The Importance of Reading Ernest: Applying Burch’s Study of Interregional Interaction to Inuvialuit Ethnohistory

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and T. Max Friesen


One of Ernest S. Burch, Jr.’s most important contributions to scholarship is his framework for understanding Iñupiat interregional interaction in 19th-century northwest Alaska. His precise definition of politically autonomous regional groups, which he termed “nations,” is complemented by an equally well defined consideration of how nations interacted with each other through trade, conflict, and other mechanisms. The result was the most comprehensive study ever written of how a hunter-gatherer society functions at the broadest spatial scale. As such, it is essential reading for anyone seeking a nuanced understanding of hunter-gatherer life-ways and is a rich source of analogs and ideas for those working in regions other than northwest Alaska. I illustrate this point by applying Burch’s framework to the closely related Inuvialuit nations of the Mackenzie Delta in northwestern Canada, just to the west of Iñupiat lands and compare major aspects of territorial organization, conflict, and trade that indicate virtually identical systems of interregional interaction in the two regions. Furthermore, application of some of the more subtle aspects of Burch’s model to the Inuvialuit region, and in particular to the important settlement of Kitigaaryuit, may resolve some issues that have seemed enigmatic in the Mackenzie Delta ethnohistoric record.

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