Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Significance of Paatitaaq

Man standing next to boat drinking a beverage after a caribou hunt.

Paatitaaq was, and still is, an extremely important location for the Inupiaq People of the Kobuk Valley. During the fall and spring, many thousands of caribou migrate through the area and for well over 8,000 years, people have been coming to Paatitaaq during these times to harvest caribou. Here, hunters have a good vantage point and can look north to watch for migrating caribou. In the past, once caribou were spotted, hunters would get ready for the harvest. Boats were readied for when the caribou entered the water. Some hunters would have been stationed at various points on the tundra to ensure the caribou funneled to a preferred hunting spot.

When caribou reached the banks and entered the water they would start their crossing, and those in the boats would wait for the lead caribou to make it across. This practice helped to keep the caribou “flowing” into the river. Once that was established, hunters paddled out with their spears and harvested the caribou they choose and towed them to the shore for processing. This tradition carries on to this day, just with updated technologies.

A single caribou did not just mean food. It represented a hardware store, sewing kit, clothing store, and textiles. When a caribou was taken, all the meat was salvaged. From the typical skeletal muscle to the offal (organ meat), all was taken. What could not be eaten was turned into useful products. The antler and bone were turned into spear and arrow points, knife handles and various other useful domestic tools. The sinew was collected for thread and the hide was turned into clothes, bedding, and tent material.

Paatitaaq was a gathering place long ago, and this aspect still carries on to this day. People from villages meet up, share stores and updates from family-until the caribou arrive. Once they arrive and the animals have been taken, hunters head back to their homes and their families where the sharing commences once again.

Last updated: April 23, 2023

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