inlet, Contwoyto Lake, Coronation Gulf, and on Victoria Island.[15]

The Copper Inuit have gradually adopted snowmobiles, satellite dish television service, and Christian churches. Many young people now speak English rather than Inuinnaqtun. Together, these introductions have created social change among the Copper Inuit.[1]



Copper Inuit traditionally speak Inuinnaqtun[16] and Western Canadian Inuktitut (also referred to as Inuvialuktun).[17]

Habitat and diet

Historically, Copper Inuit lived amongst tundra, rocky hills, outcrops, with some forested areas towards the southern and southwestern range. Here they hunted Arctic ground squirrel, Arctic Hare, caribou (barren ground and Peary's herds), grizzly bear, mink, moose, muskox, muskrat, wolf, and wolverine. They fished in the extensive network of ponds, lakes, and rivers, including the Coppermine, Rae, and Richardson Rivers, which sustained large populations of fresh water arctic char (also found in the ocean), grayling, lake trout, and whitefish. The marine waters supported codfish, bearded seal, and ringed seal.[15] Ducks, geese, guillemots, gulls, hawks, longspurs, loons, plovers, ptarmigans, and snow buntings were also part of the Copper Inuit diet. They liked raw but not boiled eggs.[18] They used and cooked food and products from the sea, but kept them separate from those of the land.[19]


Copper Inuit wore short-waisted inner parkas accented with long, narrow back tails, and sleeves that came short of the wrist. In severe weather, they added a heavy outer parka. Women's parkas were distinguished by elongated hoods, and exaggerated, pointed shoulders. Boots extended up the leg to button at the waistline. They made the soles from feathers or bird skins.[15] Copper Inuit used different napkins for different meals: ptarmigan skins when eating caribou, and gull skins when eating seal.[18]

Contemporary clothing and boots may be made of a variety of skins, including:[15]

  • Dance cap: caribou, ermine, and the bill of a Yellow-billed Loon[18]
  • Parkas: arctic hare, otter, rabbit, wild mink
  • Mitts: beaver, polar bear, skunk
  • Boots: caribou, dog, polar bear, seal, wolf, wolverine
  • Kamiit: caribou, moose


Copper Inuit had an animistic spiritual system,[19] which included belief that animal spirits could be offended through taboo violations.[3] They believed that dwarfs, giants, "caribou people", and the sea-goddess, Arnapkapfaaluk or big bad woman inhabit the world.[3] Their conception of the tupilaq was similar to the Christian devil.[20]

Shamans (angatkut) could be male or female. They warded off evil spirits, functioned as intermediaries between people and the spirit world, healed illness or taboo violations, and controlled weather.[3]


Copper Inuit lived within geographically defined subgroups well documented by Stefansson,[21][22] Franz Boas, and others:

  • Ahiagmiut: Ogden Bay
  • Akuliakattagmiut: Cape Bexley
  • Ekalluktogmiut: Ekalluk River, Albert Edward Bay; central Victoria Island
  • Haneragmiut: Dolphin and Union Strait
  • Haningayogmiut: Back River
  • Kaernermiut: Back River
  • Kangiryuarmiut: Prince Albert Sound, Cape Baring, central Victoria island; Nelson Head on Banks Island
  • Kangiryuatjagmiut: Minto Inlet; between Minto inlet and Walker Bay
  • Kilusiktogmiut: Victoria Island; Coronation Gulf area at the mouth of the Mackenzie River[22]
  • Kogluktogmiut: Bloody Falls on the Coppermine River, Dease River, and Great Bear Lake (McTavish Bay); Coronation Gulf, southeast of Cape Krusenstern
  • Kogluktualugmiut (or Utkusiksaligmiut - "the dwellers of the place where there is pot stone"): Tree River ("Kogluktualuk"), 80 mi (130 km) east of the Coppermine River[21]
  • Kogluktuaryumiut: from the mouth of the Kogluktuaryuk River[21] which flows into Grays Bay on up river; Grays Bay and the Coronation Gulf ice off of it[22]
  • Kugaryuagmiut: Kugaryuak River[21]
  • Nagyuktogmiut (or Killinermiut): Nagyuktok Island, one of the Duke of York Islands;[21] central Coronation Gulf; Victoria Island northeast of Lady Franklin Point; mainland east of Tree River; Dismal Lakes near the head of Dease River;[22] ("Deer Horn Esquimaux")
  • Noahonirmiut (or Noahdnirmiut): Liston and Sutton Islands in the Dolphin and Union Strait to the mainland: north of Rae River, south of Lambert Island[21][22]
  • Pallirmiut: mouth of the Rae River (Pallirk) and head of Dease River; Coronation Gulf, southeast of Cape Krusenstern[21][22]
  • Pingangnaktogmiut: Pingangnaktok ("it blows a land wind"), inland west of Tree River[21]
  • Puiplirmiut (or Puiblirmiut): Dolphin and Union Strait near Liston/Listen and Sutton Islands; also north and northeast of Simpson Bay on Victoria Island[21][22]
  • Ugyuligmiut: north of Minto Inlet[21]
  • Ulukhaktokmiut: Ulukhaktok (formerly known as Holman), after the copper used in ulu making that was found there[3]
  • Umingmuktogmiut: permanent village of Umingmaktok (Umingmuktog) on the western coast of Kent Peninsula;[21] Bathurst Inlet[22]

Notable Copper Inuit


  1. ^ a b c d e Condon, R.G. (1987). Inuit youth : growth and change in the Canadian Arctic. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 25–38. ISBN 0813512123. 
  2. ^ a b VanStone, James W., Curator Emeritus (1994-02-28). "The Noice collection of Copper Inuit material cultre". Field museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Copper Inuit (Ulukhaktokmiut) of Holman". The Ohio State University. 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  4. ^ "Copper Inuit". Retrieved 2008-08-22. [dead link]
  5. ^ Martin, Marlene M.. "Society-COPPER-ESKIMO". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  6. ^ Wayman, Michael L. (1989). "Neutron Activation Analysis of Metals: A Case Study". MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology (UPenn Museum of Archaeology): p. 68. ISBN 0924171952. 
  7. ^ Davis, J.D.; Banack, S.A.. "Ethnobotany in the Central Canadian Arctic: A survey of the plants used by the Copper Inuit". Retrieved 2008-08-22. 
  8. ^ Morrison, David (September 1991). "The Copper Inuit Soapstone Trade" (PDF). Arctic 44 (3): 239–246. 
  9. ^ a b Issenman, Betty (1997). Sinews of Survival: The Living Legacy of Inuit Clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. 110. ISBN 077480596X. 
  10. ^ "History". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  11. ^ Bunyan, I.; Calder, J., Idiens, D., Wilson, B. & ational Museums of Scotland (1993). No Ordinary Journey: John Rae, Arctic Explorer, 1813-1893. McGill-Queen's Press. pp. 100–101. ISBN 0773511075. 
  12. ^ Pálsson, Gísli (2007). Anthropology and the New Genetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 200. ISBN 0521855721. 
  13. ^ "History". Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  14. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (2005-06-01). "Playthings and curios: historic Inuit art". Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Clothing, footwear, and territory of the Copper Inuit". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  16. ^ Wurm, S.A.; Mühlhäusler, P. & Darrell T. Tyron, D.T. (1996). International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies. ed. Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 1059–1060. ISBN 3110134179. 
  17. ^ "Inuktitut, Western Canadian". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  18. ^ a b c King, J.C.H.; Pauksztat, B. & Storrie, R. (2005). Arctic Clothing of North America--Alaska, Canada, Greenland: Alaska, Canada, Greenland. Montréal: McGill-Queen's Press. pp. 63–68. ISBN 0773530088. 
  19. ^ a b Brink, P.J.; Wood, M.J. (2001). Basic Steps in Planning Nursing Research: From Question to Proposal. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 295. ISBN 0763715719. 
  20. ^ Ohokak, G.; M. Kadlun, B. Harnum. Inuinnaqtun-English Dictionary. Kitikmeot Heritage Society. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stefansson, Vilhjalmur (1914). The Stefánsson-Anderson Arctic Expedition of the American Museum: Preliminary Ethnological Report. New York: The Trustees of the American Museum. pp. 26–31. OCLC 13626409. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Stefansson, V. (1914-12-30). "Prehistoric and Present Commerce among the Arctic Coast Eskimo". Geological Survey Museum Bulletin 6: 14. 

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