Caribou (Tuttu)

Overview and Learning Activities

Overview and Learning Activities

Using Internet and print resources (and, if available, local elders), students learn about the cultural and nutritional importance of the caribou (tuttu) in Iñupiaq life.

Enduring Understandings:

  • There are different regional herds of caribou in Alaska.
  • There are many parts of the caribou that are edible.
  • Caribou give us food, clothing, tools, weapons and utensils.
  • Caribou is a major source of food for many Alaska Natives.


  • Students will become aware that caribou is part of Iñupiaq lives.
  • Students will learn to be respectful of the caribou.
  • Students will become aware that the people use the entire animal.


Activities for Elementary Schools

Students explore the questions, “What is caribou, where are they, and why are they important to the Inupiaq people?” Using Internet and print resources, students will:


  • Learn the caribou parts.
  • Name some parts that the Inupiaq people eat.
  • Learn which parts are used for making clothes, tools, utensils and weapons.
  • Discover where Alaska’s caribou herds are located.
  • Know what groups of Alaska Natives eat the caribou.
  • Learn what caribou fat is used for.
  • Learn what sinew is, what people use it for, and which part of the caribou produces sinew. Click here for a Learning Center about the production of sinew.




Activities for Middle School

Students look at the ways caribou is used. First, they explore the nutritional value of caribou meat by researching Internet and print materials and comparing caribou to beef and other animals in terms of:


  • calories
  • proteins
  • fat
  • iron
  • vitamins


Second, they look at the use of caribou fur and hides:


  • How do we care for fur?
  • What kind of clothing is made from it?
  • How did Inupiat make tents long ago?




Activities for High School

Students learn more about caribou by conducting library research and, if available, interviewing elders and hunters to learn:

  • What does protein do for our body?
  • What do caribou eat?
  • What other caribou parts beside meat are nutritional and used as food by Alaska Natives? Click here for a Learning Center about puiñiq, or bone grease from the caribou.
  • What is the caribou life history?
  • How do the Iñupiaq people preserve the meat?
  • What predators and other dangers threaten the lives of the caribou?
  • How can sinew be made into thread? (Click here for a Learning Center about making thread from sinew.)





Students can make a favorite dish, akutuq (sometimes called “Eskimo ice cream”), using the following recipe:



  • Caribou fat
  • Caribou broth/puiñiq (fat from broth)
  • Salt
  • Caribou meat, ground into small and slightly bigger bits




  • Large bowl
  • Meat grinder
  • Skillet
  • Large pan


Melt the cut-up fat in skillet; the amount melted depends on how much akutuq you want.

Cool and let stand.

Using meat grinder, grind meat (the amount you use depends on your personal preference).

When fat is cool enough start stirring it in the large bowl with your hand. Add in broth as you go.

And pinches of salt to your taste and smaller bits of meat and before it thickens add the bigger bits of meat.

Place in a large pan and let it stand till it hardens.

Cut in pieces and store in tin foil. Enjoy!

Recipe from Molly Adams Tremble (2008).


Background Information

Background Information


The Iñupiaq people have historically lived in the northernmost parts of Alaska. People of different nations who spoke the same language (called Inuktitut in the Canadian Arctic) have lived across northern Canada and into Greenland.

Alaska's North Slope

This map shows the contemporary Inupiaq villages Alaska's North Slope.

For millennia, the Iñupiaq people of the North Slope and other parts of Alaska have depended on niqipiat, which are traditional Iñupiaq foods, particularly the great variety of meat and fats found in their land and sea animals, fish and birds. One particular animal, the caribou or tuttu, provided most of raw materials for:

  • Clothing and tent covers
  • Sleeping bags and blankets
  • Antlers and bones provided the raw materials for handles and grips, tools, utensils and weapons
  • Tuttu meat, fat marrow and viscera form an important part of the diet of the people of the North Slope, as caribou continues to be an important source of food for the Iñupiat and other Alaska Natives.

Resources and web sites

Resources and web sites



  • Annugarriugniq tuttut Amininnin by North Slope Borough School District
  • North Slope Borough Commission on Inupiaq History, Language and Culture, DVD entitled Sinew (see excerpts by clicking here).
  • Tradition: Good Food for Life. Maniilaq Association WIC Program 1983. Kotzebue, Alaska.

National and Alaska Standards

National and Alaska Standards

National Geography Standards

NSS-G.K-12.4: As a result of activities in Grades K-12, all students should:

  • Understand the characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.
  • Understand the patterns and networks of economic interdendence on Earth's surface.

NSS-G.K-12.5: As a result of activities in Grades K-12, all students should:

  • Understand how physical systems affect human systems.
  • Understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

Alaska Geography Standards

D: A student should understand the dynamic and be able to interpret spatial (geographic) characteristcs of human systems, including migration, movement, interactions of cultures, economic activities, settlement patterns, and political units in the state, nation, and world. A student who meets the content standard should:

  • Analyze how changes in technology, transportation, and communication impact social, cultural, economic, and political activity.

E. A student should understand and be able to evaluate how humans and phyusical environments interact. A student who meets the content standard should:

  • Understand how resources have been developed and used;
  • Determine the influence of human perceptions on resource utilization and the environment.

Alaska Cultural Standards

B. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to build on the knowledge and skills of the local cultural community as a foundation from which to achieve personal and academic success throughout life. Students who meet this cultural standard are able to:

  • Acquire insights from other cultures without diminishing the integrity of their own.

C. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to actively paerticipate in various cultural environments.  Students who meet this cultural standard are able to:

  • Perform subsistence activities in ways that are appropriate to local cultural traditions.
  • Enter into and function effectively in a variety of cultural settings.

D. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to engage effectively in learning activities that are based on traditional ways of knowing and learning. Students who meet this cultural standard are able to:

  • Acquire in-depth cultural knowledge through active participation and meaningful interaction with Elders.
  • Identify and utilize appropriate sources of cultural knowledge to find solutions to everyday problems.

E. Culturally-knowledgeable students demonstrate an awareness and appreciation of the relationships and processes of interaction of all elements in the world around them. Students who meet his cultural standard are able to:

  • Understand the ecology and geography of the bioregion they inhabit.
  • Recognize how and why cultures change over time.