Settler Colonialism.

Yup’ik objects seen here were gifted or sold to Mabel and Harley McKeague, who gathered health and environmental data from ten Yup’ik villages for the Alaskan Bureau of Vital Statistics following Alaskan statehood in 1959. The Inuit artworks similarly emerged from a context of settler colonial management, as Canada established art co-operatives at Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), Pangnirtung, and elsewhere following successful global sales of Inuit art in the 1950s.

Settler colonialism is a form of imperialism in which an outside population overtakes lands inhabited by Indigenous people with the aim of establishing sovereignty. This results in the oppression and marginalization of Indigenous communities. While settler colonialism manifested differently in Alaska and Canada, a devastating combination of disease, overhunting, and mandatory education and relocation policies pressured both Yupiit and Inuit to survive in a capitalist economy. After statehood, Indigenous art was used to promote tourism in Alaska. Meanwhile, Canada endorsed Inuit art to distinguish itself from other nations among global superpowers in the Cold War era. The works in this section reference Yup’ik and Inuit struggles to maintain their cultures while participating in a global market for their art.

Minister's Flock

c. 1960 – 1992

Oshutsiak Pudlat (Inuk, c. 1909 – 1992)

Pen, ink, and marker on paper

Museums Collections, Gift of Frederick & Lucy S Herman

Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine Arts

In the early twentieth century, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches established several missions on Inuit lands. By the 1930s, most Inuit converted to Christianity while maintaining aspects of their own culture. Pudlat’s drawing depicts a congregation listening to a sermon and following along in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. Missionaries fluent in the language spread Christianity through the use of the Inuktitut syllabic script, as seen in the books depicted here. The minister’s kamiit (skin boots) and clerical clothing exhibit a hybrid of Inuit and Qallunaat (non-Inuit) attire. The role of the figure on the far upper left is unclear.



Mary Pudlat (Inuk, 1923 – 2001)

Color lithograph on paper

Museums Collections, Gift of Carol A. Heppenstall

Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine Arts

In 1960, the Kinngait (Cape Dorset) print co-operative released their first annual collection of prints. The Canadian government facilitated this project, sending artist James Houston to teach printmaking techniques he learned in Japan and Canada to interested Inuit. Consequently, Inuit artists use transnational, contemporary printing techniques to depict a wealth of diverse subjects and narratives. Many drawings on view, including several by Pudlat, were made for possible inclusion in print collections produced by co-operatives in Kinngait and Baker Lake.

Pudlat’s color lithograph calls attention to other media present in the galleries. An animal hide stretched in the background relates to Inuk artist Florence Malewotkuk’s sealskin drawing, while the mitten at center compares to those created by Yup’ik artist Lucy Albrite. The title of the print refers to the Inuit game it depicts. Players would put all of the bones into a bag and evenly distribute them. Each player would use the bones to reconstruct a seal flipper as quickly as possible, combining skill and chance. The game reflects Inuits’ particular knowledge of the animals in their ecosystem and reveals the subtle ways that this knowledge is conveyed even in recreational activities.

Artist unknown (Yup’ik)
c. 1950 – 1960
Grass (dyed and un-dyed)
Museums Collections, Gift of Mabel & Harley McKeague

Left: Mingqaaq (coiled basket) with lid, Right: Issran (twined carrying basket)

For hundreds of years, Yup’ik women made issratet (utilitarian open-weave grass baskets) to carry and store food and other materials. Due to economic changes rooted in colonialism, Moravian missionaries encouraged the production of mingqaat (coiled baskets) for sale to non-Indigenous people. Mingqaat often include knobbed lids inspired by lidded baskets found in home journals marketed towards non-Yup’ik women. Decorations of dyed grass, fabric, or fur enhance their aesthetic value for a western market.

Basket making is currently the only large-scale use of grass in Alaska. Previously, objects made from grass were vital technologies that helped Yupiit live in the sub-Arctic environment. Mingqaat embody the earlier uses of beach grass and express the broader relationship that Yupiit share with all living things.

Edna Mathlaw (Yup’ik)
c. 1960 – 1965
Museums Collections, Gift of Mabel & Harley McKeague