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This article is about the ethnic group. For their language, see Inupiat language.
Genuine kunik.jpg
Iñupiat sharing a kunik at a Nalukataq,
in Barrow, Alaska
Total population
Regions with significant populations
North and northwest Alaska (United States)
North Alaskan Inupiatun,
Northwest Alaskan Inupiatun, English[2]
Related ethnic groups
Inuit, Yupik peoples

The Iñupiat are an Alaska Native people, whose traditional territory spans Norton Sound on the Bering Sea to the Canadian border.[3] Their current communities include seven Alaskan villages in the North Slope Borough, affiliated with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation; 11 villages in Northwest Arctic Borough; and 16 villages affiliated with the Bering Straits Regional Corporation.[3]

Culturally, Iñupiat are divided into two regional hunter-gatherer groups: the Taġiuġmiut (formerly Tareumiut) («people of sea»), living on or near the north Alaska coast, and the Nunamiut («people of land»), living in interior Alaska.


Semi-underground men's community house (Qargi) with bowhead whale bones, Point Hope, Alaska, 1885

Iñupiat[pronunciation?] is the plural form, while Iñupiaq[pronunciation?] (singular) and Iñupiak[pronunciation?] (dual) (from iñuk 'person' - and -piaq 'real', i.e., 'real people') or formerly Inyupik.[4][5]


Ethnic groups[edit]

The Iñupiat people are made up of the following communities.

Regional corporations[edit]

Iñupiaq high-kick ball, ca. 1910, Barrow, Alaska, collection of the NMAI

To equitably manage natural resources, Iñupiat people belong to several of the Alaskan Native Regional Corporations. These are the following.


In addition to English, Iñupiat have their own languages: North Alaskan Inupiatun and Northwest Alaskan Inupiatun.[2] Many more dialects of these languages flourish prior to European contact. In Native American boarding schools, Iñupiaq children were punished for speaking their own languages.[3]

Several Iñupiaq people developed pictographic writing systems in the early 20th century, known as Alaskan Picture Writing.[3]


Along with other Inuit groups, the Iñupiaq originate from the Thule culture who migrated around 1000 CE to what is now Alaska from islands in the Bering Sea.

Iñupiaq groups in common with Inuit-speaking groups, often have a name ending in "miut," which means 'a people of'. One example are the Nunamiut, a generic term for inland Iñupiaq caribou hunters. During a period of starvation and an influenza epidemic (carried by American and European whaling crews,[6]) most of these people moved to the coast or other parts of Alaska between 1890 and 1910. A number of Nunamiut returned to the mountains in the 1930s.

By 1950, most Nunamiut groups, like the Killikmiut, had coalesced in Anaktuvuk Pass, a village in north-central Alaska. Some of the Nunamiut remained nomadic until the 1950s.


A family of Iñupiat
from Noatak, Alaska, 1929

Iñupiat people are hunter-gatherers, like most Arctic peoples. Iñupiat people continue to rely heavily on subsistence hunting and fishing. Depending on their location, they harvest walrus, seal, whale, polar bears, caribou, and fish.[1] Both the inland (Nunamiut) and coastal (Taġiumiut, i.e. Tikiġaġmiut) Iñupiat depend greatly on fish. Ducks, geese, rabbits, berries, roots, and shoots are also food staples throughout the seasons where they are available.

The inland Iñupiat also hunt caribou, dall sheep, grizzly bear and moose. The coastal Iñupiat hunt walrus, seals, beluga whales and bowhead whales. Polar bear is also cautiously hunted.

The capture of a whale benefits each member of an Iñupiat community, as the animal is butchered and its meat and blubber allocated according to a traditional formula. Even city-dwelling relatives thousands of miles away are entitled to a share of each whale killed by the hunters of their ancestral village. Maktak, which is the skin and blubber of Bowhead and other whales, is rich in vitamins A and C.[7][8] It contributes to good health in a population with limited access to fruits and vegetables.

Since the 1970s, oil and other resources have been an important revenue source for the Iñupiat. The Alaska Pipeline connects the Prudhoe Bay wells with the port of Valdez in south-central Alaska. However, because of the oil drilling in Alaska’s arid north, the traditional way of whaling is coming into conflict with one of the modern world’s most urgent priorities: finding more oil.[9]


Blanket Toss during a Nalukataq in Barrow, Alaska

Traditionally, different Iñupiaq people lived in sedentary communities, while others were nomadic. Some villages have been continuously occupied for over 10,000 years, such as Mary's Igloo fish camp.[3]

The Nalukataq is a spring waling festival among Iñupiat.

There is one Iñupiat culture-oriented institute of higher education, Iḷisaġvik College, located in Barrow.

Current issues[edit]

Iñupiaq people have grown more concerned in recent years that climate change is threatening their traditional lifestyle. The warming trend in the Arctic affects their lifestyle in numerous ways, for example: thinning sea ice makes it more difficult to harvest Bowhead Whales, seals, walrus, and other traditional foods; warmer winters make travel more dangerous and less predictable; later-forming sea ice contributes to increased flooding and erosion along the coast, directly imperiling many coastal villages. The Inuit Circumpolar Council, a group representing indigenous peoples of the Arctic, has made the case that climate change represents a threat to their human rights.

As of the 2000 US Census, the Iñupiat population in the United States numbered over 19,000; most live in Alaska.

Iñupiat territories[edit]

Map of Alaska highlighting North Slope Borough

North Slope Borough : Anaktuvuk Pass (Anaqtuuvak, Naqsraq), Atqasuk (Atqasuk), Barrow (Utqiaġvik, Ukpiaġvik), Kaktovik (Qaagtuviġmiut), Nuiqsut (Nuiqsat), Point Hope (Tikiġaq), Point Lay (Kali), Wainwright (Ulġuniq)

Map of Alaska highlighting Northwest Arctic Borough

Northwest Arctic Borough : Ambler (Ivisaappaat), Buckland (Nunatchiaq), Deering (Ipnatchiaq), Kiana (Katyaak, Katyaaq), Kivalina (Kivalliñiq), Kobuk (Laugviik), Kotzebue (Qikiqtaġruk), Noatak (Nuataaq ), Noorvik (Nuurvik), Selawik (Siilvik, Akuligaq ), Shungnak (Isiŋnaq, Nuurviuraq)

Map of Alaska highlighting Nome Census Area

Nome Census Area : Brevig Mission (Sitaisaq, Sinauraq), Diomede (Inalik), Golovin (Siŋik), Koyuk (Quyuk), Nome (Siqnazuaq), Shaktoolik (Saqtuliq), Shishmaref\ (Qiġiqtaq), Stebbins (Tapqaq), Teller (Tala), Wales (Kiŋigin), White Mountain (Natchirsvik), Unalakleet (Uŋalaqłiq)

Notable Iñupiat[edit]

Further information: List of American Inuit

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Inupiat." Alaska Native Arts. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Inuit-Inupiaq." Ethnologue. Retrieved 4 Dec 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Inupiaq (Inupiat)—Alaska Native Cultural Profile." National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Retrieved 4 Dec 2013.
  4. ^ Frederick A. Milan (1959), The acculturation of the contemporary Eskimo of Wainwright Alaska
  5. ^ Johnson Reprint (1962), Prehistoric cultural relations between the Arctic and Temperate zones of North America
  6. ^ Bockstoce, John (1995). Whales, Ice, & Men: The History of Whaling in the Western Arctic.[page needed]
  7. ^ Geraci, Joseph R.; Smith, Thomas G. (June 1979). "Vitamin C in the Diet of Inuit Hunters From Holman, Northwest Territories". Arctic 32 (2): 135. doi:10.14430/arctic2611. 
  8. ^ "Vitamin C in Inuit traditional food and women's diets". 
  9. ^ Mouawad, Jad (December 4, 2007). "In Alaska’s Far North, Two Cultures Collide". New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Heinrich, Albert Carl. A Summary of Kinship Forms and Terminologies Found Among the Inupiaq Speaking People of Alaska. 1950.
  • Sprott, Julie E. Raising Young Children in an Alaskan Iñupiaq Village; The Family, Cultural, and Village Environment of Rearing. West, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 2002. ISBN 0-313-01347-0
  • Chance, Norman A. The Eskimo of North Alaska. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. ISBN 0-03-057160-X
  • Chance, Norman A. The Inupiat and Arctic Alaska: An Ethnology of Development. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1990. ISBN 0-03-032419-X
  • Chance, N.A. and Yelena Andreeva. "Sustainability, Equity, and Natural Resource Development in Northwest Siberia and Arctic Alaska." Human Ecology. 1995, vol 23 (2) [June]

External links[edit]