Uqpiich: Willows in Nunamiut Culture

Uses of the Willow in Nunamiut Life

Important as they were in their role as camping areas, willows provided much more than simply protection from the elements and ready sources of fuel for heating and cooking.  Their wood and other products were used in making tools and implements for housing, hunting and traveling.  The larger willows, primarily the uqpipiaq and to a lesser extent the kanuŋŋiq with their tall straight trunks yielded poles for framing caribou skin tents and moss houses; drying racks for meat, fish and skins; stretching frames for pelts; snares and traps for catching small game; and fishing implements ranging from dip nets, poles, spears and gaffs to framing for weirs and fish traps.

Travelers also used the wood for walking staffs, snowshoes, sled runner shoes, replacement parts for sleds, and temporary or improvised sleds.  Willow wood was also used in making the frames for small skin boats like the imiaqhauraq and the qayaq.

Willow wood was important, but other parts of the plant were also used.  Their amaat, or long supple roots, were gathered and stripped and used as cordage to tie house and storage racks together or make fishing nets.  Naunġat, the young thin branches of new growth, were cut and gathered to floor the interiors of skin tents and moss houses and to line and protect meat caches.  Even the smaller branches were cut and use as patkutaq (fans or mosquito swatters).

In June, new willow shoots were a prized delicacy called misuq. People peeled away the outer bark to chew and suck upon the sweet juices from the soft inner tissues.  Additionally, as the akutukpallik, or new leaves, unfolded in a profusion of rich green growth they were collected and eaten with seal oil.  Kanungngiq leaves were used to produce dye to color skins.

Bark and leaves contained a chemical similar to aspirin and were used to treat headaches, sore muscles and bee stings.  Even the palliksraq, the cottonlike appendages to the seeds, were gathered from the willow catkins and saved for starting fires.