The Twelve Core Values of the Inupiaq People - How do they fit in your Life?: A Writing Lesson

Overview and Objectives

Overview and Objectives

In this Learning Center, students will learn about the Iñupiaq people and their subsistence lifestyle, which is based on strong physical and spiritual ties to the land. They will explore the underlying values that inform the actions and behavior of the Iñupiaq people.

In undertaking this Learning Center, students will:

  • Be introduced to the environment and culture of the Alaska Iñupiaq people.
  • Learn about the Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiat. 
  • Consider and discuss the core values and relate them to their own lives.
  • Identify and write about core values that are important to students' own lives, as well as core values they may need to work on.

Click on the bold, underlined words above in order to access the twelve core values.

Who Are the Iñupiat?

The Iñupiat (plural; singular and adjectival form is Iñupiaq) are a group often called "Northern Eskimos" in anthropological literature. Their culture is based on strong ties to the land and to family and community. Most Iñupiaq communities are located on the shore where people have access to sea mammals, fish, and sea birds, though several villages are inland and depend more on caribou.

Their language, with dialectical differences, is spoken from Norton Sound in Alaska to Greenland. They are represented on this map in light blue. For more information about this group, visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Inupiat History, Language and Culture (part of the North Slope Borough) web sites.

Lesson Preliminaries

Lesson Preliminaries

Grade Level

This Learning Center is flexible, but was written for 5th through 8th graders.

Time required

This lesson can take 5 to 7 one-hour class periods, depending on whether all writing is done in class or as a homework assignment.

Classroom resources

In addition to information, images and video clips included in this learning center, teachers will need:

  • A map of the United States
  • A large map of Alaska
  • A collection of books to be read aloud to students that will enhance their understanding of the Iñupiaq culture. Some of the books are geared to very young children. Nonetheless, they are extremely helpful to students' learning about a culture that is new to them. I aquired some of these at the Ilisaġvik College Bookstore in Barrow.  You may be able to find these on or you could contact the college bookstore. The books include:
  1. Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson.  This story speaks to spirituality, cooperation, hunting traditions, knowledge of language, family and kinship, and respect for nature. For a learning activity using this book, visit the Whale of a Tale Learning Center on this web site.
  2. An Arctic Year by North Slope Borough ECHO Program. This book takes readers through each month and includes traditional Iñupiaq activities of each month as well as each core value.
  3. The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.  This is a true account of the shipwreck of the Endurance and the Iñupiaq family that helped the crew survive.
  4. Berry Magic by Teri Sloat and Betty Huffmon.  Although Betty Huffmon is a Yup'ik Eskimo (rather than Iñupiaq) storyteller, this old story is pertinent to the Iñupiat because the berries are the same that I saw growing on the North Slope tundra and the book is a fine example of stories that are passed down through generations.

Learning Objectives and Lesson Overview

The first lesson consists of teaching background information to the students and discussing the meaning of each of the core values.  This may also go into the second day. The remaining days are spent in class writing. The final period consists of sharing.

The objectives of this lesson are as follows:

1. Students will learn about the traditional Iñupiaq life style of hunting for subsistence, and why this lifestyle is important to this region.

2. Students will be introduced to the Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiaq People and participate in a discussion of each value in order to gain full understanding.

3. Each student will choose a core value which he or she feels is present and important in his/her life and write an essay. The essay will define the core value and give an example of a time in the student's life when the core value was used successfully. Alternatively, the student to choose a core value that he/she feels the need to improve on. The student will give an example of a time he/she should have been more aware of the chosen core value.

4. Students will improve their writing through Learning Center activities.

Note: The teacher will decide which writing or grammar techniques to focus on. With this particular essay, I concentrate on topic sentences, segués, and conclusions. I also focus on voice because the voice actually changes in this piece from paragraph to paragraph. For example, the first paragraph is informative because it identifies the core value the student has chosen and defines what it means. The second paragraph or section (this can been longer than one paragraph) should be told as a story that actually happened in the student's life, thereby changing the voice from informative to personal. The final paragraph is a typical concluding paragraph that revisits the core value and reminds the reader why the student chose it by mentioning the story's outcome. It is punctuated with a strong concluding sentence. The last paragraph is a combination of informative and personal.  

Background Information

Background Information

The Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resource Camp

In July of 2008, I had the honor of participating in the Iñupiaq Land Use Values and Resource Camp, sponsored by ECHO and the Peabody Essex Museum. Our campsite was located approximately 10 miles southwest of Barrow, Alaska on a beach on the Arctic Ocean, surrounded by tundra. Amongst the 21 participants were Iñupiaq guides, hunters, teachers, and children, as well as educators from Anchorage, Wasilla, Point Hope, Anatuvuk Pass, Fairbanks, and Point Lay.

Although the sun shone 24 hours a day, the sky was mostly overcast, and the temperatures chilly, with a strong wind blowing for the north or northeast. This is the time of year the Iñupiaq people of the coast hunt tuttu (caribou), aiviq (walrus), and ugruk (bearded seal). During our camping trip all of those animals were successfully hunted.

Before we even arrived at our campsite, our hunters, Qaiyaan and Nagruk Harcharek, provided our first tuttu. The boat ride to our camp was enjoyable, as we admired the beauty of the Beaufort Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean, and marveled at Nagruk's navigating skills as he guided the boat through the ice, which was arranged in a tricky maze.

Suddenly, we found ourselves on shore and Qaiyaan was running up a snow-covered slope, rifle in hand. Through the mist, we watched as he fired one shot into the distance. Nak (Nagruk's nickname) quickly joined him and before we knew it, they returned with a tuttu. The dead animal rode on the bow of the boat until we arrived at camp. At that point, we were made aware of the expertise of our hunter guides.

We set up our camp on the tundra, right next to a beach on the Beaufort Sea. An inlet came into our campsite. It was so beautiful.

Since there are no trees on the tundra, driftwood was very important to us, and there was a lot of it! I was amazed at how much driftwood traveled that far north! We needed it to make drying racks in order to dry out the meat we butchered. We also needed the wood to keep us warm throughout the week. Even though it was July, it was cold! We had many days that were cloudy, foggy or rainy. We also needed the fire to dry off our wet clothes and boots.

Trees do not grow on the tundra, but there is a lot of plant life. Here is a small sampling.

Throughout the week our hunter guides continued to be successful. In the end, seven tuttu, one aiviq, and one ugruk were harvested.  We were kept busy butchering all of the animals, building drying racks, and doing whatever we were told to do by our Iñupiaq teachers. We were so busy with the animals, we didn't have much time for anything else. That was good news, however, because the success of the summer hunting is important to the lives of the Iñupiat for months to come!

Each animal has its season and the summer months produce the largest opportunities and varieties of animals to hunt.

Why hunt?  Why not go to the store?

In Barrow, Alaska there is one store and it sells everything from groceries to snow machines. However, groceries are very expensive. A gallon of milk can cost anywhere from $10.00 to $13.00. The same goes for bread, and produce is out of this world. Remember, Barrow is above the Arctic Circle and while there is plant life, such as tundra grass, flowers and berries, there is no warm dry growing season that can produce vegetables.

It is important for the residents to hunt for subsistence. The necessary vitamins and minerals are found in the sealife as well as the land animals and birds that are hunted. Also, hunters share what they hunt with other residents who may not be able to hunt on their own.

Here is an example of how the Iñupiat follow a cycle in order to hunt for subsistence. To download a complete list, click here. Each month has cultural activities to follow as well as events that happen. This allows people to live in the traditional way and promotes community participation. The following activities are for the months of March and December:


  • Some polar bear hunting
  • Seal hunting
  • Trapping continues for fox, wolf and wolverine
  • Women sew ugruk skins for skin boats
  • New skins put on boat frames
  • Hunting tools repaired
  • Female polar bears bring out their young


  • Trapping season for fox, wolf, wolverine
  • Seal hunting
  • Polar bear hunting
  • Traditional Christmas Feasts
  • Traditional games of skill and endurance
  • Time to clean ice cellars and houses for the new year.

The week we were at our campsite, we had the awesome experience of being in the path of a herd of tuttu. There were about 5000 of them and they came right through our camping area! Our hunters hunted as many as we could handle and bring back to the town - all we had were two small boats!

Watch as the herd of tuttu move through our camp!

The most memorable experience during my week of camping was hunting aiviq (walrus) in the middle of the night in the bright sunlight! Qaiyaan had heard that aiviq had been spotted, and he and the other hunter guides were eager to go hunting. We set off at about 1:00 am and traveled out for about an hour. The water was pristine and beautiful. The ice showed various shades of blue, green and white as it floated gracefully on the water. On the horizon a V-shaped rainbow appeared. Whales and seals swam by. I felt like I was part of another world.  

Qaiyaan stood on the bow of the boat and watched for aiviq. He spotted a dark spot in the ocean and had Nagruk head for it.

This is my favorite picture. It is Qaiyaan on the bow of the boat with a harpoon looking for aiviq.

We continued to travel towards the dark spot and and sure enough - we came upon a piece of ice that supported several aivġich (the plural of aiviq) sunning themselves.

In a culture where hunting is held so important, it is necessary for rules to be in place when there is more than one hunter. The eldest hunter is always in charge and the other hunters must follow his orders carefully. In this situation Qaiyaan, who was 27 years old, was the eldest.

His younger brother Nagruk quietly approached the aiviq-covered ice and took his place on the bow with his brother and their nephew Ash. Ash was thirteen and had been hunting since he was a young boy. However he had never harvested an aiviq.

Qaiyaan told each hunter which aiviq he should aim for and gave the signal to fire their rifles. In the end, it was young Ash who killed the aiviq.

The aiviq was too large to haul onto the boat, so the butchering had to take place at sea. Thick fog had started to roll in and Nagruk had to find a piece of ice that was large enough to support the hunters, other helpers, and the aiviq. We pulled the aiviq alongside the boat until we found such a piece of ice.

At this point it was about 3:30 am and freezing. The aiviq was butchered quickly. The carcass was left on the ice for birds to feast on.

Under different circumstances, the butchering process would have taken longer and more parts of the animal would have been harvested, as many parts of the animal are saved to be used for other purposes. Nothing goes to waste that can be used.

The Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiat

The Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiat

The Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiat are considered essential, especially to people who follow the traditional way of life that involves hunting for subsistence. They are also important for any person who lives in this harsh area of the world where it stays dark for many months, and then turns light for the same amount of time. The core values help people to stay involved with the community. 

Please watch the video. Each value has a quote that is attached to it. I saw these values and quotes on posters throughout the Ilisaġvik College Campus.

Although the core values may seem self explanatory, students need to discuss each one in order to understand its importance. My students came up with the following short  explanations for each one.

  • Avoidance of Conflict - try not to argue or fight

  • Humility - don't brag or be boastful

  • Spirituality - individual beliefs about God or the creator

  • Cooperation - willingly working together

  • Compassion - understanding, kindness and love for others

  • Hunting Traditions - following traditions and rules of hunting in order for the hunt to be successful

  • Knowledge of Language - It is important to know your language in order to better understand your culture

  • Sharing - willingly offering the use of one's possessions to another person 

  • Family and Kinship - love of family and the knowledge of who one's relatives are

  • Humor - ability to laugh at something without hurting somebody's feelings, joking

  • Respect for Elders and for each other - it is important to listen and learn from people who are experienced

  • Respect for nature - the earth and its inhabitants deserve to be healthy because this is home

Throughout the week, I witnessed the core values being used in everyday life. People referred to them in their actions and words. In this video Nagruk and Qaiyaan work together to make a tool which can be used for hunting seal. I thought that several core values were exhibited here: cooperation, humility, hunting traditions, family and kinship, knowledge of language, and humor.

The ten days I spent camping on the tundra in Alaska was the most memorable experience of my life. I am so grateful to everyone who shared their knowledge with me!

Classroom Activities

Classroom Activities

Introduce the community of Barrow Alaska. Students will need to understand its geographic position, the meaning of a tundra, and its people. I always start the discussion by showing a map of the region.  

Have students read the background information on this Learning Center, visit suggested web sites for additional information, and view the pictures and video clips that are included. Please look at the Resource list at the end of this learning center if you would like a copy of a longer video I made during my stay on the tundra.

I also give each student a list of the core values and discuss what each one means. Visit this web site for the list.

During your discussion of the Twelve Core Values, students should identify the core values that are important to them and to even tell stories about a time when the value was in the forefront in their lives. This helps them decide which value to choose and what to write about, and it helps other students by jogging their memories about situations they may want to write about.

If you are able to acquire any of the books about the Arctic and Iñupiaq culture listed in the resource section, read them to the class. I usually read them throughout the week before students work on their papers.

The assignment involves the student writing a paper about a core value. I always write an essay with the class first, and keep it up on chart paper so they can use it as a model throughout the week. I give students a day to decide which core value they wish to write about. I explain the assignment, but also give the students a copy. Here is the assignment:

Core Value Paper

You will be writing a three-paragraph paper about one of the Twelve Core Values of the Iñupiaq People.You have a list of the core values already and have been given the opportunity to think about a core value that is either strong and present in your life, or a core value that you feel you need to improve upon. You have also had the opportunity to think of specific times in your life when the core value was important in order to solve a problem.

Paragraph One: Introduction

Your first paragraph will give the reader an introduction that will state what your paper will be about. It will include:

1. A topic sentence that identifies the core value you will be writing about.

2. The meaning of core values in the Iñupiaq culture.

3. A definition of the core value that you chose.

4. A segué into the next paragraph.

Paragraph Two: A story from your life

Your second paragraph will be an example of a time in your life when you either used the chosen core value successfully, OR you would have been more successful if you had used the core value. This paragraph is a story, not a general idea. You should be specific, use dialogue, give a setting, and make sure there is a problem that needs to be solved. You may find that you end up using more than one paragraph.

Paragraph Three: Conclusion

Your third paragraph will restate the core value you chose and why it is important in your life. Your conclusion should refer to the story you told. Your clincher should be a statement about the core value that is true and lets the audience understand that it is important.

Also for the student:

Core Value Writing Checklist

First Draft

1. Choose a core value that is important in your life.

2. Skip lines - this is a first draft.

3. Write a topic sentence.

4. Define the meaning of core values in the Iñupiaq culture.

5. Define the meaning of the core value you chose.

6. Write why this is an important core value.

7. Write a story about a time this core value was present and important in your life. Try to choose a story that will interest your reader. Remember: A story is more important if a problem occurs that needs to be resolved.

8. Write a concluding paragraph.

9. Use the story we wrote in class to help guide you.

This paper has always turned out to be a paper where students can really shine. The second section, where the student tells a story from his or her life, is the part that makes the paper interesting. This should be emphasized to the students. 

After the first draft is written, students should follow the regular writing process format of revising, editing and making a final copy.

Checklists are always a good idea for students to use to make sure they have employed traits for good writing as well as editing and revising. Using a checklist also affords the opportunity for peer editing.

Checklists can be found online or in student handbooks for writing. Here is a sample of a student writing checklist. To download and print it, click here.

The Iñupiaq way of life is certainly different from the way my students live in Massachusetts. However, it is interesting to them and they enjoy learning about the Iñupiat as well as the core values. By thinking of the Iñupiaq Core Values and how they relate to their own lives, perhaps the students have an opportunity to feel closer to the children who live above the Arctic Circle.

Assessment & Standards

Assessment & Standards

Most teachers have a rubric they like to use for writing assignments. A good rubric identifies what the student did well or needs improvement on and can be used to score the finished work. I always include the rubric with the student's grade. 

My rubrics usually contain two parts: one for topic development and one for mechanics. However, you may decide to focus on a particular area such as personal voice or logical organization for this paper. As a teacher, you know that rubrics change with each assignment and you often end up developing new rubrics for new assignments.

Below are two examples of rubrics. To download and print the Rubric for Writing - Elementary/Intermediate, click here. To download and print the Grade 5 Narrative Writing Rubric, click here. You can find many examples online.

Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Frameworks

Language Strand

  • Standard 1: Discussion - Students will use agreed-upon rules for informal and formal discussions in small and large groups.
  • Standard 2: Questioning, Listening. and Contributing - Students will pose questions, listen to the ideas of others, and contribute their own information or ideas in group discussions or interviews in order to acquire new knowledge.
  • Standard 4: Vocabulary and Concept Development - Students will understand and acquire new vocabulary and use it correctly in reading and writing.

Reading and Literature Strand

  • Standard 8:  Understanding a text - Students will identify the basic facts and main ideas in a text and use them for basic interpretation.
  • Standard 9: Making Connections - Students will deepen their understanding of a literary or non-literary work by relating it to its contemporary context or historical background.
  • Standard 16: Myth, Traditional Narrative, and Classical Literature - Students will identify, analyze, and apply knowledge or the themes, structure, and elements of drama and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding.

Composition Strand

  • Standard 19: Writing - Students will write with a clear focus, coherent organization, and sufficient detail.
  • Standard 20: Consideration of Audience and Purpose - Students will write for different audiences and purposes.
  • Standard 21: Revising - Students will demonstrate improvement in organization, content, paragraph development, level of detail, style, tone, and word choice (diction) in their compositions after revising them.
  • Standard 22: Standard English Conventions - Students will use knowledge of standard English conventions in their writing, revising, and editing.
  • Standard 23: Organizing Ideas in Writing - Students will organize ideas in writing in a way that makes sense for their purpose.
  • Standard 25: Evaluating Writing and Presentations - Students will develop and use appropriate rhetorical, logical, and stylistic criteria for assessing final versions of their compositions or research projects before presenting them to varied audiences.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

History and Geography

Regions of the United States grades 4 -5

  • Standard 4.9 - On a map of the United States, locate the current boundaries of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii)
  • Standard 4.11 - Describe the climate, major physical features, and major natural resources in each region.
  • Standard 5 - Identify the location of the North and South Poles, the equator, the prime meridian, Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Hemispheres.
  • Standard 4:15 - Describe the diverse nature of the American people by identifying the distinctive contributions to American culture.


  • Concepts and Skills 6 - Define and give examples of natural resources in the United States.
  • Concepts and skills 7 - Give examples of limited and unlimited resources and explain how scarcity compels people and communities to make choices about goods and services, giving up some things to get other things.

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Life Science

  • Heredity - Observed characteristics of plants and animals can be fully inherited or they can be affected by the climate or environment.
  • Evolution and Biodiversity - Changes in the environment have caused some plants and animals to die or move to new locations.
  • Living Things and Their Environment - Organisms meet needs by using behaviors in response to information from the environment. Some behaviors are instinctive and others learned. Plants have characteristic behaviors. Plants and animals can survive harsh environments via seasonal behaviors.

National Standards and Standards from Other States

Visit the Education World web site for a list of National Academic Standards.

For the educational standards for your state, visit this web site and choose your state from the drop-down menu.

Resource Listing

Resource Listing

Video DVDs

Inupiaq Land Use Values and Resource Camp.VD. Kathleen Marchetti, 2008. 45 min.  

If you are interested in receiving a copy of this DVD, please contact Kathy Marchetti at

Children's Books

Edwardson, Debby Dahl. Whale Snow. Watertown, MA: Charlsebridge Publishing, 2004.

North Slope Borough ECHO Program. An Arctic Year.  Barrow, AK, 2007.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs.  The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

Sloat, Terry and Huffmon, Betty. Berry Magic. Portland, OR, 2007.

Additional Internet Information

Taqulik, Jr.; Hepa, Harry, Brower. "Subsistence Hunting Activities and the Inupiat Eskimo."  Crisis on the Last Frontier. CSQ Issue: 22.3. Fall 1998.

"Inupiaq & St. Lawrence Island Yupik." Alaska Native Heritage Center. 2008.