Niġliq: Site of an Ancient Trade Fair

Teaching Strategies from the NSBSD Curriculum Unit

Materials and Supplies (beyond this Learning Center's resources)

  • Map that shows the North Slope of Alaska in some detail
  • Ball, about 8 inches in diameter, preferably made of skin and stuffed with furs or fabric
  • Art supplies
  • An item of clothing that was not made locally


Read about Itaalluk's Journey

The North Slope Borough School District, with funding from the US Department of Education, produced an entire 6th grade curriculum about Niġliq and the trading that occurred there.

To download and print the graphic novel that forms the backbone of that unit, click here.

Map Work

In the graphic novel Adventures in Trading, Itaalluk's family travels from their home in the Brooks Range downriver to Niġliq. Using a map that shows the North Slope in some detail, have students:

  • trace the voyage
  • compute the distance Itaalluk's family traveled
  • research how much gasoline it would take a family nowadays, either by boat or by snowmobile
  • calculate how much time it would take to make the journey nowadays by snowmobile

Map work, continued

Adventures in Trading describes the routes of three resources that made their way to the trade fair at Niġliq. Have students trace those routes on a globe or map of the world. Have them:

  • compute distances
  • research the time such a journey would take nowadays via air, sea, and land

Trace the voyage of an item of clothing

Just as Adventures in Trading traces the journey made by three of the resources that the Iñupiat wanted in 1900, so students can trace the journey an item of clothing took to get to them. To do this exercise, they will need Internet access and might have to conduct a telephone interview with the company's home office to learn about transportation routes.

  1. Choose an item of clothing that was not produced in your town, village, or city.
  2. Locate its point of origin on a globe or map of the world.
  3. Conduct research to determine where the original natural materials came from and where the factory is that produced the item of clothing. Mark that route on the map of globe.
  4. Conduct research about the clothing company to determine (if possible) where its American import office is. Mark that location on a map.
  5. Connect the point of embarkation with your home town, marking any stops the clothing might have made at intermediate distribution points.
  6. If possible, learn how long the process took, from harvesting the natural resource to its purchase in the store.

Learn about the trade at Niġliq

The inland Iñupiat, or Nunamiut, brought goods from the land -- caribou skins and other furs, essential for the warm clothing that their coastal relatives needed. The coastal Iñupiat from Barrow, or Tagiugmiut, had seal oil, whale blubber, and baleen, among other things. And they also had Tanik (White man's) goods from the trading posts.

Download the trading cards, print, and cut them out. Divide students into two groups, Nunamiut and Tagiugmiut, and distribute the cards accordingly.

Help students learn what the Iñupiat would need the resources for by reading a short history of the Iñupiat people through this link.

Then assign to each student a trading partner from the opposite group. Trading partners meet and decide what they want in trade -- regardless of the goods that their trading partners have in hand in the form of trading cards. The two groups then get back together and compare notes, attempting to pool their resources so that all their trading partners are happy. Students then engage in trade.

After the trading episode, discuss it in class: did the trading go smoothly? Were there enough resources to go around? If not, what did they run short in? What would this have meant to the Iñupiat living 100 years ago at the time this trade took place?

Extend the discussion to the goods students want nowadays. Are there some items that are in short supply? What happens to the price of those items? Link this lesson to a general lesson on the market economy.

Have students make their own graphic novels

Using Adventures in Trading as a model, have students compose, draw, and publish graphic novels of their own on the topic of trade and journeys.

  1. Brainstorm as a class what students might want to write about.
  2. Guide students to undertake the necessary research.
  3. Demonstrate how to make a storyboard that places the plot and accompanying illustrations in order.

Play Eskimo Football

Everyone at Niġliq, men, women, and children, played a game that is called "Eskimo Football" in English, aqsraurraq in Iñupiaq. Use a handy ball (about 8" in diameter), or sew one out of canvas, stuffed with fabric or fur, and play the game.

Here are the instructions, reprinted from the book Alliance and Conflict by Ernest S. Burch, Jr.:

Aqsraurraq . . . was like a combination of soccer, rugby, and keep-away played with a soft ball about 8 inches in diameter.  A player moved the ball by kicking it.  He could catch the ball or stop it with his body, but he could not throw it or pick it up and run with it.  In addition to kicking the ball away from an opponent, a player could also knock down an opponent or throw him to the ground.  A team won when it kept the ball away from the other side for so long that the latter gave up.  Women and children played the game solely to have fun, although it was still a vigorous activity.  Then it was played on a small “field” and was accompanied by lots of laughter.  When it was undertaken only by men, it was a much more serious enterprise.  Often the “fields” were several miles long, and games sometimes lasted for many hours, sometimes days.  There were no referees.  As any adult who has played aggressive physical games without referees knows, such games can get very rough indeed.