Copper Inuit dance in a snowhouse

Traditional parkas are shown in this picture of a Copper Inuit dance in a snowhouse, Coronation Gulf, NWT, 1931. Richard S. Finnie, National Archives of Canada (PA-101172).

Drum dancers

Drum dancers in both traditional and contemporary clothing. Video still: Alex Poruchnyk, 2000.

Agnes Nanogak Goose and Mary K Okheena

Agnes Nanogak Goose and Mary K. Okheena modeling two parkas made by Nanogak, Holman. Photo: Darlene Coward Wight, 2000.

Agnes Nanogak Goose in a 'Mother Hubbard' style parka

Agnes Nanogak Goose in a "Mother Hubbard" style parka, Holman. Photo: Bernadette Driscoll Engelstad, 1981.

Double snow-houses

Part of village showing double snow-houses with a snow wall for drying skins, from the Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition 1908-1912. Rudolph M. Anderson, National Archives of Canada (PA-127406).

Caribou skin double tent

Copper Inuit caribou skin double tent for two families, Coppermine River, NWT, from the Stefansson-Anderson Arctic Expedition 1908-1912. Rudolph M. Anderson, National Archives of Canada (PA-127411).

Modern homes in the community of Holman

Modern homes in the community of Holman. Video still: Alex Poruchnyk, 2000.


Warm, windproof, and comfortable clothing was key to the survival of the Copper Inuit. Women were the seamstresses in the family. Using copper needles and sinew thread, they produced finely tailored windproof parkas, boots and pants. Amulets were often sewn to garments to provide the wearer with strength. The traditional skin parka’s front has white fur patches. A separate parka, reserved for dancing, is similar but has wolverine or weasel tassels hung on the back as shown in Helen Kalvak’s Untitled (Two People Dancing). Along with the parka, dancers wore loon dance caps. The loon’s beak was placed on top of the cap, with a weasel skin suspended from the beak. The skin would swing as the dancer moved, reinforcing the drama of the performance and the motion of the dancer.

Sewing was completed in the fall when the caribou’s fur was thickest and most suited to making the qullitaq, or outer parka. In order to observe the taboo about keeping land and sea animals separate, sewing of caribou skins (land animal) was prohibited once families had moved out on to the ice (where they hunted sea animals). Also, the people could not wear caribou clothing during the early winter.

Today, the traditional style of parka is most often used for drum dances. The "Mother Hubbard," another style of parka, with its deep ruffle, is common. It features an outer cotton shell over an inner wool duffle parka. The hood resembles a sunburst, edged with wolf and wolverine fur. Apart from this style of parka, contemporary dress is much the same as in other Canadian communities. In Julia Ekpakohak’s print Big Brother Pulling Sister on Bicycle, for example, the children wear a popular brand of sportswear.



Traditionally, people lived a seasonal lifestyle of migration and settlement, constructing shelters according to climate and necessity. Snowhouses were the primary winter residences for the Copper Inuit, constructed from large snowblocks placed in an "inward-leaning spiral" (Condon p. 79). Their wide entrances and long, downward sloping passages provided both a storage area and a cold air trap. They were heated with stone lamps fueled by seal oil. Snowhouses could be quite elaborate, housing several families in domes radiating from a central gathering place which could be used for games, drum dances and stories. Skin roofs could be used over snowhouse foundations as the snow began to melt, eventually being replaced by skin tents as the seasons progressed from winter to spring.

The first pre-fabricated houses were constructed in the 1960s. The current site of Holman, Queen’s Bay, was first settled in 1966, relocating existing housing from the opposite site of King’s Bay. Since 1978, larger homes have been built in Holman with running water and other facilities.

Tour of Holman as seen from the back of a snowmobile

Tour of Holman as seen from the back of a snowmobile.


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