Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Yukon Ingalik were primarily subsistence fishermen, supplementing this by hunting and trapping caribou, moose, bear, and a variety of other fur-bearing animals. The predictable salmon runs permitted a more sedentary life and larger populations than among Athapaskan groups who relied on big game. The Kuskokwim Ingalik in aboriginal times stressed hunting more than did the Yukon Ingalik. Occupying winter villages from September through April, the Ingalik used nets and traps set in the ice to take a variety of fish. Caribou were hunted using the surround and fences, and fur bearers were trapped and snared for food, clothing, and trade. In April and May, Families moved inland to lakes for fishing and, following break-up of the ice, moved to summer fishing camps on the main streams. Here they used a variety of traps, nets, and weirs to take quantities of salmon and whitefish, which they dried for winter use. By the late 1800s, possibly because of hunting pressure and use of the repeating rifle, caribou numbers Declined sharply. This forced an increased emphasis upon fishing, particularly on the Kuskokwim. By 1914, the European fish wheel had been introduced into the region and by the 1930s had largely replaced the use of fish traps. In recent years paid employment, including fire-fighting and work at fish canneries, has provided a source of income.
Industrial Arts. Traditional Ingalik crafts included extensive woodworking in the manufacture of containers, sleds, birchbark canoes, snowshoes, dwellings, and weapons. Simple pottery, some twined basketry, stone and bone tools, birchbark containers, tailored skin clothing, snares, nets, and fish traps were common products for use and trade.
Trade. Although the Ingalik traded with other groups, most exchange was with Eskimo. The Yukon Ingalik traded with the Eskimo of Norton Sound, exchanging wooden utensils and furs for beluga and seal oil, sealskins, and Siberian reindeer skins. Tobacco, tea, and metal tools reached the Ingalik via Siberian trade routes. The Kuskokwim Ingalik traded primarily with the Kuskowagamiut Eskimo downstream, exchanging furs and birchbark canoes for seal oil, sealskins, fish, and dentalium shells. During the Russian and early American period, metal tools, firearms, and cloth became increasingly significant as trade items. The availability of European trade goods led to a dependence upon the fur trade to acquire them, with significant changes in subsistence patterns and traditional social relations. The importance of trade tempered traditional hostilities between the Ingalik and their neighbors.
Division of Labor. Ingalik men were the primary providers, responsible for trading, most hunting, fishing, and the construction of dwellings, tools, sleds, and snowshoes. Both sexes cooperated in making birchbark canoes. Women snared small game and tended fish nets near the village, made clothing, prepared food, and manufactured pottery and baskets.
Land Tenure. Individuals and families had the right to occupy and use land within the territory of their village group. Rights to use certain fish-trapping and caribou-hunting sites belonged to families.