The Inuit people, an indigenous people spread throughout the Arctic Circle, are one of the most widespread people in the world. They separately identify as the Iñupiat, Yup’ik, and Aleut in Alaska and Kalaallit in Greenland.
In Canada, the smaller regional groups are Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (Quebec), Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories). All of these names are a variant of “people”, or “the people” in the native language. Small isolated populations with several different names are located in the easternmost parts of Russia. There are, as of the 21st century, roughly 135,000- 158,900 Inuit living in the world today. By the most recent research, the Inuit people came to North America across the Bering Land Bridge about 4,000 years ago. They had some conflict with other native tribes south of the Arctic and migrated quickly to safety in one of the harshest environments in the world. The largest and oldest sites containing evidence of Inuit inhabitation have been in Saglek Bay, Labrador and Umnak Island in Alaska. The Inuit people have been historically isolated in the extreme, and are distinguishable culturally, biologically, and linguistically from all other indigenous peoples in the areas they live.
Blood type is an important factor in this- native peoples in North America have a near-complete absence of the type B allele, except for the Inuit people, where the allele is present in the majority of the population. The most important group in the Inuit culture is the family group. Family groups are typically made up of nuclear family, with the extended family such as grandparents and cousins also living in the community, with an average of 6-10 people. The traditional gender roles still stand in the house- the women have the responsibility of preparing the food and raising the children, while the men hunt. However, due to the Arctic’s harsh environment, the gender-based societal rules are flexible and adapt to the weather as needed. Gender is “situational and contextual, rather than the fixed binary more typical of Western societies.
” There has also been speculation of a third gender recognized by the ancient Inuits, based on the role of polar bears in the Inuit life.According to the Parliament of Canada, 82% of Inuit men were involved in harvesting activities (hunting, fishing, farming) in 2000, with 63% of women completing the same tasks. If an Inuit man has no male children, he passes his hunting knowledge onto one of his daughters. While this standard practice is progressive, the traditionality of the culture is still very present. Divorce is considered disrespectful to the family of the woman and the community generally finds the fault in her, even if the reason for divorce was entirely legitimate. The domestic violence occurrence is much higher in Inuit communities than that of the general Canadian public, with an average of 498 domestic assaults against women and 58 on men reported yearly. For these reasons, the marriage rate is extremely low, and the Inuit have no official wedding ceremony specific to their culture. In 2004, Nunavut, the northernmost territory holding 49% of the Canadian Inuit population, had a violent crime rate eight times the Canadian national average.
There are a large number of disparities in health between the rest of the population and the Inuit. A lower life expectancy (68, as opposed to the Canadian life expectancy of 82 years) and high infant mortality rates indicate this very strongly. Both Inuit men and women have a higher rate of smoking, sexually transmitted infections, and substance abuse. The inadequate education provided in the areas that the Inuit primarily populate and a high dropout rate has led to high numbers of teen pregnancies. As a result of unkind societal environments and their cyclic effects, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), child sexual abuse, and unhealthy childhood development are all prevalent in the Inuit communities. The men, specifically, suffer from high rates of unmanaged stress and self-injury, often leading to suicide. The suicide rate for the Inuit population is 11 times that of the Canadian national average, and aboriginal men are five times more likely to commit suicide than the women.
Along with health, the population of Inuits is overcrowded in housing, with little other options. The infrastructure is underdeveloped, and access to good medical care is limited. The largest employer in Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut, has a pay gap between their Inuit and non-Inuit employees by about $20,000 on average, with the Inuit workers receiving less.
The unemployment rate in Nunavut has been continuously at least 5% higher for the Inuit than non-Inuit every year data has been collected. But because the Inuit people are severely under-represented in the Canadian and United States governments, nothing is being done about these serious problems. With the under-representation in governmental roles comes under-representation or misrepresentation in media and art. Television, movies, books- all of these things are routinely used to the disadvantage of the Inuit. For example, the more commonly used name “Eskimo”, of which the true origin is unknown, has been widely accepted to come from a derogatory Algonquin term meaning “eater of raw flesh”.
The majority of the Inuit would not use this name to refer to themselves and refuse it. While the possibility remains of a different origin, most Inuit would consider this offensive. The misappropriation of the Inuit culture has become a more pressing issue in Canada and the US over the past few decades. One example is a fashion collection titled “Inukt”, a made-up word mimicking the language of the Inuit, was released in 2012. The collection is based on a Westernized view of the Inuit in Canada, mixed in with random chief imagery from the Great Plains tribes. The use of Native iconography in art and fashion is becoming a larger and larger problem in regards to all tribes in North America and across the world.
H&M’s fashion headdresses, a piece of clothing that holds incredible significance to several tribes, being worn at music festivals with no respect, the use of “tribal” patterns that were stolen by a large corporation from a weaver in Mexico who received no money for her original design, sports mascots that do nothing but encourage racial stereotypes- nobody but the rich, white population benefit from these. Stealing an artist’s designs or a piece of art that an entire culture respects is disrespectful and separates the non-native population from the native people even more. Wearing a “sexy Pocahontas” costume for Halloween while the real people that costume is based on suffer from centuries of discrimination is hypocritical at best, and racism at worst. The blanket terms for the Inuit languages are Eskaleut, Eskimaleut, and Inuit-Aleut.
There are several possible language families it could belong to, which are the Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Uralic, and Indo-European families, but there is nothing confirmed or widely accepted. The three branches are Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut.The Inuit language isn’t actually a branch but one language with different names based on the region and many small dialects. Inuit is a word in the language that means “the people”. It spreads over eastern Canada (where it is called Inuktitut), western Canada, (Inuktitun, meaning “in the Inuit way”), north Alaska (Inupiaq, “real person”), and Greenland (Kalaallisut, “in the Greenlandic way”). The Yup’ik branch is divided into five separate and distinct languages, all with local dialects- Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Pacific Yup’ik (commonly called Alutiiq), Central Siberian Yup’ik (or Chaplinski), Naukanski Siberian Yup’ik (spoken on the Cape Dezhnyov, the easternmost point in Eurasia), and Sirenikski, which nearly extinct.
The third and smallest branch is Aleut, spoken by approximately 165 people in the world today. There are three branches of Aleut- Eastern Aleut, Atkan, and practically extinct Attu. Eastern Aleut is spoken in the Umnak, Aleutian, and Pribilof Islands in Alaska, and primarily by middle-aged and elderly people. Atkan is spoken by young people, but no children, in Atka Island, the Aleutian Islands, and by some village elders on Bering Island. Attu is not spoken in the original form today, only in a creolized form, Russian Aleut. There are roughly 77,400 native speakers of the Inuit-Aleut languages in the world today. These languages are very complex, and therefore hard to learn.
The Inuit have barely been influenced by any other aboriginal tribes, and the languages have changed very little since their origin due to the isolation that comes with living in the Arctic. The ancient Inuit people were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. Their diet was almost entirely made up of foods that they could kill.
Walrus, muskoxen, seal, whale, caribou, moose, bear, rabbit, squirrel, fox, and fish composed the early Inuit diet. Vegetables and fruits were practically non-existent, due to the treeless landscape and snowbound environment. Some berries and wild roots were available during the warmest portions of the year. The hunting was done from boats or the ice.
The two types of boats used by the Inuit were kayaks and umiaks. Kayaks are a small, one-person boat with a frame made of traditionally of whale bone covered with sealskin, and usually used for hunting. Umiaks are large open boats similar to a canoe, also with a whale bone frame and sealskin covering, used to travel, hunt and carry large animals such as a whale or walrus back to a settlement.
Travelling in the Inuit culture was efficient and simple. Dogsleds and boats were the only two means of travel besides foot. In recent times, however, the snowmobile has replaced dogs, and boats are only used for hunting.
Temporary homes during the winter months were semi-excavated igloos, made of snow and ice with a hole over the kitchen for letting out smoke from the fire. There was no set or standard summer dwelling, with the only shared characteristic between the found structures being an animal-skin covering. Religion amongst the Inuit is partially Christian but primarily animism, the belief that all things, living, and non-living, have a spirit. A result of the harsh climate, the religion’s rules state that the spirits of the weather must be appeased to yield good weather. Bad hunts, bad weather, and general misfortune were all the fault of displeased spirits. Their version of the afterlife was simply that there was another world the spirit went to when the body died- the “spirit world”. The hunted animals were to be shown a great respect so that the spirit would return in another body of another animal.
Humans also had spirits, and they could be lost or stolen, which took the blame for sickness and madness. Humans were made of three parts- body, soul, and name. When the body died, the name was passed on and the spirit and named consequently lived on. There were also a few specific rules regarding appeasing the spirits. Land animal and sea animal meat could not be eaten at the same time, the knife used to hunt a whale was to wrapped in sealskin and not caribou skin, and a slain seal must have melted snow dripped into its mouth to satiate the spirit’s thirst. Traditional clothing was made from tanned skins of seal and caribou and had at least two layers, the outermost with caribou fur turned outwards and the inner layer with caribou fur turned in towards the body.
There are several specific garments, such as mukluks (a kind of shoe) and traditional fur parkas, that have been replaced with more modern inventions such as insulated boots and down coats. Traditional clothing is now typically used only for ceremonial purposes, and valued as art.