The Copper Inuit Soapstone Trade


  • David Morrison



Artifacts, Copper, Copper Eskimos, History, Inuit, Iron, Soapstone, Trade and barter, Alaska, Canadian Arctic, Greenland, North American Arctic


The existence of an important trade in soapstone vessels between Copper Inuit producers and the Inupiat of north Alaska during the 19th century is well known. This paper puts that trade firmly within the context of the Bering Strait intercontinental trade network, of which the Copper Inuit soapstone trade appears to represent the Maximum geographic extent. Archaeological and documentary evidence suggests that it flourished for only about a generation, between about the 1840s and the 1860s, before being circumvented by the Hudson's Bay Company and American trading interests in Alaska. The soapstone trade may have been the first step in the rise to relative prominence of the Kangiryuarmiut of western Victoria Island, one of two Copper Inuit groups that appear to have been directly involved.

Key words: Arctic, Inuit, Copper Inuit, history, archaeology, trade, soapstone