Dogsled and snowmobiles

Dogsled and snowmobiles are used for hunting trips, Holman. Video still: Alex Poruchnyk, 2000.

Copper Inuit fishing

Copper Inuit fishing near present-day Holman, 1916. © Canadian Museum of Civilization: D. Jenness,
CMC 37080—CD2000-12-001.

Inuit archers

Inuit archers, ca. 1915. © Canadian Museum of Civilization: G.H. Wilkins, CMC 51165 - CD96-656-027.

Fish caught during the summer were dried for later use

Fish caught during the summer were dried for later use. July 3, 1915. Rudolph Martin Anderson Collection, National Archives of Canada (C-030073).

Inukshuit for caribou drive

Inukshuit for caribou drive, ca. 1911. The animals would be corralled into the stone enclosures and hunted with bow and arrow. Rudolph Martin Anderson Collection, National Archives of Canada (C-035450).

The Holman Eskimo Co-operative

Two retail stores in Holman sell groceries: The Northern Store and The Holman Eskimo Co-operative pictured here. The Co-op is the only supplier of gasoline and heating oil. Video still: Alex Poruchnyk, 2000.


Hunting and fishing activities are an integral part of life for Holman residents. Musk ox, caribou and Arctic char are the most common foods in every home. Traditionally, hunting activities, combined with small amounts of vegetation, berries and bird’s eggs collected in the summer months, were the source of all food. Now the diet of game and fish is supplemented by groceries flown in from southern climes and sold at the Northern Store and at the Holman Co-op, but hunting and fishing remain important for sustenance and way of life. Changes in southern markets have had a major impact on hunting as a source of employment. Sealing was once the most common hunting activity but the meat is now fed only to dogs and items made from sealskin are no longer popular as craft items.



Before food became available from outside sources, survival depended upon successful hunting which required great skill and stealth. In such a harsh environment, well-constructed and reliable tools and clothing were essential. Hunting tools included the toggle headed harpoon for seal hunting, bola balls for bird hunting, the kakivak for fishing, the spear for bear hunting, and bow and arrows for hunting musk ox, caribou and bear. The most important tools were those used for breathing-hole sealing, the primary hunting activity in this region. In addition to the harpoon, tools included snow probes, ice picks and seal indicators. Rifles became available through trading about 1930, but were not widely used until much later. Equally important to hunting were warm, comfortable and waterproof clothes, and women became expert seamstresses, custom-tailoring each garment from caribou hide and sealskin using sinew for thread and copper needles. Kamiks, or boots, were made from the skin of the bearded seal for spring and summer watertight wear and from caribou hide for winter use.



The cycle of the seasons and the subsequent presence of different types of animals dictated hunting practices. Perhaps the most important hunting activity was breathing-hole sealing that took place in winter. This was a scarce hunting period and seals provided a number of staples other than food, such as skin for clothing and oil for lamps. Communities moved out onto the sea ice around the beginning of December and set up living quarters near abundant seal hunting sites. Seals are warm-blooded animals who need to resurface from the sea from time to time to breathe. With the help of dogs, Inuit hunters would find the holes and wait for the opportunity to spear a seal. This practice required great patience and forged strong partnerships between hunters who dispersed over large areas to cover as many breathing holes as possible. The catch was later shared by hunters. The winter was the coldest and darkest time of the year, and breathing-hole sealing was truly a test of endurance and a testament to the team-work practiced to survive in this challenging environment.



Polar bear hunting also occurred in the winter, and in the spring floe-edge seal hunting, duck hunting and fishing and egg-gathering took place. Summer was the most scarce season in terms of game. Early autumn was a much better time for hunting, as caribou are at their fattest and their thick fur ideal for use in clothing. Musk ox are also most abundant in the fall. Arctic char that had been feeding all summer in the ocean return in the fall to lakes and streams, making spear fishing fruitful. Meat and fish available during the more productive months would be dried and stored for later use. As groups moved around, food was stored in stone caches built to keep scavengers away and to mark the spot for later retrieval.



Inuit people depended entirely upon animals for sustenance and treated them with great reverence and respect. Important rituals and observance of taboos took place to ensure that the spirits of the animals were honoured. For example, a number of observances were related to the separation of land and sea animals. The lives of the animals were not taken lightly, and the entire animal was used for food, clothing and tool-making so that nothing would go to waste.



Although hunting and fishing are still important to the residents of Holman, so is access to imported food. Fresh produce is flown in and is expensive. Dry goods arrive via the barge, a delivery method common in remote northern communities. The barge arrives once a year with orders placed by individuals and companies and in addition to groceries delivers vehicles, pre-fabricated houses, construction supplies and other heavy equipment. As the cost of groceries is very high in Holman, a year’s supply of packaged food is an important economical option for families.


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