The presence of the American whalers on Herschel Island 1889-1908 depleted the natural resources and disrupted the traditional subsistence patterns of the Mackenzie Inuvialuit. Traditionally, the Inuvialuit of Herschel Island were primarily fishermen so the whalers traded with the inland Nunatarmiuts of Alaska and the Gwitch’in for caribou and with the Herschel Island Inuvialuit for fish.


The whalers brought canned and dried foods with them. To prevent scurvy, a disease caused by the lack of vitamin C, they relied on fresh meats and fresh vegetables. A whaling ship with 35 men might consume over 9 tons of fresh meat during a winter. The whalers traded tea, flour, sugar, candy, chewing tobacco, firearms and ammunition, knives, files, whaleboats, small stoves, clothing, combs, soap, hand sewing machines, lines, whaleboats, harpoons and matches, metal cooking pots, matches, scissors, sewing needles, thimbles, canvas, calico, looking glasses, accordions, phonographs, records, and phonograph needles.


In return, the Inuvialuit traded fresh caribou, moose and fish, white fox skins and other furs, ducks, whalebone (baleen), ivory, winter clothing and footwear, and "curios".


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