Inuit or Eskimo the Ancient Peoples of the Arctic North Countries
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.
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.
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
- Inuit - History, Modern era, Acculturation and Assimilation
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© 2012 Don A. Hoglund