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Inuit or Eskimo the Ancient Peoples of the Arctic North Countries

Updated on March 24, 2015

The Inuit or Eskimo peoples are indigenous peoples with similar cultures who live in the various arctic regions, such as Greenland, Siberia, various parts of Canadian Arctic and subarctic. and Alaska. They are commonly known as Eskimo as it includes Yupik and Inupiat and Inuit is not accepted as a collective term. On the other hand, in Canada and Greenland Inuit is the preferred term by the Natives because they consider the term Eskimo to be negative and demeaning. The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes “the Inuit as a distinctive group of Canadian aboriginals, who are neither First Nations nor Métis,” as cited in Wikipedia. Therefore, in Canada and Greenland these people are called Inuit. Those in Alaska and Siberia are known as Eskimo.

Origins of Inuit

Inuit descended from the Thule culture that emerged from western Alaska about 1000 A.D. to go east across the Arctic, displacing the Dorset culture which was the last Paleo- Eskimo culture (the Tuniit.) According to Inuit legend the Tuniit were “giants,” stronger and taller than Inuit.The last major Paleo-Eskimo cultures were the Dorset which the Inuit displaced, probably due to having dogs and larger weapons that the Dorset did not have. The Inuit settled in west Greenland by 1300 A.D. and expanded to east Greenland in the next hundred years.

Canadian and Greenland Inuit were mostly north of the Arctic tree line. The southernmost Inuits in the world are in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland, and Labrador. They traded with other cultures, had some boundary disputes, and even warfare in some areas.

Their first contact with Europeans was with the Vikings that settled in Greenland. Theof the Norsemen’s literature means skaelingar which probably refers to all the native people they met. Thule people started to go to Greenland from present day Canada in the 13th Century. Objects made by Norsemen have been found at Inuit campsites in Greenland.

Norse settlements failed and the last record of them is in 1408, about the same time as the first Inuit settlements in east Greenland. During the Little Ice Age, after the mid 19th Century, colder weather caused the Inuit to leave hunting and whaling sites in the high Arctic. This resulted in a loss of their best food sources as well as materiels for tools and shelter.Natives of Alaska could continue whaling.

Working their way south they had to get by with marginal places along the tree line. Apparently there were either no Native Americans in the area or they were too weak to turn back the Inuit and shared the land. They were probably still in the process of moving to new territory when they met with 17th century North American Colonials.

Legislative Building Igaluit
Legislative Building Igaluit | Source


Inuit or Eskimo peoples have historically used dogs for helping them in hunting, hauling loads and other purposes. The dogs were bred with wolves and the breeds that have been developed by these people are some of those closest to the original wolf ancestors. The dogs have been referred to as natural breeds because they developed along with the Inuit themselves in survival in a less than friendly environment.. The Inuit and Eskimo also wanted nice looking dogs and the breeds they developed are some of the most striking in appearance. Some of these breeds which Wikipedia refers to as the “husky” breeds include The Canadian Eskimo dog, Greenland dog, the Alaskan malamute and the Siberian husky.


The Inuit used a one person boat called a qajaq which is the model for what we now call a Kayak. It was covered with seal skin and was very buoyant and could be uprighted when overturned. It was used for hunting sea animals. They also had larger boats with a wood frame covered with animal skins to carry people, goods and dogs. It was flat bottomed so as to have the ability to get close to shore. They were about 20-39 ft long.


Clothes and footwear were primarily made from animal hides using bone needles and thread made from sinew. The anorak which we call a parka was made by Arctic people from various areas.


The iglu was a temporary shelter made of snow in the winter. Other materials used in warmer temperature were made from animal skins and bones, driftwood and sod.


Animal hides, driftwood and bones were the tools of survival. Other tools were made from soapstone and other stones. Knives were made from walrus tusks. The sculptures they made of animals and humans doing ordinary things. Figures in ivory and bone showed people doing things like hunting.


The basis of the Inuit mythology was environment and survival. Whale hunts and walrus hunts were often the basis for stories. Other stories were about ghosts that appeared near breathing holes where seals would come for air. The northern lights also inspired visions of family and friends who were dancing in the life after this one. To some it was more sinister.

Modern day

The Inuit have traditionally hunted and fished and they still hunt whales, walrus, caribou, seal, polar bear, muskoxen and birds. It is a high protein and high fat diet, but they also gather grasses, tubers, root stems, berries and seaweed.

Prior to 1940 there was not very much contact with Europeans who would go to the places of the Inuit to hunt and trade but not settle there in the frozen arctic. That left the land largely to the Inuit. Things changed when World War II ended. During the Cold War the arctic became a place where opposing countries became physically close to each other. The formerly inaccessible Arctic became assessable by aircraft leading to Air bases and radar stations being built. Schools and hospitals were built and Inuit children started to attend school and learned about other traditions than their own. The native population grew and hunting but could no longer sustain themselves. By the 1960s many were living in towns.

Governments and missionaries over the years have tried to assimilate the Inuit in much the same way as with the Indians. Because these peoples live under various jurisdictions the details are complex and outside the scope of this article. There is a good article on this at

Note on sources:

The information in this hub was gathered from Wikipedia. which has also been cited where quotations are involved.

Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund

© 2012 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      ps, negativity is sometimes a cultural thing that outsiders have a hard time understanding. In a history course on American Indians, the first discussion was what to call the Indians. The Professor said he calls them Indians because that is what they call themselves. Yet, the government is always telling us what various people should be called. I think that is the best rule, call a group by what they choose to be called and ignore others who try to dictate.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      So very interesting. I know so much less than I should about our Eskimo friends. I do not use that term in a negative sense. May I ask why it is considered negative ?

      Well done...the song in the video held me in the moment as I saw the beauty of the people and their way of life unfold.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

      Shared voted up+++ and pinned to Awesome HubPages.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it.


      Thanks for your comments. sorry I don't know how to do that. I didn't even know I was there.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get leitsd in Yahoo News? I've been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thanks

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This design is stleler! You most certainly know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost HaHa!) Excellent job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Paaul, I think I got interested in researching about the Inuit when I had a discussion with my grandson about the term "native American." He convinced me that Eskimos are not Indians, but are Native Americans if they live in America. Generally people use the term Native American and Indian inter changeably.

      Thanks for commenting, voting and sharing.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is a very interesting and useful hub about the Inuit. I actually first came across the name Inuit in an English book which I was using to teach ESL to 5th graders. Your article is very well-researched and I really enjoyed reading it. Voting up and sharing with followers. Also Pinning and Tweeting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      One explanation is that the word in the Algonkian language means "eaters of raw meat." Even that would have a cultural context. Since both the American and Canadian government have been involved in assigning names, there may be a bit of political correctness. I thought that Eskimoes were Indians myself. My grandson set met straight on that That might be one reason I got involved in this subject matter.

      Thanks for reading my hub and commenting on it.

    • beadreamer247 profile image


      6 years ago from Zephyrhills, FL

      Very interesting hub! I have always had an interest in the cultures that live in connection with mother nature and the simple way. There is something inspiring about them. I am glad that the Inuit and Eskimo have survived better than the Indian - at least some survive beyond the modern. But it amazes me how to live in such cold climates!!!

      Why do they see calling them Eskimo as an insult? What does the word actually mean?

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks Peggy. Since I've written some hubs about dogs that developed from these cultures, I wrote this mostly for backgroun.It is a bit complex because of the different jurisdictions they live under, along with the political correctness of what to call them.They are taking on some of the life of "modern" people since the old ways will no longer support them all. It brings to mind what one of my Anthropolgy professors said. He referred to the old saying about trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos. He said he didn't know why that should be so hard since they sell refrigerators to Minnesotans.I appreciate you visit and votes.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very interesting article, Don. I have always been fascinated with the life of the Eskimos or Inuit peoples. Their lives are certainly impacted greatly by the natural elements in which they live. Voted up, interesting and useful.


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