The Ingalik, a people living along the upper Kuskokwim River and the lower Yukon River, plus its tributaries the Anvik and Innoko, in the interior of present-day Alaska, were the westernmost of the Athapascan-speaking peoples. To their west and north were the INUIT, who gave the Inga-lik the tribal name that has survived history, pronounced ING-guh-lick. Fellow ATHAPASCANS—the KOYUKON and TANAINA—lived to their east and south. These and other Athapascans of Alaska and northwestern Canada are classified as part of the Subarctic Culture Area.
SUBARCTIC INDIANS were organized around villages or bands of extended families. The Ingalik had winter and summer villages along the rivers in their territory. Semisubterranean sod houses similar to those built by the western Inuit served as winter dwellings. Summer dwellings included houses of spruce planks or bark or cottonwood logs and temporary brush shelters. Each winter village typically had a communal men’s house, a large one-room structure with a central fireplace and benches along the walls, used as a ceremonial and council center as well as a sweathouse, similar to the kashim of the Inuit.
Ingalik parkas, trousers, and boots, made from animal skins, also resembled those of the Inuit, as did their harpoons and spear-throwers, sleds, and snowshoes. The Inga-lik generally used birch-bark canoes rather than skin-covered boats typical of the Inuit. Unique to the peoples of the region, they made wooden dishes and bowls for trade with other tribes. They depended on hunting, fishing, and gathering for subsistence, as did other peoples of the region, but their location along rivers where regular salmon runs took place meant that they could maintain more of a village life than could Subarctic Indians farther inland. Yet the Ingalik also tracked game such as caribou and moose in the mountainous woodlands at the eastern extent of their territory.
The Ingalik perceived the universe as four levels, the Earth, the sky, an upper underworld, and a lower underworld that they called “fish tail.” All elements of nature, they believed, had spirits, or yegs. On the death of a human, his or her yeg typically went to the upper underworld where the culture hero Raven lived, although others might go to the “top of the sky” or to the “fish tail” depending on the kind of death. Ingalik ceremonies, directed by shamans, included a two-week Animals Ceremony and a gifting ceremony similar to the potlatches of NORTHWEST COAST INDIANS.
The first known contact between the Ingalik and nonNatives is thought to have occurred in 1834 when Andrey Glazunov, a Russian born in Alaska, surveyed the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers for the Russian American Company. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, a trading post was established at Anvik, located at the junction of the Anvik and Yukon Rivers. Christian missionaries worked the region by 1880. Gold rushes in Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory in the 1880s and 1890s led to increased traffic along the Yukon and growing non-Native settlement.
The Ingalik continued to fish, hunt, and gather into the 20th century but with new technologies. In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) settled aboriginal claims to ancestral lands. At that time the Inga-lik villages, along with those of the Koyukon, Tanana, and other Athapascans, became part of Doyon Limited, a corporation organized to manage tribal business development.