Copper Eskimo - Orientation



Identification. The people of the Canadian Arctic most often referred to as "Copper Eskimos" had no name for themselves as a whole group, but rather referred only to local groups. All names for the entire population are those used by outsiders. Their nearest neighbors to the west, the Mackenzie Eskimo, called them "Nagyuktogmiut" (the people of the caribou antler). Their eastern neighbors, the Netsilik Inuit, called them "Killinirmiut" (also rendered "Kidlineks" or "Qidliniks," people of the boundary). The American explorer Schwatka appears to have first used "Copper Eskimo," an association clearly based on the deposits of copper in their Region and their use of copper implements. Recently some anthropologists and popular writers have used "Copper Inuit."

Location. The Copper Eskimo occupied the coastal and adjoining inland regions of much of Victoria Island and the opposite shores of the Canadian Arctic mainland. Some also hunted off the southeastern shores of Banks Island. Extremes of their normal hunting range were 66° to 72° N and 101° to 122° W. Temperatures for the coldest month, February, average from —25° to —30° F and almost all Copper Eskimo country lies north of the July 50° F isotherm. Gulfs and straits are ice-free for only about three months of the year and snow covers the ground usually from some time in September until June. Although not a region of extremely high winds, the frequent storms pack the snow firmly throughout winter. The sun remains below the horizon for varying periods around the winter solstice and there are also substantial periods of continuous daylight. Much of the treeless land is flat with Numerous lakes. Several large rivers reach the coasts. Here and there hills or small mountains interrupt the monotony of the landscape.

Demography. Estimates and censuses from the early twentieth century suggest about 800 people, a figure that may well represent an average for the precontact period. Later, during the fur trade era beginning in 1916, there was a slow growth in numbers until improved health facilities and the abandonment of infanticide brought a rapid expansion after about 1950. By 1980 there were about 1,750 Copper Eskimo.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Copper Eskimo speak a dialect of Inuit, one of the three major languages of the Eskaleut Language family.


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