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!)

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