Indigenous North Americans
Inuit (pronounced /ˈɪnju.ɪt/; Inuktitut: ᐃᓄᐃᑦ, "the
people") are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples
Arctic regions of Greenland,
Canada and Alaska.
Inuit is a plural noun; the singular is Inuk. The
are part of the Eskimo-
Inuit Sign Language
Inuit Sign Language is a
critically endangered language isolate used in Nunavut.
United States and Canada, the term "Eskimo" was commonly used
Europeans to describe the
Inuit and Alaska's
Iñupiat peoples. However, "Inuit" is not accepted as a term for the
Yupik, and "Eskimo" is the only term that applies to Yupik,
Iñupiat and Inuit. Since the late 20th century, aboriginal peoples in
Greenlandic Inuit consider "Eskimo" to be a pejorative
term, and they more frequently identify as "Inuit" for an
autonym. In Canada, sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution Act
of 1982 classified the
Inuit as a distinctive group of Aboriginal
Canadians who are not included under either the
First Nations or the
Inuit live throughout most of Northern
Canada in the territory of
Nunavik in the northern third of Quebec,
NunatuKavut in Labrador, and in various parts of the Northwest
Territories, particularly around the
Arctic Ocean. These areas are
Inuktitut as the "
In the United States, the
Iñupiat live primarily on the
Slope and on Little Diomede Island. The
Greenlandic Inuit are
descendants of ancient indigenous migrations from Canada, as these
people migrated to the east through the continent. They are citizens
of Denmark, although not of the European Union.
1 Precontact history
2 Postcontact history
2.1.1 Early contact with Europeans
2.1.2 Early 20th century
2.1.3 Second World War to the 1960s
2.1.4 Cultural renewal
Inuit cabinet members at the federal level
4 Cultural history
4.3 Transport, navigation, and dogs
4.4 Industry, art, and clothing
4.5 Gender roles, marriage, birth, and community
4.7 Suicide, murder, and death
4.9 Traditional law
5 Traditional beliefs
6.4 United States
7.1 Regional autonomy in Canada
8 Modern culture
10 Further reading
11 External links
For their earlier precontact history, see Aboriginal peoples in Canada
Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule
culture, who emerged from western
Alaska around 1000 CE. They had
split from the related
Aleut group about 4,000 years ago and from
northeastern Siberian migrants, possibly related to the Chukchi
language group, still earlier, descended from the third major
migration from Siberia. They spread eastwards across the Arctic.
They displaced the related Dorset culture, called the Tuniit in
Inuktitut, which was the last major Paleo-
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
Inuit society had
advantages by having adapted to using dogs as transport animals, and
developing larger weapons and other technologies superior to those of
the Dorset culture. By 1300,
Inuit migrants had reached west
Greenland, where they settled. During the next century, they also
settled in East
Faced with population pressures from the Thule and other surrounding
groups, such as the Algonquian and Siouan-speaking peoples to the
south, the Tuniit gradually receded. The Tuniit were thought to
have become completely extinct as a people by about 1400 or 1500.
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, or Tuniit. 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.
In the early 21st century, mitochondrial DNA research has supported
the theory of continuity between the Tuniit and the Sadlermiut
peoples. It also provided evidence that a population
displacement did not occur within the
Aleutian Islands between the
Dorset and Thule transition. In contrast to other Tuniit
Sadlermiut benefited from both geographical
isolation and their ability to adopt certain Thule technologies.
Canada and Greenland,
Inuit circulated almost exclusively north of
Arctic tree line", the effective southern border of Inuit
society. The most southern "officially recognized"
Inuit community in
the world is Rigolet in Nunatsiavut.
South of Nunatsiavut, the descendants of the southern
NunatuKavut continued their traditional transhumant semi-nomadic
way of life until the mid-1900s. The Nunatukavummuit people usually
moved among islands and bays on a seasonal basis. They did not
establish stationary communities. In other areas south of the tree
line, Native American and
First Nations 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 was
not uncommon among those
Inuit groups with sufficient population
Inuit such as the
Nunatamiut (Uummarmiut), who inhabited the
Mackenzie River delta area, often engaged in warfare. The more
Inuit in the Central Arctic, however, did so less
Their first European contact was with the Vikings who settled in
Greenland and explored the eastern Canadian coast. The Norse sagas
recorded meeting skrælingar, probably an undifferentiated label for
all the indigenous peoples whom the Norse encountered, whether Tuniit,
Inuit, or Beothuk.
After about 1350, the climate grew colder during the period known as
the Little Ice Age. During this period, Alaskan natives were able to
continue their whaling activities. But, in the high Arctic, the Inuit
were forced to abandon their hunting and whaling sites as bowhead
whales disappeared from
Canada and Greenland. These
Inuit had to
subsist on a much poorer diet, and lost access to the essential raw
materials for their tools and architecture which they had previously
derived from whaling. The changing climate forced the
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 the
Inuit to live near
them. Researchers have difficulty defining when
Inuit stopped this
territorial expansion. There is evidence that they were still moving
into new territory in southern
Labrador when they first began to
interact with European colonists in the 17th century.
A European ship coming into contact with the
Inuit in the ice of
Hudson Bay in 1697.
Early contact with Europeans
The lives of Paleo-inuits of the far north were largely unaffected by
the arrival of visiting Norsemen except for mutual trade. The
Inuit have had the longest continuous contact with
Europeans. After the disappearance of the Norse colonies in
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,
Inuit do not appear to have interfered with
their operations, but the Natives raided the stations in winter,
taking 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 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. They became
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, possibly the first
Inuk ever to visit Europe. In contrast, the
Inuit oral tradition
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
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
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
enormous. From then on, contacts between the national groups in
Labrador were far more peaceful.
Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company Ships bartering with
Inuit off the Upper Savage
Islands, Hudson Strait, 1819
The exchanges that accompanied the arrival and colonization by the
Europeans greatly damaged the
Inuit way of life. Mass death was caused
by the new infectious diseases carried by whalers and explorers, to
which the indigenous peoples had no acquired immunity. The high
mortality rate contributed to the enormous social disruptions caused
by the distorting effect of Europeans' material wealth and
introduction of different materials. Nonetheless,
Inuit society in the
higher latitudes largely remained in isolation during the 19th
Hudson's Bay Company
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
William Edward Parry twice over-wintered in Foxe Basin.
It 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
George Francis Lyon
George Francis Lyon were widely read after they were both
published in 1824. 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
Early 20th century
During the early 20th century a few traders and missionaries
circulated among the more accessible bands. After 1904 they were
accompanied by a handful of
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Unlike most Aboriginal peoples in Canada, however, the
Inuit did not
occupy lands that were coveted by European settlers. Used to more
temperate climates and conditions, most
Europeans considered the
homeland of the
Inuit to be a hostile hinterland. Southerners enjoyed
lucrative careers as bureaucrats and service providers to the peoples
of the North, but very few ever chose to visit there.
Once its more hospitable lands were largely settled, the government of
Canada and entrepreneurs 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 the Inuit. People such as
Kikkik often did
not understand the rules of the alien society with which they had to
interact. In addition, the generally Protestant missionaries of the
British preached a moral code very different from the one the Inuit
had as part of their tradition. Many of the
Inuit were systematically
Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, through
rituals such as the Siqqitiq.
Second World War to the 1960s
World War II and the Cold War made
important to the great powers for the first time. Thanks to the
development of modern long-distance aircraft, these areas became
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 for children. The traditionalists complained that Canadian
education promoted foreign values that were disdainful of the
traditional structure and culture of
In the 1950s the Government of
Canada undertook what was called the
Arctic relocation 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", by seeking assimilation of the people and
the end of their traditional
Inuit culture. One of the more notable
relocations 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 to
their home territory within two years if conditions were not right.
However, two years later more
Inuit families were relocated to the
High Arctic. Thirty years passed before they were able to visit
By 1953, Canada's prime minister
Louis St. Laurent
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.
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 a marked natural
increase in the population that made it more difficult for them to
survive by traditional means. In the 1950s, the Canadian government
began to actively settle
Inuit into permanent villages and cities,
occasionally against their will (such as in Nuntak and Hebron). In
2005 the Canadian government acknowledged the abuses inherent in these
forced resettlements. 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, most
Inuit lived year-round in permanent settlements. The nomadic
migrations that were the central feature of
Arctic life had become a
much smaller part of life in the North. 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
Inuit culture was facing extinction,
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
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
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
Inuit Brotherhood and
today known as
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami), an outgrowth of the Indian
Eskimo Association of the '60s, in 1971, and more region specific
organizations shortly afterwards, including the Committee for the
Original People's Entitlement (representing the Inuvialuit), the
Inuit Association (Makivik Corporation) and the
Inuit Association (LIA) representing Northern
Since the mid-1980s the Southern
organizing politically after being geographically cut out of the LIA,
however, for political expediency the organization was erroneously
Labrador Métis Nation. 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
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.
NunatuKavut are currently in the process of
establishing landclaims and title rights that would allow them to
negotiate with the Newfoundland Government.
Canada's 1982 Constitution Act recognized the
Inuit as Aboriginal
peoples in Canada, but not First Nations. In the same year, the
Tunngavik Federation of
Nunavut (TFN) was incorporated, in order to
take over negotiations for land claims on behalf of the
in the eastern Northwest Territories, that would later become Nunavut,
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which became a joint association of
Inuit of Quebec, Labrador, and the Northwest Territories.
Inuit cabinet members at the federal level
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 to 1996 and in 2003.
Eskimo § Nomenclature
In the United States, the term "Eskimo" is still commonly used,
because it includes Inuit, Aleut, Iñupiat, and
Yupik peoples whilst
distinguishing them from American Indians. The
Yupik do not speak an
Inuit language nor consider themselves to be Inuit. However, the
term is probably a Montagnais exonym as well as being
widely used in folk etymology as meaning "eater of raw
meat" in the Cree language. It is now considered pejorative or
even a racial slur amongst the Canadian and English-speaking
Canada and Greenland, "Inuit" is preferred.
Inuit is the Eastern
Inuit (Inuktitut) and West Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) word for
"the people." Since
Kalaallisut are the prestige
Canada and Greenland, respectively, their version has
become dominant, although every
Inuit dialect uses cognates from the
Eskimo *ińuɣ – for example, "people" is inughuit in North
Greenlandic and iivit in East Greenlandic.
Inuit speak Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, and Greenlandic
languages, which belong to the Inuit-Inupiaq branch of the
Aleut language family. The Greenlandic languages are
Inuktun (Northern), and Tunumiit
Inuktitut is spoken in
Canada and along with
Inuinnaqtun is one of the
official languages of
Nunavut and are known collectively as the Inuit
Language. In the Northwest Territories, Inuvialuktun, Inuinnaqtun
Inuktitut are all official langues.
Kalaallisut is the
official language of Greenland. As
Inuktitut was the language of
the Eastern Canadian
Kalaallisut is the language of the
Western Greenlandic Inuit, they are related more closely than most
Alaska and Northern
Canada also typically speak
English. In Greenland,
Inuit also speak Danish and
learn English in school. Canadian
Inuit may also speak Québécois
Inuit Sign Language, often called Inuiuuk,
which is a language isolate and almost extinct as only around 50
people still speak it.
Inuit have traditionally been fishers and hunters. They still hunt
whales (esp. bowhead whale), walrus, caribou, seal, polar bears,
muskoxen, birds, and fish 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,
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
In the 1920s anthropologist
Vilhjalmur Stefansson lived with and
studied a group of Inuit. The study focused on the fact that the
Inuit's low-carbohydrate diet had no adverse effects on their health,
nor indeed, Stefansson's own health. Stefansson (1946) also observed
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 and analyses. However, the
Inuit have lifespans 12 to 15 years shorter than the average
Canadian's, which is thought to be a result of limited access to
medical services. The life expectancy gap is not
closing. Furthermore, fish oil supplement studies have
failed to support claims of preventing heart attacks or
Transport, navigation, and dogs
Inupiat in a kayak, Noatak, Alaska, c. 1929 (photo by Edward S.
Urbanization in Greenland
The natives hunted sea animals from single-passenger, covered
seal-skin boats called qajaq (
Inuktitut syllabics: ᖃᔭᖅ)
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.
Inupiat baleen basket, with an ivory handle, made by Kinguktuk
(1871–1941) of Barrow, Alaska. Displayed at the Museum of Man, San
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.
In winter, both on land and on sea ice, 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
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
Inuktitut for dog), the
Greenland Dog, the
Husky and the Alaskan Malamute. The
Inuit would perform
rituals over the newborn pup to give it favorable qualities; the legs
were pulled to make them grow strong and the nose was poked with a pin
to enhance the sense of smell.
Industry, art, and clothing
Inuit woman's parka, Canada.
Traditional clothing; left: seal, right: caribou.
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
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
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
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 with a separate
compartment below the hood 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 kamik), could be made of caribou or seal skin,
and designed for men and women.
Inuit building an igloo
During the winter, certain
Inuit lived in a temporary shelter made
from snow called an igloo, and during the few months of the year when
temperatures were above freezing, they lived in tents, known as
tupiq, made of animal skins supported by a frame of bones or
wood. Some, such as the Siglit, used driftwood, while
others built sod houses.
Gender roles, marriage, birth, and community
Eskimo kinship and
Inupiat woman, Alaska, circa 1907
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.
Inupiat family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929.
Marriage was common for women at puberty and for men when they became
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
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
Inuit were hunter–gatherers, and have been referred to as
nomadic. One of the customs following the birth of an infant was
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 cultures have oral traditions of raids by other
indigenous peoples, including fellow Inuit, and of taking vengeance on
them in return, such as the Bloody Falls Massacre. Western observers
often regarded these tales as generally not entirely accurate
historical accounts, but more as self-serving myths. However, evidence
Inuit cultures had quite accurate methods of teaching
historical accounts to each new generation. In northern Canada,
historically there were ethnic feuds between the
Dene and the Inuit,
as witnessed by
Samuel Hearne in 1771. In 1996,
Dene and Inuit
representatives participated in a healing ceremony to reconcile the
The historic accounts of violence against outsiders does make clear
that there was a history of hostile contact within the
and with other cultures. It also makes it clear that
existed through history, as well as confederations of such nations.
The known confederations were usually formed to defend against a more
prosperous, and thus stronger, nation. Alternately, people who lived
in less productive geographical areas tended to be less warlike, as
they had to spend more time producing food.
Inuit culture was moderated by the form of governance
that gave significant power to the elders. As in most cultures around
the world, justice could be harsh and often included capital
punishment for serious crimes against the community or the individual.
During raids against other peoples, the Inuit, like their non-Inuit
neighbors, tended to be merciless.
Suicide, murder, and death
Further information: Suicide in
Greenland and Suicide among Canadian
A pervasive European myth about
Inuit is that they killed elderly
(senicide) and "unproductive people", but this is not generally
true. In a culture with an oral history, elders are the
keepers of communal knowledge, effectively the community library.
Because they are of extreme value as the repository of knowledge,
there are cultural taboos against sacrificing elders.
In Antoon A. Leenaars' book Suicide in
Canada he states that
"Rasmussen found that the death of elders by suicide was a commonplace
among the Iglulik Inuit."
According to Franz Boas, suicide was "...not of rare occurrence..."
and was generally accomplished through hanging. Writing of the
Labrador Inuit, Hawkes (1916) was considerably more explicit on the
subject of suicide and the burden of the elderly:
Aged people who have outlived their usefulness and whose life is a
burden both to themselves and their relatives are put to death by
stabbing or strangulation. This is customarily done at the request of
the individual concerned, but not always so. Aged people who are a
hindrance on the trail are abandoned.
— Antoon A. Leenaars, Suicide in Canada
When food is not sufficient, the elderly are the least likely to
survive. In the extreme case of famine, the
Inuit fully understood
that, if there was to be any hope of obtaining more food, a hunter was
necessarily the one to feed on whatever food was left. However, a
common response to desperate conditions and the threat of starvation
was infanticide. A mother abandoned an infant in hopes that
someone less desperate might find and adopt the child before the cold
or animals killed it. The belief that the
Inuit regularly resorted to
infanticide may be due in part to studies done by Asen Balikci,
Milton Freeman and David Riches among the Netsilik, along
with the trial of Kikkik. Other recent research has noted
that "While there is little disagreement that there were examples of
Inuit communities, it is presently not known the depth
and breadth of these incidents. The research is neither complete nor
conclusive to allow for a determination of whether infanticide was a
rare or a widely practiced event."
Anthropologists believed that
Inuit cultures routinely killed children
born with physical defects because of the demands of the extreme
climate. These views were changed by late 20th century discoveries of
burials at an archaeological site. Between 1982 and 1994, a storm with
high winds caused ocean waves to erode part of the bluffs near Barrow,
Alaska, and a body was discovered to have been washed out of the mud.
Unfortunately the storm claimed the body, which was not recovered. But
examination of the eroded bank indicated that an ancient house,
perhaps with other remains, was likely to be claimed by the next
storm. The site, known as the "Ukkuqsi archaeological site", was
excavated. Several frozen bodies (now known as the "frozen family")
were recovered, autopsies were performed, and they were re-interred as
the first burials in the then-new Imaiqsaun Cemetery south of
Barrow. Years later another body was washed out of the bluff. It
was a female child, approximately 9 years old, who had clearly been
born with a congenital birth defect. This child had never been
able to walk, but must have been cared for by family throughout her
life. She was the best preserved body ever recovered in Alaska,
and radiocarbon dating of grave goods and of a strand of her hair all
place her back to about 1200 CE.
During the 19th century, the Western
Arctic suffered a population
decline of close to 90%, resulting from exposure to new diseases,
including tuberculosis, measles, influenza, and smallpox. Autopsies
Greenland reveal that, more commonly pneumonia, kidney diseases,
trichinosis, malnutrition, and degenerative disorders may have
contributed to mass deaths among different
Inuit tribes. The Inuit
believed that the causes of the disease were of a spiritual
"In October (2017) the federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Jane
Philpott, announced that in 2015 tuberculosis . . . was 270 times . .
. more common among the Canadian
Inuit than it is among non-indigenous
southern Canadians." The Canadian Mediical Association Journal
published in 2013 that "tuberculosis among Canadian
dramatically increased since 1997. In 2010 the incidence in
. . was 304 per 100,000 -- more than 66 times the rate seen in the
Inuit traditional laws are anthropologically different from Western
law concepts. Customary law was thought non-existent in
before the introduction of the Canadian legal system. Hoebel, in 1954,
concluded that only 'rudimentary law' existed amongst the Inuit.
Indeed, prior to about 1970, it is impossible to find even one
reference to a Western observer who was aware that any form of
governance existed among any Inuit, however, there was a set way
of doing things that had to be followed:
maligait refers to what has to be followed
piqujait refers to what has to be done
tirigusuusiit refers to what has to be avoided
If an individual's actions went against the tirigusuusiit, maligait or
piqujait, the angakkuq (shaman) might have to intervene, lest the
consequences be dire to the individual or the community.
We are told today that
Inuit never had laws or "maligait". Why? They
say because they are not written on paper. When I think of paper, I
think you can tear it up, and the laws are gone. The laws of the Inuit
are not on paper.
— Mariano Aupilaarjuk, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Perspectives on
Inuit mythology and
Inuit believed that the spirits of their ancestors could be seen
in the aurora borealis
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
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.
Inuit practiced 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.
Inuit religion was closely tied to a system of rituals integrated into
the daily life of the people. These rituals were simple but held to be
necessary. According to a customary
The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet
consists entirely of souls.
By believing that all things, including animals, have souls like those
of humans, any hunt that failed to show appropriate respect and
customary supplication would only give the liberated spirits cause to
The harshness and unpredictability of life in the
Arctic ensured that
Inuit lived with concern for the uncontrollable, where a streak of bad
luck could destroy an entire community. To offend a spirit was to risk
its interference with an already marginal existence. The Inuit
understood that they had to work in harmony with supernatural powers
to provide the necessities of day-to-day life.
In total there are about 134,241
Inuit living in four countries,
Canada, Greenland, Denmark, and the United States.
Although the 50,480
Inuit listed in the 2006
Canada Census can be
Canada the majority, 44,470, live in four
As of the 2006
Canada Census there were 4,715
Inuit living in
Newfoundland and Labrador and about 2,160 live in
Nunatsiavut. There are also about 6,000
Labrador Metis or Inuit-metis) living in southern
Labrador in what is
As of the 2006
Canada Census there were 4,165
Inuit living in the
Northwest Territories. The majority, about 3,115, live in the six
communities of the
Inuvialuit Settlement Region.
As of the 2006
Canada Census there were 24,640
Inuit living in
Inuit population forms a majority in all
communities and is the only jurisdiction of
Canada where Aboriginal
peoples form a majority.
As of the 2006
Canada Census there were 10,950
Inuit living in
Quebec. The majority, about 9,565, live in Nunavik.
Main article: Greenlandic Inuit
According to the 2013 edition of The World Factbook, published by the
Central Intelligence Agency, the
Inuit population of
Greenland is 89%
(51,365) out of a total of 57,714 people. Like
population lives throughout the region.
The population size of Greenlandic people in
Denmark varies from
source to source between 15,000 and 20,000. According to 2015 figures
Denmark there are 15,815 people residing in
Greenlandic Inuit ancestry. Most travel to
Denmark for educational
purposes, and many remain after finishing their education , which
results in the population being mostly concentrated in the big 4
educational cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, and Aalborg, which
all have vibrant Greenlandic communities and cultural centers
According to the 2000
United States Census there were a total of
Inupiat living throughout the country. The majority,
about 14,718, live in the state of Alaska.
According to the 2010 Russian Census there were a total of 1,738
Eskimo living throughout the country, mostly in the East of the
Far Eastern Federal District.
Map showing the members of the
Inuit Circumpolar Conference.
Inuit Circumpolar Council
Inuit Circumpolar Council is a United Nations-recognized
non-governmental organization (NGO), which defines its constituency as
Inuit and Inuvialuit, Greenland's
Kalaallit Inuit, Alaska's
Inupiat and Yup'ik, and Russia's Siberian Yupik, despite the last
two neither speaking an
Inuit dialect or considering themselves
"Inuit". Nonetheless, it has come together with other circumpolar
cultural and political groups to promote the
Inuit and other northern
people in their fight against ecological problems such as climate
change which disproportionately affects the
Inuit population. The
Inuit Circumpolar Council
Inuit Circumpolar Council is one of the six group of
peoples that have a seat as a so-called "Permanent Participant" on the
Arctic Council, an international high level forum in which the
Arctic Countries (USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Norway,
Sweden and Finland) discuss
Arctic policy. On 12 May 2011, Greenland's
Kuupik Kleist hosted the ministerial meeting of the
Arctic Council, an event for which the American Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton came to Nuuk, as did many other high-ranking officials
such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Swedish Foreign
Carl Bildt and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
At that event they signed the
Regional autonomy in Canada
See also: Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, NunatuKavut, and Inuvik
Map of all
Inuvialuit are western Canadian
Inuit who remained in the
Northwest Territories when
Nunavut split off. They live primarily in
Mackenzie River delta, on Banks Island, and parts of Victoria
Island in the Northwest Territories. They are officially represented
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
Nunavut Final Agreement was approved by nearly 85% of the
Inuit of what would become Nunavut. As the final step in this long
Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed on May 25, 1993,
Iqaluit by Prime Minister
Brian Mulroney and by Paul Quassa, the
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
Inuit lands in Canada, with the exception
central and South Labrador, are now covered by some sort of land
claims agreement providing for regional autonomy.
Municipalities of Greenland
Kalaallit and History of Greenland
Denmark put an end to the colonial status of
granted home rule in 1979 and in 2008 a self-government referendum was
passed with 75% approval. Although still a part of the Kingdom of
Denmark (along with
Denmark proper and the Faroe Islands), Greenland,
Kalaallit Nunaat in the Greenlandic language, maintains much
autonomy today. Of a population of 56,000, 80% of Greenlanders
identify as Inuit. Their economy is based on fishing and
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
Kalaallit) only live in coastal settlements, particularly the northern
polar coast, the eastern Amassalik coast and the central coasts of
Alaska Native Regional Corporations
Alaska Native Regional Corporations, Russian America, Alaska
Statehood Act, and List of
Alaska Native tribal entities
Alaska is governed as a State within
United States with very
limited autonomy for
Alaska Native peoples. European Colonization of
Alaska started in the 18th century by Russia. By the 1860s, the
Russian government was considering ridding itself of its Russian
Alaska was officially incorporated to
United States on
January 3, 1959.
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 Iñupiaq (which is the singular form of
Inuit women at Nain, Newfoundland and Labrador
Inuit art, carving, print making, textiles and
Inuit throat singing,
are very popular, not only in
Canada but globally, and
are widely known.
Canada has adopted some of the
Inuit culture as
national symbols, using
Inuit cultural icons like the inukshuk in
unlikely places, such as its use as a symbol at the 2010 Winter
Olympics in Vancouver. Respected art galleries display
Inuit art, the
largest collection of which is at the
Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Inuit languages, such as Inuktitut, appears to have a more secure
Quebec and Nunavut. There are a surprising number of Inuit,
even those who now live in urban centres such as Ottawa,
Winnipeg, who have experienced living on the land in the traditional
life style. People such as Legislative Assembly of
Levinia Brown and former Commissioner of
Nunavut and the NWT, Helen
Maksagak were born and lived the early part of their life "on the
Inuit culture is alive and vibrant today in spite of the
negative impacts of recent history.
An important biennial event, the
Arctic Winter Games, is held in
communities across the northern regions of the world, featuring
Inuit and northern sports as part of the events. A
cultural event is also held. The games were first held in 1970, and
while rotated usually among Alaska,
Yukon and the Northwest
Territories, they have also been held in Schefferville,
1976, in Slave Lake, Alberta, and a joint Iqaluit, Nunavut-Nuuk,
Greenland staging in 2002. In other sporting events, Jordin Tootoo
became the first Inuk to play in the
National Hockey League
National Hockey League in the
2003–04 season, playing for the Nashville Predators.
Inuit life has changed significantly over the past century,
many traditions continue.
Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or traditional
knowledge, such as storytelling, mythology, music, and dancing remain
important parts of the culture.
Family and community are very
Inuktitut language is still spoken in many areas of the
Arctic and is common on radio and in television programming.
Inuit politicians include Premier of Nunavut, Peter
Taptuna, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, former MP for the riding of Nunavut,
and Kuupik Kleist, Prime Minister of Greenland. Leona Aglukkaq,
current MP, was the first Inuk to be sworn into the Canadian Federal
Cabinet as Health Minister in 2008. In May 2011 after being re-elected
for her second term, Ms. Aglukkaq was given the additional portfolio
of Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. In
July 2013 she was sworn in as the Minister of the Environment.
Inuit seal hunter in a kayak, armed with a harpoon.
Visual and performing arts are strong. In 2002 the first feature film
in Inuktitut, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, was released worldwide to
great critical and popular acclaim. It was directed by Zacharias
Kunuk, and written, filmed, produced, directed, and acted almost
entirely by the
Inuit of Igloolik. In 2009, the film Le Voyage D'Inuk,
Greenlandic language feature film, was directed by Mike Magidson and
co-written by Magidson and French film producer Jean-Michel
Huctin. One of the most famous
Inuit artists is Pitseolak
Susan Aglukark is a popular singer. Mitiarjuk Attasie
Nappaaluk worked at preserving
Inuktitut and wrote one of the first
novels ever published in that language. In 2006,
Cape Dorset was
hailed as Canada's most artistic city, with 23% of the labor force
employed in the arts.
Inuit art such as soapstone carvings is one
of Nunavut's most important industries.
Recently, there has been an identity struggle among the younger
generations of Inuit, between their traditional heritage and the
modern society which their cultures have been forced to assimilate
into in order to maintain a livelihood. With current dependence on
modern society for necessities, (including governmental jobs, food,
aid, medicine, etc.), the
Inuit have had much interaction with and
exposure to the societal norms outside their previous cultural
boundaries. The stressors regarding the identity crisis among
teenagers have led to disturbingly high numbers of suicide.
A series of authors has focused upon the increasing myopia in the
youngest generations of Inuit.
Myopia was almost unknown prior to the
Inuit adoption of western culture. Principal theories are the change
to a western style diet with more refined foods, and extended
David Pisurayak Kootook
David Pisurayak Kootook was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross,
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Further information: Bibliography of Canadian Aboriginals
Alia, Valerie (2009). Names and Nunavut: Culture and Identity in
Arctic Canada. Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-84545-165-3.
Billson, Janet Mancini; Kyra Mancini (2007).
Inuit women: their
powerful spirit in a century of change. Rowman & Littlefield.
Briggs, Jean L. (1971). Never in Anger: Portrait of an
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Forman, Werner; Burch, Ernest S. (1988). The Eskimos. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2126-2.
CBC. History of the Thule Migration, The Nature of Things, Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation. Informational webpage related to the TV
Inuit Odyssey, shown below in the External links section.
Crandall, Richard C (2000).
Inuit Art: A History. McFarland.
De Poncins, Gontran. Kabloona. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1996
(originally 1941). ISBN 1-55597-249-7
Eber, Dorothy (1997). Images of Justice: A Legal History of the
Northwest Territories and Yellowknife. McGill-Queen's University
Press. ISBN 0-7735-1675-1.
Eber, Dorothy (2008). Encounters on the Passage:
Inuit meet the
explorers. University of Toronto Press.
Hauser, Michael; Erik Holtved; Bent Jensen (2010). Traditional Inuit
songs from the Thule area, Volume 2. Museum Tusculanum Press.
Hessell, Ingo (2006).
Arctic Spirit: The Albrecht Collection of Inuit
Art at the Heard Museum. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
Hund, Andrew (2012). Inuit. SAGE Publications, Inc.
Kulchyski, Peter Keith; Frank J. Tester (2007). Kiumajut (talking
back): game management and
Inuit rights, 1900–70. UBC Press.
King, J. C. H; Birgit Pauksztat; Robert Storrie (2005). Arctic
clothing of North America—Alaska, Canada, Greenland. McGill-Queen's
University Press. ISBN 0-7735-3008-8.
McGrath, Melanie (2007). The long exile: a tale of
Inuit betrayal and
survival in the high Arctic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Paver, Michelle (2008). Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Omnibus Edition
(Volume 1, 2, and 3). London: Orion. ISBN 1-84255-705-X.
Ruesch, Hans (1986). Top of the World. New York: Pocket.
ISBN 950-637-164-4. (Hebrew version)
Sowa, F. 2014. Inuit. in: Hund, A. Antarctica and the
Arctic Circle: A
Geographic Encyclopedia of the Earth’s Polar Regions. Santa Barbara,
CA: ABC-CLIO, pp. 390–395.
Stern, Pamela R; Lisa Stevenson (2006). Critical
Inuit studies: an
anthology of contemporary
Arctic ethnography. University of Nebraska
Press. ISBN 0-8032-4303-0.
Steckley, John (2008). White Lies about the Inuit. Broadview Press.
Stern, Pamela R (2004). Historical dictionary of the Inuit. Scarecrow
Press. ISBN 0-8108-5058-3.
Walk, Ansgar. (1999). Kenojuak: the life story of an
Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press. ISBN 0-921254-95-4.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Inuit.
Inuit Organization in Canada
Inuit at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Inuktitut Living Dictionary
Inuit Odyssey, produced by
The Nature of Things and first broadcast 29
June 2009 on the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network. This is a
documentary on the Thule people, the ancestors of the Inuit, and their
eastward migration across the
Arctic to Greenland. The webpage
contains a link to view the documentary online here (length: 44:03;
may not be viewable online outside of Canada). Note: Nature of Things
episodes are also viewable on iTunes.
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