March 1, 1851
British explorer McClure meets the Northern Copper Inuit for the first time. The Eskimos, who have never met non-Eskimos, ask where the white men's hunting grounds are- indicating farming was foreign to them. Members of the expedition noted the Eskimos were self sufficient carnivores, living only off of hunting and fishing and using hammered copper tools collected from particular places.
The Northern Copper Inuit - A History
"McClure and his men noted that these Inuit made extensive use of copper for making hunting implements and other tools:
this knives, arrows, needles, and other cutting and piercing instruments were all made of copper--several speciments which were obtained--fashioned into shape entirely by hammering. No igneous power being had recourse to, it was surprising to see the admirable nature of the work, considering the means by which it was effected, and the form reflected great credit on their ingenuity and excellence in the adaptation of design. (Armstrong 1857:339-340).
The British and Eskimos then traded. One of the expedition members later noted:
They were all quite devoid of that mercenary spirit, and those strong thieving and other propensities so universal amongst the Esquimaux on the American coast[i.e. North Alaska]--the result of their contact with civilized man--being a few of the evils which invariably follow his footsteps over the world...They were quite ignorant that there existed any other people differing from themselves in manners and customs; and asked our party where they came from, and where their hunting ground was situated. Their entire occupation consisted of hunting and fishing, migrating to and from along this coast, fixing their temporary abode wherever success was most likely to attend their efforts; and appeared to be influenced by no other feeling than the acquistion of what was essential to their sustenance from one season to another, to afford them sufficient food and raiment for sustaining life and protecting them from the cold (Armstrong 1857:340)
The meeting--the first European contact and communication with this northernmost group of Copper Inuit--was brief. But from their written observations, it is clear that these explorers were extremely impressed with the Inuit's remarkable ability to survive in such a harsh climate, using ingenious tools and hunting implements made from the limited resources at their disposal. Since no trade items of southern manufacture had yet reached this isolated region of the Arctic, these people were totally independent and self-reliant.