The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada (Northwest Territories, Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut, Nunatukavut), Denmark (Greenland), Russia (Siberia) and the United States (Alaska). Inuit means "the people" in the Inuktitut language. An Inuk is singular for Inuit person, whereas Inuit is plural. The Inuit language is grouped under Eskimo-Aleut languages.
The Inuit live throughout most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic: in the territory of Nunavut ("our land"); the northern third of Quebec, in an area called Nunavik ("place to live"); the coastal region of Labrador, in areas called Nunatsiavut ("our beautiful land") and Nunatukavut ("Our Ancient Land"); in various parts of the Northwest Territories, mainly on the coast of the Arctic Ocean and formerly in the Yukon. Collectively these areas are known as Inuit Nunangat.
In the U.S., Alaskan Inupiat live on the North Slope of Alaska and Siberian Coast, Little Diomede Island. In Russia, they live on Big Diomede Island. Greenland's Kalaallit are citizens of Denmark.
In Alaska, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat. No universal term other than Eskimo, inclusive of all Inupiat and Yupik people, exists for the Inupiat and Yupik peoples.
In Canada and Greenland, the Natives prefer the word Inuit. As they consider "Eskimo" pejorative, it has fallen out of favor. In Canada, the Constitution Act of 1982, sections 25 and 35 recognized the Inuit as a distinctive group of Canadian aboriginals, who are neither First Nations nor Metis.
Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, who emerged from western Alaska, after crossing the land bridge from Asia, around 1000 AD and spread eastwards across the Arctic. They displaced the related Dorset culture, the last major Paleo-Eskimo culture (in Inuktitut, called the Tuniit). Inuit legends speak of the Tuniit as "giants", people who were taller and stronger than the Inuit. Less frequently, the legends refer to the Dorset as "dwarfs". Researchers believe that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other technologies that gave the expanding Inuit society an advantage. By 1300, the Inuit had settled in west Greenland, and they moved into east Greenland over the following century.
Faced with population pressures from the Thule and other surrounding groups, such as the Algonquian and Siouan to the south, the Tuniit gradually receded. They were thought to have become completely extinct as a people by about 1400-1500 AD.
But, in the mid 1950s, researcher Henry B. Collins determined that, based on the ruins found at Native Point, the Sadlermiut were likely the last remnants of the Dorset culture. The Sadlermiut population survived up until winter 1902-03, when exposure to new infectious diseases brought by contact with Europeans led to their extinction as a people. More recently, mitochondrial DNA research has supported the theory of continuity between the Tuniit and the Sadlermiut. It also has provided evidence that a population displacement did not occur within the Aleutian Islands between the Dorset and Thule transition. In contrast to other Tuniit populations, the Aleut and Sadlermiut benefited from both geographical isolation and their ability to adopt certain Thule technologies.
In Canada and Greenland, Inuit circulated almost exclusively north of the "Arctic tree line", the de facto southern border of Inuit society. The most southern "officially recognized" Inuit community in the world is Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador. South of Nunatsiavut, the descendants of the southern Labrador Inuit in NunatuKavut continued their traditional transhumant, semi-nomadic way of life until the mid-1900s. The NunatuKavummuit were usually spread out among islands and bays and therefore did not establish stationary communities. In other areas south of the tree line, Native American cultures were well established. The culture and technology of Inuit society that served so well in the Arctic were not suited to subarctic regions, so they did not displace their southern neighbors.
Inuit had trade relations with more southern cultures; boundary disputes were common and gave rise to aggressive actions. Warfare, in general, was not uncommon among those Inuit groups with sufficient population density. Inuit, such as the Nunatamiut (Uummarmiut) who inhabited the Mackenzie River delta area, often engaged in warfare. The Central Arctic Inuit lacked the population density to do so.
Their first European contacts were with the Vikings who settled in Greenland and explored the eastern Canadian coast. The Norse literature noted skelingar, most likely an undifferentiated label for all the native peoples of the Americas whom the Norse encountered: Tuniit, Inuit and Beothuk alike.
Sometime in the 13th century, the Thule culture began arriving in Greenland from what is now Canada. Norse accounts are scant; however, Norse-made items have been found at Inuit campsites in Greenland. It is unclear whether they were there as the result of trade or plunder. One old account speaks of "small people" with whom the Norsemen fought. Ivar Baroarson's 14th-century account noted that the western settlement, one of the two Norse settlements, had been taken over by the skelings. The reason why the Norse settlements failed is unclear. The last record of them is from 1408, roughly the same period as the earliest Inuit settlements in east Greenland.
After about 1350, the climate grew colder during the period known as the Little Ice Age. Inuit were forced to abandon hunting and whaling sites in the high Arctic. As bowhead whaling disappeared in Canada and Greenland, Inuit had to subsist on a much poorer diet. In addition, they lost access to essential raw materials derived from whaling for their tools and architecture. During this period, Alaskan natives were, however, able to continue their whaling activities.
The changing climate forced Inuit to work their way south, forcing them into marginal niches along the edges of the tree line. These were areas which Native Americans had not occupied, or where they were weak enough for coexistence with Inuit. Researchers have difficulty defining when Inuit stopped territorial expansion. There is evidence that they were still moving into new territory in southern Labrador when they first began to interact with colonial North Americans in the 17th century.
Ancient DNA Sheds New Light on Arctic's Earliest People National Geographic - August 28, 2014
The earliest people in the North American Arctic remained isolated from others in the region for millennia before vanishing around 700 years ago, a new genetic analysis shows. The study also reveals that today's Inuit and Native Americans of the Arctic are genetically distinct from the region's first settlers. Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic have long told stories about a mysterious ancient people known as the Tunit, who once inhabited the far north. Tunit men, they recalled, possessed powerful magic and were strong enough to crush the neck of a walrus and singlehandedly haul the massive carcass home over the ice. Yet the stories described the Tunit as a reticent people who kept to themselves, avoiding contact with their neighbors.
How to Build an Igloo National Geographic - November 1, 2016
Meet the man working in the Canadian Arctic to help preserve Inuit survival techniques. When building an igloo for six hours in minus 54 degrees, Dylan Clark adheres to this ratio: For every second his hand is exposed to the cold, it takes 10 minutes back in the glove to warm it.
The Inuit language is traditionally spoken across the North American Arctic and to some extent in the subarctic in Labrador. The related Yupik languages are spoken in western and southern Alaska and Russian Far East, particularly the Diomede Islands, but is severely endangered in Russia today and is spoken only in a few villages on the Chukchi Peninsula. The Inuit live primarily in three countries: Greenland (a constituent of the Kingdom of Denmark), Canada (specifically the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador, the Nunavik region of Quebec, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories), and the United States (specifically the state of Alaska).
The total population of Inuit speaking their traditional language is difficult to assess with precision, since most counts rely on self-reported census data that may not accurately reflect usage or competence. Greenland census estimates place the number of speakers of Inuit dialects there at roughly 50,000, while Canadian estimates are at roughly 35,000. These two countries count the bulk of speakers of Inuit language variants, although about 7,500 Alaskans speak Inuit dialects out of a population of over 13,000 Inuit.
The Eskimo languages have a few hundred speakers in Russia. In addition, an estimated 7,000 Greenlandic Inuit live in European Denmark, the largest group outside of Canada and Greenland. So, the global population of speakers of Inuit language variants is on the order of over 90,000 people.
The traditional language of the Inuit is a system of closely interrelated dialects that are not readily comprehensible from one end of the Inuit world to the other, and some people do not think of it as a single language but rather as a group of languages. However, there are no clear criteria for breaking the Inuit language into specific member languages, since it forms a continuum of close dialects. Each band of Inuit understands its neighbors, and most likely its neighbors' neighbors; but at some remove, comprehensibility drops to a very low level.
As a result, Inuit in different places use different words for its own variants and for the entire group of languages, and this ambiguity has been carried into other languages, creating a great deal of confusion over what labels should be applied to it.
In Greenland the official form of Inuit language, and the official language of the state, is called Kalaallisut. In other languages, it is often called Greenlandic or some cognate term. The Eskimo languages of Alaska are called Inupiatun, but the variants of the Seward Peninsula are distinguished from the other Alaskan variants by calling them Qawiaraq, or for some dialects, Bering Straits Inupiatun.
In Canada, the word Inuktitut is routinely used to refer to all Canadian variants of the Inuit traditional language, and it is under that name that it is recognized as one of the official languages of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. However, one of the variants of western Nunavut is called Inuinnaqtun to distinguish itself from the dialects of eastern Canada, while the variants of the Northwest Territories are sometimes called Inuvialuktun and have in the past sometimes been called Inuktun.
In those dialects, the name is sometimes rendered as Inuktitun to reflect dialectal differences in pronunciation. The Inuit language of Quebec is called Inuttitut by its speakers, and often by other people, but this is a minor variation in pronunciation. In Labrador, the language is called Inuttut or, often in official documents, by the more descriptive name Labradorimiutut. Furthermore, Canadians - both Inuit and non-Inuit - sometimes use the word Inuktitut to refer to all of the Inuit language variants, including those of Alaska and Greenland.
The phrase "Inuit language" is largely limited to professional discourse, since in each area, there is one or more conventional terms that cover all the local variants; or it is used as a descriptive term in publications where readers can't necessarily be expected to know the locally used words. But, this means that while you can call the French language French, you cannot call the Inuit language Inuit. Saying "Peter speaks Inuit" is a very strange usage that most people who are familiar with the Inuit language would recognize as suspect, comparable to asserting that Hispanics must speak "Hispanic". The word Inuit is generally reserved for the ethnic group, both from its Inuit language meaning - it refers specifically to a group of people - and in the way the word has been adopted in English.
Although many people refer to the Inuit language as Eskimo language, this is a broad term that also includes Yupik, and is in addition strongly discouraged in Canada and diminishing in usage elsewhere. See the article on Eskimo for more information on this word.
Because the Inuit language is spread over such a large area, divided between different nations and political units and originally reached by Europeans of different origins at different times, there is no uniform way of writing the Inuit language. Most Inuktitut in Nunavut and Nunavik is written using a script called Inuktitut syllabics, based on Canadian Aboriginal syllabics. The western part of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories use Latin alphabet usually identified as Inuinnaqtun. In Alaska, another Latin alphabet is used. Nunatsiavut uses an alphabet devised by German-speaking Moravian missionaries, which included the letter kra. Greenland's Latin alphabet was originally much like the one used in Nunatsiavut, but underwent a spelling reform in 1973 to bring the orthography in line with changes in pronunciation and better reflect the phonemic inventory of the language. The Siberian Yupik languages of Russia are written in a Cyrillic alphabet.
The division of labor in traditional Inuit society had a strong gender component, but it was not absolute. The men were traditionally hunters and fishermen and the women took care of the children, cleaned the home, sewed, processed food, and cooked. However, there are numerous examples of women who hunted, out of necessity or as a personal choice. At the same time men, who could be away from camp for several days at a time, would be expected to know how to sew and cook.
The marital customs among the Inuit were not strictly monogamous: many Inuit relationships were implicitly or explicitly sexual. Open marriages, polygamy, divorce, and remarriage were known. Among some Inuit groups, if there were children, divorce required the approval of the community and particularly the agreement of the elders. Marriages were often arranged, sometimes in infancy, and occasionally forced on the couple by the community.
Marriage was common for women at puberty and for men when they became productive hunters. Family structure was flexible: a household might consist of a man and his wife (or wives) and children; it might include his parents or his wife's parents as well as adopted children; it might be a larger formation of several siblings with their parents, wives and children; or even more than one family sharing dwellings and resources. Every household had its head, an elder or a particularly respected man.
There was also a larger notion of community as, generally, several families shared a place where they wintered. Goods were shared within a household, and also, to a significant extent, within a whole community.
The Inuit were hunter-gatherers, and have been referred to as nomadic. One of the customs following the birth of an infant was for an Angakkuq (shaman) to place a tiny ivory carving of a whale into the baby's mouth, in hopes this would make the child good at hunting. Loud singing and drumming were also customary after a birth.
Inuit choose their diet based on four concepts: "the relationship between animals and humans, the relationship between the body and soul and life and health, the relationship between seal blood and Inuit blood, and diet choice." Inuit are especially spiritual when it comes to the customs of hunting, cooking, and eating. The Inuit belief is that the combination of animal and human blood in one's bloodstream creates a healthy human body and soul.
The Inuit have traditionally been fishers and hunters. They still hunt whales (esp. bowhead whale), walrus, caribou, seal, polar bears, muskoxen, birds, and at times other less commonly eaten animals such as the Arctic Fox. The typical Inuit diet is high in protein and very high in fat - in their traditional diets, Inuit consumed an average of 75% of their daily energy intake from fat. While it is not possible to cultivate plants for food in the Arctic, the Inuit have traditionally gathered those that are naturally available. Grasses, tubers, roots, stems, berries, and seaweed (kuanniq or edible seaweed) were collected and preserved depending on the season and the location.There is a vast array of different hunting technologies that the Inuit used to gather their food.
In the 1920s anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson lived with and studied a group of Inuit. The study focused on the fact that the Inuit's extremely low-carbohydrate diet had no adverse effects on their health, nor indeed, Stefansson's own health. Stefansson (1946) also observed that the Inuit were able to get the necessary vitamins they needed from their traditional winter diet, which did not contain any plant matter. In particular, he found that adequate vitamin C could be obtained from items in their traditional diet of raw meat such as Ringed Seal liver and whale skin (muktuk). While there was considerable skepticism when he reported these findings, they have been borne out in recent studies.
According to Inuit hunters and elders, hunters and seals have an agreement that allows the hunter to capture and feed from the seal if only for the hunger of the hunter's family. This alliance "both hunter and seal are believed to benefit: the hunter is able to sustain the life of his people by having a reliable source of food, and the seal, through its sacrifice, agrees to become part of the body of the Inuit." Inuit are under the belief that if they do not follow the alliances that their ancestors have laid out, the animals will disappear because they have been offended and will cease to reproduce.
Inuit are known for their practice of food sharing, a form of food distribution where one person catches the food and shares with the entire community. Food sharing was first documented among the Inuit in 1910 when a little girl decided to take a platter around to four neighboring families who had no food of their own.
Inuit consume a diet of foods that are fished, hunted, and gathered locally. This may include walrus, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal, beluga whale, caribou, polar bear, muskoxen, birds (including their eggs) and fish. While it is not possible to cultivate plants for food in the Arctic the Inuit have traditionally gathered those that are naturally available. Grasses, tubers, roots, stems, berries, fireweed and seaweed (kuanniq or edible seaweed) were collected and preserved depending on the season and the location. According to Edmund Searles in his article "Food and the Making of Modern Inuit Identities," they consume this type of diet because a mostly meat diet is "effective in keeping the body warm, making the body strong, keeping the body fit, and even making that body healthy".
Seal meat is the most important aspect of an Inuit diet and is often the largest part of an Inuit hunter's diet. Depending on the season, Inuit hunt for different types of seal: Harp Seal, Harbor Seal, and Bearded Seal. Ringed Seals are hunted all year, while Harp Seals are only available during the summer. Because air-breathing seals need to break through the ice to reach air, they form breathing holes with their claws. Through these, Inuit hunters are able to capture seals. When a hunter arrives at these holes, they set up a seal indicator that alerts the hunter when a seal is coming up for a breath of air. When the seal comes up, the hunter notices movement in the indicator and uses his harpoon to capture the seal in the water. Seals, as saltwater animals, are always considered to be thirsty and therefore are offered a drink of fresh water as it is dying. This is shown as a sign of respect and gratitude toward the seal and its sacrifice. This offering is also done to please the spirit Sedna to ensure food supply.
Walrus are often hunted during the winter and spring since hunting them in summer is much more dangerous. A walrus is too large to be controlled by one man, so it cannot be hunted alone. In Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut, an Inuit elder describes the hunt of a walrus in these words: "When a walrus was sighted, the two hunters would run to get close to it and at a short distance it is necessary to stop when the walrus's head was submerged╔the walrus would hear you approach. They then tried to get in front of the walrus and it was harpooned while its head was submerged. In the meantime, the other person would drive the harpoon into the ice through the harpoon loop to secure it."
As one of the largest animals in the world, the bowhead whale is able to feed an entire community for nearly a year from its meat, blubber, and skin. Inuit hunters most often hunt juvenile whales which, compared to adults, are safer to hunt and have tastier skin. Similar to walrus, bowhead whales are captured by harpoon. The hunters use active pursuit to harpoon the whale and follow it during attack. At times, Inuit were known for using a more passive approach when hunting whales. According to John Bennett and Susan Rowley, they would harpoon the whale and instead of pursuing it, would "wait patiently for the winds, currents, and spirits to aid him in bringing the whale to shore."
During the majority of the year caribou roam the tundra in small herds, but twice a year large herds of caribou cross the inland regions. Caribou have excellent senses of smell and hearing so that the hunters must be very careful when in pursuit. Often, Inuit hunters set up camp miles away from the caribou crossing and wait until they are in full view to attack.
There are many ways in which the caribou can be captured, including spearing, forcing caribou into the river, using blinders, scaring the caribou, and stalking the caribou. When spearing caribou, hunters put the string of the spear in their mouths and the other end they use to gently spear the animal.
Inuit consume both salt water and freshwater fish including sculpin, Arctic cod, Arctic char and lake trout. They capture these types of fish by jigging. The hunter cuts a square hole in the ice on the lake and fishes using a fish lure and spear. Instead of using a hook on a line, Inuit use a fake fish attached to the line. They lower it into the water and move it around as if it is real. When the live fish approach it, they spear the fish before it has a chance to eat the fake fish.
The decline of hunting is partially due to the fact that young people lack the skills to survive off the land. They are no longer skilled in hunting like their ancestors and are growing more accustomed to the Qallunaat ("White people") food that they receive from the south. The high costs of hunting equipment - snowmobiles, rifles, sleds, camping gear, gasoline, and oil - is also causing a decline in families who hunt for their meals.
Because the climate of the Arctic is ill-suited for agriculture and lacks foragable plant matter for much of the year, the traditional Inuit diet is unusually low in carbohydrates and high in fat and animal protein. In the absence of carbohydrates, protein is broken down in the liver through gluconeogenesis and utilized as an energy source. Inuit studied in the 1970s were found to have abnormally large livers, presumably to assist in this process. Their urine volumes were also high, a result of the excess urea produced by gluconeogenesis.
Traditional Inuit diets derive, at most, 35-40% of their calories from protein, with 50-75% of calories preferably coming from fat. This high fat content provides valuable energy and prevents protein poisoning, which historically was sometimes a problem in late winter when game animals grew lean through winter starvation. Because the fats of the Inuit's wild-caught game are largely monounsaturated and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the diet does not pose the same health risks as a typical Western high-fat diet.
Vitamins and minerals which are typically derived from plant sources are nonetheless present in most Inuit diets. Vitamins A and D are present in the oils and livers of cold-water fishes and mammals. Vitamin C is obtained through sources such as caribou liver, kelp, whale skin, and seal brain; because these foods are typically eaten raw or frozen, the vitamin C they contain, which would be destroyed by cooking, is instead preserved.
The natives hunted sea animals from single-passenger, covered seal-skin boats called qajaq which were extraordinarily buoyant, and could easily be righted by a seated person, even if completely overturned. Because of this property the design was copied by Europeans, and Americans who still produce them under the Inuit name kayak.
Inuit also made umiaq ("woman's boat"), larger open boats made of wood frames covered with animal skins, for transporting people, goods and dogs. They were 6-12 m (20-39 ft) long and had a flat bottom so that the boats could come close to shore. In the winter, Inuit would also hunt sea mammals by patiently watching an aglu (breathing hole) in the ice and waiting for the air-breathing seals to use them. This technique is also used by the polar bear, who hunts by seeking holes in the ice and waiting nearby.
On land, the Inuit used dog sleds (qamutik) for transportation. The husky dog breed comes from Inuit breeding of dogs and wolves for transportation. A team of dogs in either a tandem/side-by-side or fan formation would pull a sled made of wood, animal bones, or the baleen from a whale's mouth and even frozen fish, over the snow and ice. The Inuit used stars to navigate at sea and landmarks to navigate on land; they possessed a comprehensive native system of toponymy. Where natural landmarks were insufficient, the Inuit would erect an inukshuk.
Dogs played an integral role in the annual routine of the Inuit. During the summer they became pack animals, sometimes dragging up to 20 kg (44 lb) of baggage and in the winter they pulled the sled. Yearlong they assisted with hunting by sniffing out seals' holes and pestering polar bears. They also protected the Inuit villages by barking at bears and strangers. The Inuit generally favored, and tried to breed, the most striking and handsome of dogs, especially ones with bright eyes and a healthy coat. Common husky dog breeds used by the Inuit were the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the official animal of Nunavut, (Qimmiq; Inuktitut for dog), the Greenland Dog, the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute. The Inuit would perform rituals over the newborn pup to give it favourable qualities; the legs were pulled to make them grow strong and nose was poked with a pin to enhance the sense of smell.
Inuit industry relied almost exclusively on animal hides, driftwood, and bones, although some tools were also made out of worked stones, particularly the readily worked soapstone. Walrus ivory was a particularly essential material, used to make knives. Art played a big part in Inuit society and continues to do so today. Small sculptures of animals and human figures, usually depicting everyday activities such as hunting and whaling, were carved from ivory and bone. In modern times prints and figurative works carved in relatively soft stone such as soapstone, serpentinite, or argillite have also become popular.
Inuit made clothes and footwear from animal skins, sewn together using needles made from animal bones and threads made from other animal products, such as sinew. The anorak (parka) is made in a similar fashion by Arctic peoples from Europe through Asia and the Americas, including the Inuit. The hood of an amauti, (women's parka, plural amautiit) was traditionally made extra large, to allow the mother to carry a baby against her back and protect it from the harsh wind. Styles vary from region to region, from the shape of the hood to the length of the tails. Boots (mukluk or kamiit), could be made of caribou or seal skin, and designed for men and women.
During the winter, certain Inuit lived in a temporary shelter made from snow called an iglu, and during the few months of the year when temperatures were above freezing, they lived in tents made of animal skins supported by a frame of bones. Some, such as the Siglit, used driftwood, while others built sod houses.
The environment in which the Inuit lived inspired a mythology filled with adventure tales of whale and walrus hunts. Long winter months of waiting for caribou herds or sitting near breathing holes hunting seals gave birth to stories of mysterious and sudden appearance of ghosts and fantastic creatures. Some Inuit looked into the aurora borealis, or northern lights, to find images of their family and friends dancing in the next life.
However, some Inuit believed that the lights were more sinister and if you whistled at them, they would come down and cut off your head. This tale is still told to children today. For others they were invisible giants, the souls of animals, a guide to hunting and as a spirit for the angakkuq to help with healing.They relied upon the angakkuq (shaman) for spiritual interpretation. The nearest thing to a central deity was the Old Woman (Sedna), who lived beneath the sea. The waters, a central food source, were believed to contain great gods.
The Inuit practized a form of shamanism based on animist principles. They believed that all things had a form of spirit, including humans, and that to some extent these spirits could be influenced by a pantheon of supernatural entities that could be appeased when one required some animal or inanimate thing to act in a certain way. The angakkuq of a community of Inuit was not the leader, but rather a sort of healer and psychotherapist, who tended wounds and offered advice, as well as invoking the spirits to assist people in their lives. His or her role was to see, interpret and exhort the subtle and unseen. Angakkuit were not trained; they were held to be born with the ability and recognized by the community as they approached adulthood.
The lives of Paleo-Eskimos of the far north were largely unaffected by the arrival of visiting Norsemen except for mutual trade. Labrador Inuit have had the longest continuous contact with Europeans. After the disappearance of the Norse colonies in Greenland, the Inuit had no contact with Europeans for at least a century. By the mid-16th century, Basque whalers and fishermen were already working the Labrador coast and had established whaling stations on land, such as the one that has been excavated at Red Bay. The Inuit appear not to have interfered with their operations, but they raided the stations in winter for tools and items made of worked iron, which they adapted to their own needs.
Martin Frobisher's 1576 search for the Northwest Passage was the first well-documented post-Columbian contact between Europeans and Inuit. Frobisher's expedition landed in Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, not far from the settlement now called The City of Iqaluit which was long known as Frobisher Bay. Frobisher encountered Inuit on Resolution Island where five sailors left the ship, under orders from Frobisher, and became part of Inuit mythology. The homesick sailors, tired of their adventure, attempted to leave in a small vessel and vanished. Frobisher brought an unwilling Inuk to England, doubtless the first Inuk ever to visit Europe. The Inuit oral tradition, in contrast, recounts the natives helping Frobisher's crewmen, whom they believed had been abandoned.
The semi-nomadic eco-centred Inuit were fishers and hunters harvesting lakes, seas, ice platforms and tundra. While there are some allegations that Inuit were hostile to early French and English explorers, fishers and whalers, more recent research suggests that the early relations with whaling stations along the Labrador coast and later James Bay were based on a mutual interest in trade.
In the final years of the 18th century, the Moravian Church began missionary activities in Labrador, supported by the British who were tired of the raids on their whaling stations. The Moravian missionaries could easily provide the Inuit with the iron and basic materials they had been stealing from whaling outposts, materials whose real cost to Europeans was almost nothing, but whose value to the Inuit was enormous and from then on contacts in Labrador were far more peaceful.
The European arrival tremendously damaged the Inuit way of life, causing mass death through new diseases introduced by whalers and explorers, and enormous social disruptions caused by the distorting effect of Europeans' material wealth. Nonetheless, Inuit society in the higher latitudes had largely remained in isolation during the 19th century. The Hudson's Bay Company opened trading posts such as Great Whale River (1820), today the site of the twin villages of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik, where whale products of the commercial whale hunt were processed and furs traded.
The British Naval Expedition of 1821-3 led by Admiral William Edward Parry, which twice over-wintered in Foxe Basin, provided the first informed, sympathetic and well-documented account of the economic, social and religious life of the Inuit. Parry stayed in what is now Igloolik over the second winter. Parry's writings, with pen and ink illustrations of Inuit everyday life, and those of George Francis Lyon, both published in 1824 were widely read. Captain George Comer's Inuit wife Shoofly, known for her sewing skills and elegant attire, was influential in convincing him to acquire more sewing accessories and beads for trade with Inuit.
During the early 20th century a few traders and missionaries circulated among the more accessible bands, and after 1904 they were accompanied by a handful of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Unlike most Aboriginal peoples in Canada, however, the lands occupied by the Inuit were of little interest to European settlers - to the southerners, the homeland of the Inuit was a hostile hinterland. Southerners enjoyed lucrative careers as bureaucrats and service providers to the north, but very few ever chose to visit there. Canada, with its more hospitable lands largely settled, began to take a greater interest in its more peripheral territories, especially the fur and mineral-rich hinterlands.
By the late 1920s, there were no longer any Inuit who had not been contacted by traders, missionaries or government agents. In 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada found, in a decision known as Re Eskimos, that the Inuit should be considered Indians and were thus under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Native customs were worn down by the actions of the RCMP, who enforced Canadian criminal law on Inuit, such as Kikkik, who often could not understand what they had done wrong, and by missionaries who preached a moral code very different from the one they were used to. Many of the Inuit were systematically converted to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, through rituals like the Siqqitiq.
World War II and the Cold War made Arctic Canada strategically important for the first time and, thanks to the development of modern aircraft, accessible year-round. The construction of air bases and the Distant Early Warning Line in the 1940s and 1950s brought more intensive contacts with European society, particularly in the form of public education, which traditionalists complained instilled foreign values disdainful of the traditional structure of Inuit society.
In the 1950s the High Arctic relocation was undertaken by the Government of Canada for several reasons. These were to include protecting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic, alleviating hunger (as the area currently occupied had been over-hunted), and attempting to solve the "Eskimo problem", meaning the assimilation and end of the Inuit culture.
One of the more notable relocation's was undertaken in 1953, when 17 families were moved from Port Harrison (now Inukjuak, Quebec) to Resolute and Grise Fiord. They were dropped off in early September when winter had already arrived. The land they were sent to was very different from that in the Inukjuak area; it was barren, with only a couple of months when the temperature rose above freezing and several months of polar night. The families were told by the RCMP they would be able to return within two years if conditions were not right. However, two years later more families were relocated to the High Arctic and it was to be thirty years before they were able to visit Inukjuak.
By 1953, Canada's prime minister Louis St. Laurent publicly admitted, "Apparently we have administered the vast territories of the north in an almost continuing absence of mind." The government began to establish about forty permanent administrative centres to provide education, health and economic development services. Inuit from hundreds of smaller camps scattered across the north, began to congregate in these hamlets.
Regular visits from doctors, and access to modern medical care raised the birth rate and decreased the death rate, causing an enormous natural increase. Before long, the Inuit population was beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystem (that which hunting and fishing could support).
By the mid-1960s, encouraged first by missionaries, then by the prospect of paid jobs and government services, and finally forced by hunger and required by police, all Canadian Inuit lived year-round in permanent settlements. The nomadic migrations that were the central feature of Arctic life had for the most part disappeared. The Inuit, a once self-sufficient people in an extremely harsh environment were, in the span of perhaps two generations, transformed into a small, impoverished minority, lacking skills or resources to sell to the larger economy, but increasingly dependent on it for survival.
Although anthropologists like Diamond Jenness (1964) were quick to predict that Inuit culture was facing extinction, Inuit political activism was already emerging.
In the 1960s, the Canadian government funded the establishment of secular, government-operated high schools in the Northwest Territories (including what is now Nunavut) and Inuit areas in Quebec and Labrador along with the residential school system. The Inuit population was not large enough to support a full high school in every community, so this meant only a few schools were built, and students from across the territories were boarded there.
These schools, in Aklavik, Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Inuvik and Kuujjuaq, brought together young Inuit from across the Arctic in one place for the first time, and exposed them to the rhetoric of civil and human rights that prevailed in Canada in the 1960s. This was a real wake-up call for the Inuit, and it stimulated the emergence of a new generation of young Inuit activists in the late 1960s who came forward and pushed for respect for the Inuit and their territories.
The Inuit began to emerge as a political force in the late 1960s and early 1970s, shortly after the first graduates returned home. They formed new politically active associations in the early 1970s, starting with the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (Inuit Brotherhood and today known as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), an outgrowth of the Indian and Eskimo Association of the 60s, in 1971, and more region specific organisations shortly afterwards, including the Committee for the Original People's Entitlement (representing the Inuvialuit), the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (Makivik Corporation) and the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) representing Northern Labrador Inuit. Since the mid-1980s the Southern Labrador Inuit of Nunatukavut began organizing politically after being geographically cut out of the LIA, however, for political expediency the orgnaization was erroneously called the Labrador Metis Nation.
NunatuKavummuit are Inuit. These various activist movements began to change the direction of Inuit society in 1975 with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. This comprehensive land claims settlement for Quebec Inuit, along with a large cash settlement and substantial administrative autonomy in the new region of Nunavik, set the precedent for the settlements to follow. The northern Labrador Inuit submitted their land claim in 1977, although they had to wait until 2005 to have a signed land settlement establishing Nunatsiavut. Southern Labrador Inuit of Nunatukavut are currently in the process of establishing landclaims and title rights that would allow them to negotiate with the Newfoundland Government.
In 1982, the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) was incorporated, in order to take over negotiations for land claims on behalf of the Inuit living in the eastern Northwest Territories, that would later become Nunavut, from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which became a joint association of the Inuit of Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.
The Inuvialuit are western Canadian Inuit who remained in the Northwest Territories when Nunavut split off. They live primarily in the Mackenzie River delta, on Banks Island, and parts of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. They are officially represented by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and, in 1984, received a comprehensive land claims settlement, the first in Northern Canada, with the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.
The TFN worked for ten years and, in September 1992, came to a final agreement with the Government of Canada. This agreement called for the separation of the Northwest Territories into an eastern territory whose aboriginal population would be predominately Inuit, the future Nunavut, and a rump Northwest Territories in the west. It was the largest land claims agreement in Canadian history.
In November 1992, the Nunavut Final Agreement was approved by nearly 85% of the Inuit of what would become Nunavut. As the final step in this long process, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed on May 25, 1993, in Iqaluit by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and by Paul Quassa, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which replaced the TFN with the ratification of the Nunavut Final Agreement. The Canadian Parliament passed the supporting legislation in June of the same year, enabling the 1999 establishment of Nunavut as a territorial entity.
With the establishment of Nunatsiavut in 2005, almost all the traditional Inuit lands in Canada, with the exception NunatuKavut in central and South Labrador, are now covered by some sort of land claims agreement providing for regional autonomy.
On October 30, 2008, Leona Aglukkaq was appointed as Minister of Health, becoming the first Inuk to hold a senior cabinet position, although she is not the first Inuk to be in cabinet altogether. Jack Anawak and Nancy Karetak-Lindell were both parliamentary secretaries respectively from 1993-96 and in 2003.
The Thule people arrived in Greenland in the 13th century. There they encountered the Norsemen, who had established colonies there since the late 10th century, as well as a later wave of the Dorset people. Because most of Greenland is covered in ice, the Greenland Inuit (or Kalaallit) only live in coastal settlements, particularly the northern polar coast, the eastern Amassalik coast and the central coasts of western Greenland.
The term ultima Thule in medieval geographies denotes any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world". Sometimes it is used as a proper noun (Ultima Thule) as the Latin name for Greenland when Thule is used for Iceland.
In 1953, Denmark put an end to the colonial status of Greenland and granted home rule in 1979 and in 2008 a self-government referendum was passed with 75% approval. Although a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland, known as Kalaallit Nunaat, maintains much autonomy today. Of a population of 55,000, 80% of Greenlanders identify as Inuit. Their economy is based on fishing and shrimping.
The Inuit of Alaska are the Inupiat (from Inuit- people - and piaq/piat real, i.e. 'real people') who live in the Northwest Arctic Borough, the North Slope Borough and the Bering Straits region. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, is in the Inupiat region. Their language is Inupiaq (which is the singular form of Inupiat).
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