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. 

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