Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inuit Introduction

Source: Wikipedia

Hi everyone! This blog is dedicated to the Inuit people of Alaska and Northern Canada. My main goal with this blog is to show many different aspects and facts about the Inuit people and culture, so that everyone who sees it can learn a little bit more about a region and a people that they may have never been interested in before, or that they may not have heard of before. To me, it is important to have at least a basic understanding of other cultures around the world, especially one such as the Inuit, as they live right here in North America.

Above is the flag of Nunavut, a region in which the Inuit heavily inhabit.

Below will be the links to my other posts about the Inuit people. Stay tuned :)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

History of the Inuits

Source: Wikipedia
The Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, who had crossed over from Siberia into modern-day Alaska around the year 1000. Some settled in Alaska and some pushed on into Northern Canada and eventually made their way to Greenland. They displaced the Dorset culture that had already settled in present-day Nunavut and a small portion of Greenland. By 1300 the Inuit had settled in Western Greenland, and had pushed the Dorset south.

The Inuit had skills, tools, and technologies that were best suited for extremely cold weather, so they did not settle below the Arctic Tree Line, which is the northernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere where trees can grow due to it being too cold. However, they did have trade relations with the Native American tribes that had established themselves in Central and Southern Canada. Boundary disputes between the Inuit and their southern neighbors were common, and many times led to warfare between groups.

The Inuit were forced to venture south along the edge of the tree line after about the year 1350, when the Little Ice Age began and the climate got even too cold for them to bear. They now had to subsist on a much poorer diet, as well as lose access to resources that were plentiful farther up north. They went as far south as modern-day Labrador in Canada; consequently, some of the first contact that the Inuit had with Europeans was with the Vikings in the 17th century, who had previously settled in Greenland and were exploring the eastern coast of Canada.

For many years the Inuit were almost a second thought to many others. The European arrival tremendously damaged the Inuit way of life. Mass death and social disruption were caused by the intrusion of European whalers and explorers, who brought along foreign diseases and traditions that affected the Inuit extremely. Going forward in time to the early 20th century, the Inuit were starting to be contacted by fur traders and missionaries, and soon enough, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were involved. By 1920, there were no Inuit lives untouched by the influence of the newcomers. In 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the Inuit should be considered Indians, and therefore were under the jurisdiction of the federal government. As a result, the native customs began to be worn down. They would be punished under the Canadian criminal law and often would not understand what they were being punished for. The missionaries would not let up either; during the 19th and 20th centuries, many Inuit were converted to Christianity, which involved a moral code very, very different from what the traditional Inuit religions had.

By the end of World War II (1945), the Canadian government had come around and acknowledged their mistreatment of the Inuit. The government began to implement administrative centers in the northern regions of Canada, which would provide education, healthcare, and economic development services. However, many Inuit were forced to move to live in settlements built up around these administrative centers, which completely transformed their way of life. They went from being a self-sufficient people to being a small and impoverished minority that was becoming increasingly dependent on the government and the large economy for survival. But, beginning in the 1960's and 1970's there was a revived sense of the Inuit culture. Several Inuit became actively involved in politics in a push for respect of the Inuit people and territories, and recognition that they were deserving of equal rights. Several political associations were formed in order in add Inuit representation to governmental matters. These efforts were not in vain; Canada's 1982 Constitution Act recognized the Inuit as Aboriginal peoples in Canada. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Homeland of the Inuit

The Inuit mainly inhabit the northern regions and coastlines of Alaska and Canada, and the central and southern regions of Greenland. There are approximately 16,581 Inuit living in the United States (14,718 in Alaska alone), 50,480 living in Canada, and 51,365 living in Greenland.
Source: Wikipedia

The land which the Inuit inhabit is full of mountains, glaciers, tundra, and ice and snow. The majority of these regions are either tundra or permanently covered ice or snow. Since the ground is almost always covered in permafrost, it makes any kind of agriculture nearly impossible. Therefore, the Inuit have to rely on nutrients gotten from raw meats and fish.
The climate of the these regions is characterized by long, freezing winters and short, cool summers. In parts of the Arctic, the warmer temperatures in the summer cause some of the ice to melt, letting the ground underneath warm up quickly and increasing temperatures even more. The average temperature in July can range from 14°F to 50°F, and the average January temperature can range from -40°F to 32°F. 

Source: misguidedchildren.com
The geography of the Arctic region varies immensely. There are mountain ranges, like the Innuitian Mountains, the Arctic and Hudson Bay lowland ranges, and the Arctic Watershed. This Arctic Watershed drains waters from all of Northern Territories and Nunavut into the Arctic Ocean.

Monday, April 21, 2014

World of the Inuit

Source: Wikipedia
Living in the Arctic, the Inuit have to use whatever limited resources they can access. Their industry relies heavily on animal hides, driftwood, and bones. They would carve tools out of bones and soapstone, and they would make knives out of walrus ivory. Their clothes and footwear are made by sewing animal skins together sewn together using needles made from animal bones and thread made from animal sinew. During the winter, oftentimes they would live in igloos, which are temporary shelters made from snow and ice. When the weather got warm enough, they would set up shelters using driftwood as a frame, and covering them with animal skins. 

Source: Wikipedia
Art played heavily into the Inuit culture and continues to do so today. Sculptures of animal and human figures are carved from ivory and bone. These sculptures depict everyday activities that the Inuit would perform, such as whaling or hunting. Today, sculptures will also be carved from softer stones such as soapstone or argillite.

The Inuit have traditionally been a hunting and fishing society. Their diet consists mainly of raw or frozen whale, fish, walrus, seal, and caribou meat. The reason for this is that the harsh temperatures prevent almost any kind of plant from growing there, especially in the winter months, so agriculture is almost nonexistent. In the summer, however, certain roots, tubers, and grasses, along with wild berries, will grow in the more southern regions of the Arctic and the Inuit will take advantage of those resources as well. One very interesting thing to note about the Inuit diet is that they still receive all of the necessary nutrients to survive and be healthy, even though 75% of their diet consists of fatty and protein-filled foods, and almost no plant matter. This is because the food is mostly eaten raw and unprocessed; a study done in the 1920's by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson found that adequate vitamin C could be obtained from eating raw meats such as ringed seal liver and whale skin.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Inuit Cosmos

Source: Wikipedia
The Inuit practiced a form of shamanism that was based on animist principles. They believed that all things, animate or inanimate, had a spirit of some kind. They also believed in a group of supernatural entities, almost like gods, unlike the traditional Christian belief, which is monotheistic (believing in only one God).The closest thing that the Inuit had to a central "god" or deity was the "Old Woman" or "Sedna," who was believed to live underneath the sea. There are several myths/stories that explain how the "Old Woman" came to be and how she ended up living in the ocean. The Inuit associate water with many great gods in their belief system/mythology.

Each community had its own shaman/healer type person, or angakkuq. This person acted as a healer and a psychotherapist, someone who tended to wounds and gave advice when needed. But the main role of the angakkuq was to see and interpret the subtle and unseen ways in which the supernatural entities contacted them. These people were not trained in these abilities; they were believed to have been born with special powers. The Inuit believed that all spirits were sacred, and not giving them the proper recognition or respect (in both life and death) would only give reason for the spirit to avenge itself and bring bad luck to the community.

The aurora borealis, or northern lights (pictured above) were very important in traditional Inuit mythology. Some Inuit would look into the lights and see images of their friends and family members dancing in their next lives. Some considered the aurora to be a sign of evil, however. Some even thought that if one were to whistle at the lights, they would come down from the sky and cut his/her head off! But for others, the northern lights were considered to be a guide for hunting, and a spirit to assist the angakkuq in healing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Birds of the Inuit

Source: Wikipedia
Birds are very important to the Inuit culture, for many different reasons. Many kinds of birds travel up north to the Arctic in the spring, then travel back south in the fall. According to Inuit scientists and hunters, there are over a hundred species of birds in the Arctic regions, of which nearly all are migratory.

There are only a few kinds of birds that spend the winter in the Arctic, including the raven, the snowy owl, and the rock ptarmigan. Pictured to the right is the Arctic tern, a very common bird in the region. Inuit women and children hunt birds (mostly geese, ducks, and rock ptarmigan) and use them for food and materials. Skins of larger birds are used as towels, to make slippers and (if there was a shortage of caribou) parkas as well.

Birds are also revered as symbols to the Inuit. For example, birds are viewed as a symbol of springtime and the return of the sun. This makes sense, because in the Arctic, the sun only rises once per year (the spring equinox) and sets once per year (the autumn equinox), and the birds return to the region in the spring. Birds also play a part in Inuit mythology; there is an Inuit story that tells of a man that was married to a goose. Dreams that involve birds are said to foreshadow the coming of a blizzard. Lastly, birds are very commonly used as artistic subjects in carvings and graphic arts.
Source: WordPress

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Inuit and their Neighbors

When the Inuit first came to North America, they soon came in contact with the Native American tribes that were already settled  in the more southern regions of Canada. Relations between them were tense at times; border disputes occurred often and war was not uncommon. When the "Little Ice Age" began (around the year 1350), the changing climate forced the Inuit to work their way more south, which put them in contact once more with the Native American tribes of those regions. They were able to find niches in the Arctic Tree Line which either had not been occupied by Native Americans, or the people that were there were too weak to put up a fight.

Let's fast-forward to more modern times. The Inuit had been in contact with European settlers for quite some time, and the nation of Canada had been formed. Here began a long line of clashes, and consequently not such a great relationship, between the Canadian government and the Inuit people. In 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada found, in a decision known as "Re Eskimos",  that the Inuit people should be considered Indians and thus were under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Inuit did not understand why this was happening; their native customs were being worn down and all of a sudden they were expected to follow a whole new set of rules and customs that they were not aware of and did not understand.

However, by 1953, Canada's stance on the Inuit people had changed. Canada's prime minister at the time, Louis St. Laurent, publicly admitted: "Apparently we have administered the vast territories of the north in an almost continuing absence of mind." At first, life seemed to get better for the Inuit after this change of heart. They were beginning to receive better healthcare and education opportunities, and more (and better) housing was built for them. But eventually they were required by police to vacate their homes and move to the new communities. This turned a once self-sufficient people into a small, impoverished minority in the span of two generations of people.

Recently, life really is looking up for most Inuit. There were government-funded high schools specifically built for the Inuit population, which allowed Inuit students to come together and exposed them to the current civil and political era in Canada at the time. As a result, the Inuit began to emerge as a new political force in the late 1960's and early 1970's, after the return of the first wave of graduates. They fought for (and won) many important land claims that helped the Inuit population gain a feeling of equality, ownership, and some form of autonomy from the Canadian government (after all, they WERE there first!)