The Block

Artist Agnes Kuptana crafted this block, representing the Inuit of the Inuvialuit region, from white and grey sealskin, trimmed to define details, and stitched with sinew. It depicts the “Alaskan High Kick,” a traditional game that has become part of the Arctic Winter Games and the Northern Games. Participants test their agility by putting one hand on the floor while kicking with one foot at a stuffed sealskin hung from a rope. The athlete must hold the non-kicking foot with the opposite hand without letting go during the attempt.

View over Mackenzie Delta from Cessna 172 - En route from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk - Northwest Territories - Canada - 01
View from over the Mackenzie Delta
Mackenzie River east channel at Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road junction
Mackenzie River
Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk cropped
Inuvialuit performer
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Alaskan high kick

Cultural Profile

The people of Inuvialuit are located in the coastal area along the Western Arctic, north of the Arctic Circle. Their name means “the real people” in Inuvialuktum, an Inuktitut language, but they were also known as the Mackenzie Delta Inuit. Research shows that centuries ago the Inuit constructed houses of driftwood and sod, but these were abandoned in favour of snow houses as the Inuit slowly migrated eastward. A snow house, or igloo, can take as little as a couple of hours to build. Ancestors of the Inuit were the first Arctic people to become expert at hunting the larger seas mammals; killing even a small whale meant having food for the community for a long time.

In modern times, the “outside world” has infiltrated the far north. Radar dishes for the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line were built along the coast between 1955 and 1957; most of the 58 original sites were converted for the North Warning System in the mid-80s through the mid-90s. Between 1955 and 1958, the town of Inuvik (“a living place”) was built to house the government for the Inuvialuit. Today satellite technology connects northern residents with most parts of the world.

In 1970, the first Arctic Winter Games were hosted in Yellowknife, NWT. Two years later the Alaskan High Kick was added to the list of competitive events. Inuvialuit meet yearly to share information, trade goods, engage in competitive games, feast, sing, and dance; no hunting is done during this time.

On June 5, 1984, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA) was signed, giving the Inuvialuit rights to land, wildlife management, and financial compensation.

Sponsor: Inuvialuit Regional Corporation | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Flickr