Heavy Metal Bands:

Contact and Trade between European Explorers and Inuit of the Central Arctic by Peter Dawson

Telescope, from Government of Nunavut Collection, photo courtesy of Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, Accession Number 986.049.001.

Telescope, from Government of Nunavut Collection, photo courtesy of Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, Accession Number 986.049.001.

The introduction of new technologies can cause changes in human societies. Think about how the Internet has changes our society over the past decade. We can play games, conduct research, purchase items, and expand our network of friends- all with the click of a button.

Change is not always positive, but it is inevitable. In the past, Inuit societies went through significant changes when material such as metal became available for the making of more efficient and durable versions of knives, spears and harpoon heads. New items, such as firearms and brass telescopes, did not exist in Inuit technology, but were highly desired as soon as they were introduced.

Historical archaeologists study the economic and social changes brought about by the introduction of trade goods, based on theories of cultural change. One theory is that of social inequality. If we consider that most Inuit societies were egalitarian, and ownership of private property was less developed than the sense of collective ownership, then the introduction of highly prized and difficult to obtain commodities would naturally result in a change in the social system.

When an item such as a telescope was introduced it became a symbol of status because it would change the ability of the owner to hunt successfully. Even if the hunt was shared, the person with the telescope would be most sought after as a hunting partner. This possession might give the hunter authority or power over others in the group, thus changing the dynamics of the group in ways that would have long term effects.

The possibility of these kinds of changes was always presenting itself, but especially when one societal group came into contact with another and new ideas, technologies or materials became available.

Some of these contacts were sustained contacts as two groups came together in a continuous presence. Others kinds of contact involved a one time connection. This is referred to an incipient contact such as when a group came across some European traders or explorers as they traveled through an area.

An example of incipient contact occurred during the 19th century with the expanded exploration for the Northwest Passage. This brought many British Navy ships into the Central Arctic and into contact with Inuit groups such as the Nattilingmiut, Iglulingmiut, Uukjulingmiut, Utkuhikjalingmiut, Aivilingmiut and the Copper Inuit. Although most British Naval expeditions chose to have little to do with Inuit they encountered, contact was sometimes made to acquire food or geographical information. However, the ships which were abandoned in the ice and the storage depots which were left behind became incredibly rich sources of materials like iron and other metals for those Inuit lucky enough to stumble across them.

In the spring of 1851, a ship called the HMS Investigator, made contact with Inuit at Mercy Bay on northern Banks Island. The Investigator was in search of the lost Franklin expedition. However, like so many others expeditions, the ship became locked in the ice and was abandoned.

The wrecked ship and her caches became sources of wood, smelted copper, glass, tin and textiles for Inuit in the region. An historical archaeologist, Cliff Hickey, has suggested that this sudden injection of so many rare and valuable resources into the economic system of the Copper Inuit would have resulted in significant changes in their social structures.

Narrative of The Second Voyage…p.205, By John Ross

The last of the engine was hoisted out may I not say that there was not one of us who did not hail this event with pleasure. We could not even look at its fragments without recollecting what it ought to have been, and what it proved to be; nor without reflections, and those not kind ones, -on its maker, when we remembered the endless and ever recurring trials of our patience which it had caused, the never ceasing labour of the men in its reparation, the ever renewed hopes, producing ever new disappointulents, and the loss of temper, to most of its, I fear, of which it had been the fertile cause. The enemy, however, was at last at our feet; and while it was incumbent on us to store it up, though it would in reality be difficult to say why, were it not from that habit, or feeling, which rebels against absolute wastefulness, I believe there was not one present who ever again wished to see, even its minutest fragment.

Egalitarian societies work on the principle of immediate return, meaning that a person who receives something is expected to return something of equal value to the giver. However, the rare items found at the Banks Island site would have been difficult to equal in value.

Traditionally, these Inuit traded with many Inuit groups over large areas, often traveling great distance. For example, it is known that there was regular trade between these groups and coastal Hudson Bay Inuit trading copper for wood, for example. However, when Inuit groups encountered new materials, these were eagerly and rapidly incorporated into the local and regional economic systems, based on the need to constantly improve effectiveness so that survival was insured.

Iqqaqqaukkaringniq Defined

In order to deal with the emerging inequality, Copper Inuit are supposed to have done two things:
1) to increase trade in traditional items made from local materials and
2) to allow for deferred debt.

The result was that Copper Inuit became more territorial and limited trade to those close at hand. These groups also began to make regular stops at these caches and shipwrecks as part of their seasonal rounds. They were able to become more independent and secure and less reliant on maintaining good trading relationships with other Inuit groups.

Looking Closer: HMS Victory and the Demise of the Uukulingmiut

In 1828-32, the British Naval ship HMS Victory under the command of Captain John Ross became trapped in the ice off the Boothia Peninsula. Unlike many British naval commanders, John Ross encouraged interaction with the Inuit and relied on Inuit to support the ship’s crew by providing food, geographical and hunting information, acting as guides on exploration expeditions and for the provision of warm clothing. The stories of these interactions were well recorded in John Ross’ journals and in oral histories passed down amongst Inuit.

In 1830, it was decided that the very heavy and troublesome steam engines should be dismantled. These were abandoned at Felix Harbour in 1830. However, this did not enable the ship to escape the ice and the following year the ship itself was abandoned at Victory Harbour.

Archaeologist, James Savelle, found evidence that the discarded steam engines had been “quarried” for iron by Inuit in the area, primarily the Nattilingmiut. Prior to this, the Nattilingmiut would have relied on trade with other Inuit groups for iron. Inuit from the Pond Inlet area are known to have ventured down to the Hudson Bay coast to trade iron for items such as wood, native copper and muskoxen horn (Inuit oral narratives). Suddenly the Nattilingmiut had access to an endless supply of ship iron, copper, wood and other materials.

Savelle believes that this change in material resources caused a change in the trading relationships with other groups. Until this time, the Uukjulingmiut were the primary source of wood for the Nattingmiut. Savelle speculates that these changes reduced the trading power of the Uukjulingmiut and may have contributed to their eventual disappearance as they eventually became assimilated into other Inuit groups in the early 20th century.

Inuit Terminology for Different Metals

The different types of metal have different terms in Inuktitut passed from the people before us.

Metals were named by the look and how they resembled ropes. There are many terms for different metals both manufactured and raw.

Terminology for Different Metals

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