Inupiaq Homework

A peek into my writing for my Alaska Native Studies course this semester. 50/50 was my grade đź’•

Inupiaq Homework
Please read the “Role of Alliance in Eskimo Society” and be sure you understand how it worked, writing at least 1 page on it. This needs to include the types of alliances that were formed and their explanation. Also, you need to include how they were able to get together to form alliances in the first place.

Reality is that from the perspective of the storyteller. From the perspective of an outsider looking in at the Inupiaq culture regarding alliances is just that, the perspective of an outsider. From the outer perspective it would look that annual gatherings or what we call potluck/potlach were gatherings from different villages. These usually took place after successful harvests and when food was abundant. These would have never taken place during prime harvesting of fish, berries, or other vital resources, these would have taken place after the successful harvest. This is not noted in the writing of the outside perspective, but from oral histories passed down. First, I will summarize the studies conducted through the Canadian Government in the studies of the Inupiaq during first contact. Then I will include the oral histories that is passed down in my culture, Inupiaq, specifically my families oral history.
During these festivities it is said that men had to pursue women and when the women consented to intercourse, they were united. Sometimes the male would return to the village of his interest and continue to pursue her. These unions would create alliances and expand the family network. Strangers were taken very seriously as traditional hunting and gathering areas were fiercely protected. Trade was another factor in the resulting unions.
From that of the outside perspective it looks all but unintentional. That of our oral stories tells a different perspective. In our culture, Inupiaq and specifically the region of Unalakleet, St. Michael, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, and Elim. Unions were decided by the parents of the woman. If a man was interested, they would let their intentions be known and that would either be accepted or not by the parents and if there were no parents, it was decided by the uncles of the woman or grandparents. These alliances created stronger bloodlines and trade was done. The barter system was used and done in hub villages like Unalakleet. This was the major trading center for Natives, while St. Michael was the major trading center for Russians and Gussaks, or Caucasians.
During the potlucks there were many games that tested the strength of the males, and a lot of decisions were made by prominent families who were prominent because of their ability to provide for the community. Our last Chief of Unalakleet, Chief Nashalook, came from a bloodline that provided for the community during hardships and ensured the survival of this site. Before modern days the village was not located where it is now, it was more on the tundra area, not the sand spit. Here there are archeological sites dating back 200 BC – 300 AD. This is not considering there are several other sites that were not yet explored in the region that were well known trading areas.
Marriage among close relations were taboo and each family tried to marry those of good skills and ability to provide. My mom was one of the last of her generation to where suitors would ask her grandparents for permission to marry her, and they were denied. One man from Savoonga asked for her union and her uncle said no because he was from the Island, a man from Shishmaref asked for her hand also and was denied because he was from too far up north, a man from interior asked for her marriage and was also denied because he was from the Interior. Finally, my father, who is from St. Michael asked for her hand and the answer was yes. My Uncle who helped raise my mom was a dog musher, my dad was a dog musher as well and had a good team. They were able to breed their lines and have race winning teams. The married paid off.
The story goes on of how each grandmother, great-grandmother and so on was told or gave permission to marry the choosing of their parents or male caretaker. There are stories of unions that were not a good fit. This famous Inuk from our region was married to a man in Kotzebue. She went there and he was abusive and mean to his new wife. She ran away and walked all the way to the Yukon area by foot. This story was hope for those who were united, and the match was not good. When the women left though this caused feuds between the families and lasted generations. Alliances were strategic, and essentially was what led to the survival of our people by the drive to provide for more than oneself, but for the community as well. Orphans were taken in by grandparents, widows were remarried if they were still childbearing, and marriages were arranged.
I grew up where marriages were no longer arranged. There were potlaches that took place but in the modern form of basketball tournaments. Here the athleticism of the athletes often helped unite people from other villages. When boarding schools started that was another major connection for alliances or marriages to happen. The arranged marriages were fading, but the approval of your family was essential. Growing up my mom would joke that I would marry this person from Shaktoolik she picked out and his mom also agreed. I eloped at the age of 19, the thought of having to marry someone I had to wrestle in grade school was unappealing and they claim they were just joking but their sincerity was not a joke to me. History is true to the perspective of the storyteller; this is our story.

-You then have the choice of writing a summary (1/2 ro 1 page) on one of the following:
-Sinrock Mary: the Reindeer Queen of Alaska and the story of Reindeer including the Lohman brothers.

Sinrock Mary is a well-known Inupiaq/Russian woman who was born in St. Michael around 1870. Her mother was Inupiaq, and her father was Russian. She grew up speaking three different languages Inupiaq, English and Russian. Her Inupiaq name was Changunak. She married Charles Antisarlook and they lived in Nome. Mary served as translator for many people who required her skills. Her husband was a reindeer apprentice and when he died, Mary was not able to inherit her late husband’s land, but she fought for the reindeer herd that was about 500 at the time and she won. She relocated to Unalakleet in 1901 and in the next year she married an Inupiaq named Andrew Adrewuk. The Loham Brothers were from Seattle and came up to the Bering Strait region and taught and set up reindeer herding around the same time. When the market for reindeer were no longer there and when the laws passed allowing only native Alaskans to own reindeer herds they backed out of the industry and returned to Seattle. Sinrock Mary was also known in our culture as a women’s rights activist. Before she stood up to the government and old Inupiaq ways it was unheard of for a woman to do man’s work.
During the time of influenza where children would become orphaned Sinrock Mary adopted these children to keep them in the community and it is upwards of 20 she adopted. Many of these children tell of her strictness and love. Her adopted daughter Muuqaiylaq was a well-respected daughter of hers who learned to take care of reindeer. Women were not usually allowed to participate in these activities, their place was in the home and gathering food for winter, tending to the children, and learning this new gardening ways. When my mom was a little girl and Muuqaiylaq came to discuss business with my mom’s grandparents she went to their room and after my mom was double dared to ask how her fingers got bent, she did ask Muuqaiylaq. Most wouldn’t ask such a question because you usually don’t ask your elder’s questions like this, but my mom was a little girl who didn’t know better. So Muuqaiylaq told the story when she was a teen, she wrestled her first reindeer and it bit her. She didn’t show any signs of being hurt because she was a girl and didn’t want any reasons to hold her back from working with reindeer. So, she continued to wrestle that reindeer to the ground with her broken finger, it never went back to being straight.
My mom grew up at Egavik. The old reindeer herding site outside of Unalakleet. This was almost a village at one point because it was successful with reindeer herding. This Egavik we call was where the Lohman brothers set up their reindeer herding site. John Kotongan is my great grandfather who bought the herd at Egavik. He eventually sold the herd to Gustoff Sagoonick from Shaktoolik. The land at Egavik was then passed down to John’s son Victor, who helped raise my mom. He passed it down to his son. I grew up camping here at Egavik in the big house that is one of the only remaining buildings there. The Lohman brothers had the nice apartment in the top of this building where we camped in growing up. Now the Sagoonicks in Shaktoolik own one herd and the villages of St. Michael and Stebbins own another herd. There is no herd in Unalakleet or Egavik. My relatives were adopted by Sinrock Mary, she truly was the grandma of Unalakleet and is the one who paved the way for women to be more than just a homemaker. We can do anything we want but family is more important and keeping our traditional knowledge is also important. The Samii families also taught gardening as well as missionaries who came to the area. Unalakleet is a melting pot of Inupiaq, Yupik, and Athabascan as well as non-indigenous people. A lot of Army folk married and stayed in the village. Overall, this community cares for one another and continues to practice the subsistence lifestyle that is taught by those like Sinrock Mary.


  1. Thank you so much Gertie for posting these wonderful essays. I learned so much and enjoyed reading about your culture and community life.
    I hope all is well with you and your family.
    Looking forward to your next post and pictures too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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