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ETHNONYMS: Deg Hit'an, Inkality, Inkiliki, Ingelete, Inkilikiiugel'nut, Kaiyuhkhotana, Ten'a


Identification. The Ingalik are an American Indian group in Alaska. The term "Inkiliki" in several variations first appears in the Russian literature of the 1830s and 1840s. The name appears borrowed from Yup'ik Eskimo "Ingqiliq," a general term for Indians of the interior and meaning "having louses' eggs." Ingalik call themselves "Deg Hit'an" (the People from here).

Location. At the time of Russian contact in the 1830s the Ingalik lived in several villages on the lower Yukon and Innoko rivers, and on the middle Kuskokwim River, in southwestern Alaska. Their territory was bounded by Eskimo groups downriver and in the coastal regions, and other Athapaskans upstreamKoyukon on the Yukon, Kolchan on the Kuskokwim. Major settlements in historic times included the villages of Shageluk on the Innoko, Anvik, Bonasila, and Holy Cross on the lower Yukon, Kvygympaynagmyut and Georgetown on the middle Kuskokwim. The environment was subarctic boreal forest, characterized by short warm Summers and long cold winters.

Demography. In the 1830s, the Ingalik had a population estimated at between fifteen hundred and two thousand. Following the introduction of European diseases, numbers fell to six hundred by 1900. Particularly devastating was the smallpox epidemic of 1838-1839. The present population is over five hundred, although this figure does not take into account significant intermarriage with Eskimo and other groups.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ingalik language is one of the Northern Athapaskan languages, a subgroup of the Athapaskan family. There are two dialects, one spoken on the Yukon, the second restricted to the Kuskokwim. The Kuskokwim dialect has largely been replaced by other Athapaskan languages, Eskimo, and English. The Yukon dialect is Presently spoken only by the older generation.

History and Cultural Relations

The Athapaskan cultures are likely related to microblade tool horizons, which appeared in Alaska from Asia around 8000 b.c. By 4800 b.c., this culture had expanded over much of Alaska and northwestern Canada, areas subsequently occupied by the Northern Athapaskans. Linguistic and cultural evidence suggests that the Proto-Athapaskan language was that of an interior hunting people, probably centered in the eastern Alaskan, upper Yukon River, and northwestern Canadian cordilleran region. Between 500 b.c. and a.d. 500, Athapaskans expanded into western Alaska and languages began to differentiate. Athapaskan core cultural elements included an emphasis on upland, big-game hunting, a matrilineal Descent system, commemorative feasts for the dead, semisubterranean dwellings, and use of snowshoes and toboggans. Fishing was of secondary importance. As the ancestors of the Ingalik moved into riverine areas of southwestern Alaska, they came into contact with Eskimos. Exposure to the Cultures of these efficient coastal sea-mammal hunting and fishing specialists led to considerable Eskimoization of the Athapaskan core culture, with the Ingalik adopting a fishing economy and a bilateral kinship system. By 1900, through Intermarriage with Eskimo, the Kuskokwim Ingalik had ceased to exist as a cultural entity, and by 1980, Holy Cross village on the Yukon was at least 50 percent Eskimo.

Situated between Athapaskans and Eskimos, the Ingalik traded with both. Following Russian contact, the Ingalik occasionally visited posts such as Nulato on the middle Yukon to trade. Not as warlike as other groups, the Ingalik's traditional enemies were the Koyukon, although there was occasional friction with Eskimo and the Kolchan.


The Ingalik established winter villages on major streams, often at the mouth of a tributary. A typical village contained a single large kashim or semisubterranean ceremonial men's house, five to ten smaller semisubterranean winter dwellings, raised pole food caches, and racks for canoes and sleds. Winter dwellings were occupied by more than one family, and a winter village would contain fifty to a hundred or more People. Spring and summer fishing camps, several miles from the winter village, consisted of less substantial A-frame or gabled dwellings built of logs covered by planks or bark.


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.


Kin Groups and Descent. While most Alaskan Athapaskans had matrilineal descent and a tripartite matriclan Structure, the Ingalik were bilateral. Formerly matrilineal, they changed through contact and intermarriage with the bilateral Eskimo. Clans were unknown, although the Ingalik "partner" systema special relationship between two people in separate villageswas a widespread Athapaskan trait and may have been a vestige of the clan system.

Kinship Terminology. Ingalik kinship terms follow the Eskimo system with identical parallel and cross-cousin terms, which are differentiated from those for siblings. Kin terms imply generational differences, and lineal kin are distinguished from collateral. Also present is the Athapaskan distinction between older and younger siblings.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The aboriginal Ingalik practiced local endogamy and avoided marriage to first cousins. Marriage was monogamous, with occasional polygyny by wealthy men. The levirate and sororate were practiced, the latter rarely. Residence after marriage was initially with the wife's family. The couple then lived with the husband's family until the man could build his own house. Divorce was uncommon, particularly when there were children. A divorced woman returned to her mother's house.

Domestic Unit. The typical winter village house was occupied by two or more nuclear families, usually fifteen to twenty persons. Units in the spring and summer fishing camps were smaller. In the winter villages, groups of men cooperated in caribou hunting and some fishing activities. Contemporary Ingalik live predominantly in single and extended family units.

Inheritance. Songs, dances, and the right to wear certain masks at ceremonies passed from father to son. At death, most property was inherited by the spouse and children, although that of a wealthy person would later be distributed at a potlatch. Some items were burned or placed in the coffin for use by the deceased in the afterlife. The house of a deceased adult was temporarily abandoned and sometimes burned. Rights to family hunting and fishing sites were inherited.

Socialization. Children were weaned after they began to walk. The Ingalik were gentle and tolerant with their off-spring, with mild punishments and threats for misbehavior. Children learned various taboos, and older adults taught them moral tales. In aboriginal times, most learning came from imitating adult activities. Today, children attend public schools, and increasing numbers continue their education Beyond high school.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Status came from the ownership of material objects, especially fish. Furs, a large house, canoes, red ocher, and dentalium shells were also prized. In aboriginal times leadership was situational, with some men excelling in subsistence activities, others in ritual, trade, or warfare. Rich men and shamans were often leaders.

Political Organization. Villages were independent, recognized nearby communities as linguistically and culturally similar, and sometimes intermarried and shared potlatches with them. Russian and American agents introduced the idea of chiefs during the early-contact period. Today, elected leaders and participaion in collective political and economic oranizations have replaced traditional patterns.

Social Control. Common methods of social control included taboos, ostracism, and fear of revenge or supernatural retaliation. Habitual unacceptable behavior would lead to a meeting of the older men, who decided on an appropriate punishment. A murder or accidental killing usually led to revenge by a male relative and sometimes a blood feud. Shamans were considered powerful and often served as opinion leaders. Joking relationships, kinship, and the partner system also served as social control mechanisms.

Conflict. Interpersonal aggression arose from disputes, often over the opposite sex. Wrestling, beatings, and verbal insults were the result. When a murder occurred between the Ingalik and other groups, it could lead to warfare. Although travel in another group's territory for trading purposes was permitted, relationships were sometimes tense. Raids were group decisions, often in retaliation for an earlier raid, a dispute over caribou hunting grounds, or some other Longstanding animosity. Raids were surprise attacks carried out at night during the fall or early spring. Attackers would blockade house and kashim entrances, and shoot arrows through smoke holes. All men were killed if possible, the village looted, and women and children abducted. Warfare was probably infrequent, mitigated by the importance of trade Between groups. During the early-contact period, attacks also took place on Russian trading posts. Beginning in the American period, conflict was conrolled through a system of marshals and courts.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Ingalik shared the Northern Athapaskan worldview of a universe in which all objects had a spirit or soul, yeg. In the beginning, men, animals, and inanimate objects lived together and shared many traits. They later separated and lost the ability to communicate. People were dependent on animals for food and thus had to remain on good terms with them. This they did by observing taboos and treating animals with respect so they would continue to be available for food. Increase ceremonies were performed to attract game and ensure a steady supply. The Ingalik also used a variety of "songs" or magical chants to maintain the balance between the human and spiritual worlds. These songs could be purchased, and both sexes had them. Songs were used to gain good hunting and fishing luck, enhance skills, cure illness and communicate with the spirits. Through possession of songs, nearly everyone had a little shamanistic power. Amulets, often bits of animal skin, bone, or feathers, were worn by all and were often associated with animal songs. Amulets brought specific kinds of luck or conferred special abilities. There were numerous taboos and prohibitions, many of which related to animals. The Ingalik had a rich mythology in which animals and the ritual number 4 were prominent.

Russian Orthodox priests arrived among the Ingalik in 1845 and baptized 437 Indians in two years, though understanding of Christianity remained superficial. By 1887-1888, Episcopal and Roman Catholic missionaries had appeared on the lower Yukon, mission schools had been established, and the Orthodox faith largely replaced. Today, the Ingalik are nominal Christians, with the last mission school closing in 1957. The Ingalik world was created by Denato, an otiose Father figure. Many spirits and beings inhabited the Ingalik world, the most dangerous being Giyeg, the spirit of death. Helpers of the Giyeg included the Nakani, a malevolent Forest spirit common among Northern Athapaskans. Particularly important were the various animal and salmon people.

Religious Practitioners. AU Ingalik, through ceremonies and ownership of songs and amulets, participated to some degree in the supernatural world. Shamans were the primary practitioners, and they sometimes became powerful and wealthy individuals with many followers. Shamans derived their power from dreams, often of animals, and had animal spirit helpers. Shamans were of either sex and owned particularly powerful songs. Shamanistic power could be used for either good or evil, to kill people or to cure illness, to attract fish and game, and ensure success in warfare. Russian and American priests viewed shamanism as pagan and worked to eradicate it. By the 1930s, it was no longer a significant feature in Ingalik culture.

Ceremonies. The Ingalik ceremonial cycle consisted of seven major observances, the majority concerned with ensuring a plentiful food supply. In the fall, a shaman conducted a brief Doll ceremony, using dolls to predict the game supply. A Bladder ceremony was performed at any time during the Winter, offering animal bladders food to increase game. The peak of the ceremonial calendar came at midwinter, with the Potlatch for the Dead. This festival honored a deceased relative of the giver through a four-night ceremony of gifts of food and clothing to guests. Often preceding or following the Potlatch for the Dead was the Animal's ceremony. Given by one village and attended by others, this was a series of symbolic and imitative dances and singing intended to enhance the game supply. The Hot Dance was an evening of dancing and sexual license often occurring on the fourth night of the Potlatch for the Dead. In spring, the Mask Dance was given for guests from another village, with feasting and giving of gifts. The Partner's Potlatch could be given at any time of year to bring prestige to a village. These were reciprocal with nearby villages and involved the exchange of food and gifts between "partners" from the two communities. Several lesser rituals were given to please important spirits, and there were a variety of "putting down" ceremonies involving presentation of food or gifts to mark rites of passage. Neither the Doll ceremony nor the Bladder ceremony has been performed since the late 1800s. Others survive only in simplified form or have merged with Christian observances.

Arts. Working primarily in spruce wood, the Ingalik produced a variety of masks, bowls, and ceremonial objects. Clothing was decorated with strips of fur and caribou skin. Porcupine quills, feathers, and dentalium shells were also used for ornamentation. Wooden objects often had painted designs in red or black, and skins were sometimes dyed. Pottery was incised with lines and dots. Ingalik women were traditionally tattooed with short, straight lines on their chins or hands, and the men wore carved labrets or lip plugs. Dancing and singing to the accompaniment of tambourine drums and wooden clapper sticks was characteristic of most ceremonies.

Medicine. The Ingalik believed people became ill and died because the Giyeg and his helpers trapped them. Minor afflictions were treated with a variety of herbal and animal Remedies, but the more serious soul-loss caused by the Giyeg required shamanistic therapy. A shaman would use his spirit helpers, songs, sucking, and blowing to recover the soul and effect a cure.

Death and Afterlife. The Ingalik believed all deaths ultimately resulted from the loss of the spirit, or yeg. In aboriginal times warfare, periodic famine, accidents and suicide were more proximate causes. Following death, the body was placed in a sitting position in the kashim. After four days of symbolic feeding, singing, and dancing, the deceased was traditionally given a coffin burial. Cremation and exposure were also practiced. At death, a person's spirit traveled to the underworld, a journey of four days. There, the deceased joined other spirits who lived in villages. A person's property was disposed of by burning, inhumation, giving it away, or inheritance. Close relatives observed a period of mourning and observance of taboos. Together with the increase ceremonies, death and its commemoration was a principal feature of the Ingalik Ceremonial round.


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