Inuit Indians

“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”~First Nation of Canada~

An Inupiat family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929. Photo credit Wikipedia.

An Inupiat family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Nunavut Flag

Note: The word “Nunavut” means “our land” in Inuktitut, the Inuit language.

History

The Inuit, or “the people” (in the Inuit language) were formerly known as Eskimos. The name Eskimo supposedly translates into “eaters of raw fish” and is looked upon by the Inuit as being derogatory.
The Inuit live in most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic regions, occupying lands that stretched miles from parts of Siberia, along the Alaskan coast, across Canada, and on to Greenland.
According to anthropologists, there were several cultues.
By 1000 B.C. the Dorset culture appeared. Researchers hypothesize that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other advancements used by the expanding Inuit society.
Reaseachers claim that the first contact with Europeans came from the Vikings, who settled Greenland and explored the eastern Canadian coast. Norse literature speaks of skrælingar, most likely an undifferentiated label for all the native peoples of the Americas the Norse contacted, Tuniit, Inuit and Beothuks alike.

The Norse settlement of Greenland starts just before the year 1000. The Late Dorset culture dissappeed from Greenland during the second half of the 13th century,

Inuit Mothers with children, circa 1930s

Around the 13th century, the Thule culture emerged from western Alaska. They settled south and ranged over vast areas of Greenland’s west and east coasts.
These people, were the ancestors of the modern Inuit, and engaged in hunting almost all animals on land and in the ocean, including big whales. In addition, the Thules had dogs, and used them to pull the dog sledges; they also used bows and arrows.
The nature of the contacts between the Thule, Dorset and Norse cultures are not clear, becasue Norse accounts are scant. However, Norse made items have been found at Inuit campsites in Greenland. It is unclear whether they are the result of trade or plunder.
Around 1650-1840 AD the period known as Little Ice Age forced the Thlule to break up into small nomadic groups.
The reason why the Norse settlements failed is unclear, but the last record of them is from 1408, roughly the same period as the earliest Inuit settlements in east Greenland.
After roughly 1350, the climate grew colder during the Little Ice Age and the Inuit were forced to abandon hunting and whaling sites in the high Arctic. Bowhead whaling disappeared in Canada and Greenland (but continued in Alaska) and the Inuit had to subsist on a much poorer diet. Without whales, they lost access to essential raw materials for tools and architecture that were derived from whaling.

British explorer Martin Frobisher 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 on Baffin Island, not far from the town now called Iqaluit, but long known as Frobisher Bay. the mmeting began well, however, A porblem occurred when five of Frobishers’s crew dissappeared. He responded by taking an Inuit prisoner himself for ransom. When this did not work, he took the prisoner to England, doubtless the first Inuk ever to visit Europe. The Inuit oral tradition, in contrast, recounts the natives helping Frobisher’s crewmen, who believed they had been abandoned.
in 1741, Vitus Jonassen Bering (Russian explorer, He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaska and its Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait, the Bering Sea, Bering Island, Bering Glacier and the Bering Land Bridge bear the explorer’s name.

He and his men met the Inuit of Alaska. It is estimated that there were about 40,000 Inuit living in Alaska at the time, with half of them living in the north, both in the interior and in the far northwest. The Inuit, Aleut, were the most heavily affected by this early contact, by Russian fur traders.

Russian expeditions in the south led to the near destruction of Aleutian culture. This was the result of both the spread of disease and the influence of alcohol abuse.

These problems and the reduction of the whale population, made life difficult for the Inuit. The Inuit now depended on a wage as they signed on as deckhands or guides. Village life became demoralized, and small settlements disappeared entirely.
In 1867, The United Stats purchased Alaska, from Russia by a treaty ratified by the Senate.
the Inuit had to abide by the new laws set forth b the U.S.The law was assimilation into American society. The main tool of assimilation was through education.
Schools, set up by the state or by missions, discouraged the learning of native languages; English became the primary language for students who were often transported hundreds of miles from their homes.
Returning to their home villages after being sent away for four years to the Bureau of Indian Affairs high schools, these Inuit no longer had a connection to their language or culture. They were ill-equipped to pass traditions on to their own children.

During the 1960s 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.
Regular visits from doctors, and access to modern medical care raised the birth rate and decreased the death rate, which in turn increase the Inuit population to the point it could not sustain itself by fishing and hunting.
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.
During the 1970s the Inuit began organizing and planning for their people. They formed new politically active associations in the early 1970s, starting with the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.
In 1971, Through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) the Inuit and other Alaska Natives receive $962 million and 44 million acres in exchange for giving up claims to another 335 million acres. In 1999 the Canadian government transferred control of a newly formed province, Nunavut, to the Inuit. At 818,962 square miles (2,121,101 square kilometers), Nunavut covers one-fifth of the total landmass of Canada.
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

The Inuit Today

photo- Goota Ashoona a third-generation Canadian Inuit artist

Inuit communities in Canada continue to suffer under crushing unemployment, overcrowded housing, substance abuse, crime, violence and suicide. The problems Inuit face in the 21st century should not be underestimated. However, many Inuit are upbeat about the future.
Arguably, their situation is better than it has been since the 14th century. Inuit arts, carving, print making, textiles and throat singing, are very popular, not only in Canada but globally, and Inuit artists are widely known.
Indeed, Canada has, metaphorically, adopted some of the Inuit culture as a sort of national symbol, 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. Some Inuit languages such as Inuktitut, appears to have a more secure future in Quebec and Nunavut. There are a surprising number of Inuit, even those who now live in urban centres such as Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg, who have experienced living on the land in the traditional life style. People such as Legislative Assembly of Nunavut member, Levinia Brown and former Commissioner of Nunavut and the NWT, Helen Maksagak were born and lived the early part of their life “on the land”. 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 traditional 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, Quebec in 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 in the 2003–04 season, playing for the Nashville Predators.
Although 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 important. The Inuktitut language is still spoken in many areas of the Arctic and is common on radio and in television programming.

Inukshuk

Inukshuk:These massive stone figures are built in the image of humans. In the Arctic, the Inukshuk are signposts marking the easiest and safest way for those who follow. They stand as eternal symbols of the importance of friendship. The difference we make today does count in all our tomorrows.

Inuit Tale: Eskimo Folk-Tales, by Knud Rasmussen, [1921]

THE GREAT BEAR

A WOMAN ran away from her home because her child had died. On her way she came to a house. In the passage way there lay skins of bears. And she went in.
 And now it was revealed that the people who lived in there were bears in human form.
 Yet for all that she stayed with them. One big bear used to go out hunting to find food for them. It would put on its skin, and go out, and stay away for a long time, and always return with some catch or other. But one day the woman who had run away began to feel homesick, and greatly desired to see her kin. And then the bear spoke to her thus:
 ”Do not speak of us when you return to men,” it said. For it was afraid lest its two cubs should be killed by the men.
 Then the woman went home, and there she felt a great desire to tell what she had seen. And one day, as she sat with her husband in the house, she said to him:
 ”I have seen bears.”
 And now many sledges drove out, and when the bear saw them coming towards its house, it felt so sorry for its cubs that it bit them to death, that they might not fall into the hands of men.
 But then it dashed out to find the woman who had betrayed it, and broke into her house and bit her to death. But when it came out, the dogs closed round it and fell upon it. The bear struck out at them, but suddenly all of them became wonderfully bright, and rose up to the sky in the form of stars. And it is these which we call Qilugtûssat, the stars which look like barking dogs about a bear.
 Since then, men of bears, for they hear what men say.

Sources

Canada’s First Nations

Wikipedia 

Athropolis (A List of Links for The Inuit)

Google Sites: Brief information about The Inuit 

Inuit Timeline