Historical Events

The modernization of the Inuit of the Holman region is described. Inuit are lent a debt and can no longer engage in midwinter subsistence hunting when trapping foxes. Trapping was fully entrenched by the 1940's in the Holman region and people were eating sugar and flour instead of seals, caribou, and polar bears.

The Northern Copper Inuit - A History

As the Inuit of the Holman region developed a taste for trade items such as tea, sugar, tobacco, and flour, they began to rely more heavily on fur trapping as a means to purchase these items. The transition from traditional ways was undoubtedly assisted by the Copper Inuit's contact with the western Inuit (or Walliningmiut), who had developed a reputation for being superb trappers. Increased dependence upon trapping, however, changed the Inuit economy. Since trappers had to tend their traplines during the winter, they had less time to devote to midwinter subsistence activities such as sealing, caribou hunting, and polar bear hunting. The more involved people became in trapping, the more dependent they became upon goods purchased at the trading posts. Moreover, the size of dogteams increased. In the early part of the century, anthropologist Diamond Jenness had noted that the typical Copper Inuit family rarely owned more than two or three dogs (Jenness 1922:118). Trapping, however, required greater mobility and hence a larger number of dogs per active trapper. Inuit families trapping for the fur trade had a larger number of dogs to care for and feed. Fortunately for them, the introduction of rifles and fishnets helped to increase their efficiency and trapper families were able to feed both themselves and their dogs.

This process of economic change occurred at different rates for the Holman and Coppermine regions. The Copper Inuit around Coppermine and Read Island made the transition much earlier than the people of Prince Albert Sound. By the 1940s, however, trapping was firmly entrenched in the Holman region.

Although the trading posts provided Inuit trappers with valued goods which presumably made their lives easier, the relationship between trapper and trader was not always to the benefit of the trapper. As Peter Usher (1965:62) notes:

The relationship of the Eskimo to the trader became virtually that of a bonded servant. To trap initially the Eskimo had to be supplied with traps, and generally a rifle and other gear. Having no means to pay for this outfit, he went in "debt" to the trader, and settled his account the following spring by bringing in his catch of furs. Both the availability of the white fox and its market price fluctuated considerably, and in some years the Eskimo was unable to pay his debts. This indebtedness prevailed for almost thirty years, until other sources of cash became available to the Eskimos.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Reddit's r/Ketoscience