Lyons, Natasha (2010) The wisdom of elders: Inuvialuit social memories of continuity and change in the twentieth century, Arctic Anthropology 47(1): 22-38

Keywords: Aklavikcamp lifeInuvialuitInuvikMackenzie Deltaoral historyresettlementtents

In this paper, Natasha Lyons examines the social memories Inuvialuit elders, who recall aspects of their lives in the early to mid-twentieth century. Social memory refers to the process that a community undertakes in remembering a shared and communal history. The interviews with Inuvialuit elders and community members were conducted between 2005 and 2007, as part of a larger project that looked at Inuvialuit representations of the past.

By 1910, the populations of caribou and whales were greatly reduced due to overhunting by commercial whalers, contributing to further migration of the Alaskan Inupiat into the Mackenzie Delta region. For much of the twentieth century the Inuvialuit were coastal people. The Inuvialuit had never lived upstream on a permanent basis, nor focused on a trapping lifestyle. Nearly all Inuvialuit elders interviewed were born on the land or in a snowhouse on the sea ice. They constantly emphasized both the self-sufficiency and the great satisfaction entailed in a land-based lifestyle. An Inuit elder noted that for winter, tents would be double-tented from the frame.

However, through the early century, new communities, established by the government, in the Delta attracted increasing infrastructure and permanent settlement. The government built Inuvik in the 1950s, to consolidate and administer to regional populations. Many Inuvialuit moved into the new town. This was a period of heightened interaction between new population and considerable adjustment for all parties. When Inuvik was built, some Inuvialuit had to make choices about moving into the new town, which offered new employment opportunities and experiences. Newcomers were offered $70 to pay for their move and were promised housing. However, many came and lived in the tent town on the "native" side of town that lacked waste and water services, versus the government employee side of town. One of the Inuvialuit elders remembered not wanting to move to the newly built government towns, and wanted to stay in Aklavik instead.