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Course & Subject Guides

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, Spring-Summer 2018: Óla

This library guide is an overview of the Archives & Special Collection exhibit on Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian.

Ola-Noatak banner


Photogravure of Ola-Noatak

Óla-Noatak, 1928

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Portfolio XX, Plate no. 716, 1930.

Pictured above is Óla, whose husband Paul Ivanoff acted as the guide and interpreter for the Curtis expedition in the Arctic.  Ivanoff, who was widely traveled throughout Alaska and fluent in all the extant Eskimo dialects, was of Eskimo and Russian parentage.


The Alaskan Eskimo

The Eskimo, a marginal people, who number somewhat fewer than thirty thousand, inhabit the coast and many islands of North America approximately from the Aleutian islands to eastern Greenland.  The extent of the territory occupied by the Eskimo, with some exceptions, from the coast to the interior, is but a few hundred miles.  When this vast territory is considered in connections with the relatively small population, it might be expected that many differences will be found in the culture of the various groups.  Although such is the case, the similarities in the culture of the Eskimo as a whole are perhaps more uniform than are those of the people of any other American culture area.

The population of the Eskimo dwelling in Alaska is officially given as 12,405.  Their territory includes the coast and adjacent islands from the Canadian border on the Arctic ocean to the Aleutian islands.  Many dialectic differences occur in the Eskimo language spoken in this territory…

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text XX, 3, 1930.

Curtis device

The Noatak Eskimo

Nearly a week’s journey by skin boat up the swift, shallow Noatak river, which empties into the narrow strait connecting Hotham inlet with Kotzebue sound, is situated the winter village of the Noatak people.  The little settlement nestles picturesquely in a grove of spruce on a high bluff overlooking the stream, which is wide by this point.

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text XX, 193, 1930.

Curtis device

Banner of Eskimo peoples