The Inuit are a tribal people that live in northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. They have lived there since around 1000 AD, and are the descendants of the ancient Thule culture, which is thought by some scholars to have crossed over the Bering Strait from Asia Alaska, later taking up most of the space in the most northerly parts of the American continent. Thule expansion effectively wiped out other ancient cultures, such as the Dorset, who lacked the dogs brought over by the Thule. For around 500 years, the Inuit had some measure of peace, with no centralized government and more of a cultural, collective union than any sort of nation. Soon, the Europeans came, and attempted to settle Inuit lands, making life worse for them. In the 20th century, however, the Inuit experienced a cultural renewal, and they have been treated more fairly by the others around them. Their cultures and traditions are respected the world over, and their quality of life has improved by having better access to health care. They still face many problems, caught up in the struggle to preserve their lands and ways of life amidst the pressures brought by progress and resource extraction at the hands of the Americans, Canadians, and Danes.
Climate and Geography
The Inuit settled and continue to live along the extreme northern coasts of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. This far north, the planet gets very cold, and beneath the soil, the ice never melts. This would be in the areas where the snow melts, of course. Because of the ever-present ice, trees do not grow, as they cannot root properly. This phenomenon results in barren, windswept Tundra, populated by Caribou, Bears, and Wolves, among other animals. Temperatures vary greatly; they can go down to around -30° Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) and can go up to around 30° Celsius (86° F) in the summer. Furthermore, because of the extreme angle of the Earth to the Sun, much of the Inuit land experiences summer months where the Sun never goes down, and winter months of perpetual darkness where the Sun never rises.
The Great Disasters
Inuit legend and folklore tells of great disasters which shaped the Inuit people. According to these tales, the lands currently dwelt by the Inuit was once much warmer, lush, and green. Then a great disaster happened, in the form of a meteor, comet, or volcanic eruption. After the disaster, the land grew cold and many cultures died out -- but not the Inuit. As strange as this legend may seem, Historians believe that it did happen, and that, whatever the disaster was, it has left a permanent mark on the face of the world.
Arrival of the Colonists
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made the first voyage to America. Aside from the fact that he wasn’t first, this proved to be very important, because it got the Europeans interested in civilizing the land. The colonialists poured in, but the two that we really need to worry about here are the French and the British, rivals since time immemorial. In 1576, the British, while looking for a quick way to get from one side of America to the other by sea, managed to stumble upon the Inuit, who were busy minding their own business and keeping to their own way of life. Frobisher, the leader of the expedition, got some men to try to establish contact with the Inuit. Instead, the men disappeared. Unsatisfied with this result, Frobisher took the typical colonial view and took an Inuk to Europe, somewhat against his wishes. It turned out that the missing sailors were treated quite well by the Inuit, which may account for why they didn’t want to go back to Europe. Soon enough, missionaries poured in to help convert the heathen Inuit to the one true faith (which the Europeans couldn’t quite decide upon,) traders decided to sell their stuff to the Inuit, and colonists set up settlements all around the place for Inuit use – and for the use of British and French settlers.
Life with the Colonists
The Inuit way of life changed drastically with the arrival of the colonialists. For starters, the Europeans spread diseases that the Inuit had no immunity against. This, coupled with the Inuit's limited medical knowhow -- not much more limited that Europe's at the time -- resulted in massive population losses. The Colonies also had a mandate that harmed the Inuit: they were created to gather, on a good day, and exploit if necessary, the resources of the New World. Furthermore, colonial trading corporations, such as the Hudson's Bay Company, occupied much of the territory in and around the Inuit lands. This occupation affected Inuit trade with its neighbours, as they were now harder to reach, so they had to turn to exchanging resources with the British and the French. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Inuit were still able to trade a considerable amount of resources that they didn’t have before from the British, and were intermarried into their families. The presence of the Hudson's Bay Company driving a wedge through the territories helped stop warfare between the Inuit and their enemies -- at the possible cost of skirmishes with the Company itself. The Hudson's Bay Company also employed Inuk to do whaling and fishing for them. The British in particular were able to settle down peacefully with the Inuit, and gave several well-documented reports on their average way of life. This was a small-scale version of what is known as the Columbian Exchange; Europeans gave items to the Native Americans, and vice versa. In many ways, trade was better for both parties, and the Inuit didn’t lose as badly as they are often said to have.
Life in the Dominion of Canada
Life in the British Dominion of Canada was of a fairly high standard, taking other Native-Colonial relations into account. Although the British were not overly sympathetic towards the Inuit, they never regarded them as a threat, and had good relations with them most of the time. Given the vast area covered by the Inuit, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (or “Mounties”) were set up to patrol the ice-covered landscape. The region required patrolling, but the land was of very little use to the British itself, but useful to claim to avoid further threats and access to a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The Inuit were soon brought under full control of the Dominion of Canada, and were brought further towards full contact over the 19th Century, the last of them being contacted in the 1920s. Missionaries continued to roam the land to convert the Inuit to Christianity, and managed to do so very effectively through rituals designed to suit the Inuit. Multiple expeditions were set up to find out more about the Inuit territory. Several stations were set up to process the Inuit produce, and this was later shipped off to the British areas. Overall, the Inuit lifestyle contrasted with the colonial one, but they were able to get on remarkably well.
Use for the Inuit lands
In 1939, Canada, now a nation in her own right, declared war on Germany, and the Inuit lands had to be taken advantage of. They had a large amount of oil resources, and they began to become increasingly useful with the advent of modern planes. Military bases were established in the Inuit territory during the Cold War, to defend against possible attacks from the Soviet Union. These bases meant further contact with the Europeans, even though their main usage for the territory was to help defend Canada, and not to help the Inuit. However, the increased Canadian population had several benefits, including guns, which helped the Inuit in their hunting. Medicine was also introduced to the Inuit lands; this saw the growth rate expand rapidly, and the Inuit were able to expand further. But not all changes were good. The 1950s saw the goverment seeking to quell the Inuit culture because it was expanding too much and seemed to be causing a lot of problems with uncontrolled hunting. However, in 1953, Louis St. Laurent, the Prime Minister at the time, ordered 40 camps to be set up to help with education, healthcare and general necessities for the Inuit people, since he recognised a deprivation of these people from previous years. A lot of Inuit moved to these encampments as they offered a range of things, from clothing to housing, for them to use.
Recognition of the Inuit
During the 1960s, the Inuit mostly lived in permanent housing in these settlements, for the most part abandoning their traditional way of life. However, this was a very dangerous move for them. As they had stuck to their Arctic ways for centuries, they had no further means of self-sufficiency to keep a strong economy. However, the sixties also saw a rise in Inuit political activity. Their way of life had almost completely died out by the 1980s, and they were little more than an impoverished minority in the harsh Canadian north. Through political activism and a renewed interest in their traditional culture, a renewal began for the Inuit, who had survived without any outside help in one of the harshest areas in the world for nearly a millennium. Through a lot of tough politics, they were able to create a better life for the Inuit people. In 1982, a milestone was reached with the signing of the Canadian Constitution act – this, at long last, recognised the Inuit as an Aboriginal people of Canada, although not a sovereign First Nation. As with any people that gets some degree of independence, the Inuit wanted a land to call (quite literally) “Home”. In 1993, the first steps towards their demands were met with the planning for a region of Canada that the Inuit were entitled to use. The name bestowed upon it was “Nunavut”, meaning “Our land”. In 1992, elections were held to see the amount of people who wanted separation between Nunavut (roughly corresponding to the Inuit lands before the arrival of the British) and the Northwest Territories, a region of Canada that covered the cold, barren landscape of North Canada. 85% of the inhabitants voted in favour of separating the two regions, and the transition was completed on April 1, 1999, with the founding of a new territory for the Inuit people.
The North Today
The Inuit culture remains strong to this day. They still build igloos, and go out on snow sledges just like back in the old times. But now their way of life is assisted by items such as rifles, which help them to get food, by . They are represented in Canadian Parliament, albeit on a minor scale, but more so than in Greenland and the USA. There are still a lot of problems threatening their traditional way of life, such as problems with a Western diet, the ongoing search for oil, and a world-high suicide rate. The Inuit way of life is going strong: they have kept to their collectivist roots, not having one main leader for themselves, but rather multiple people that they can look to for advice. The laws of the Inuit are not on paper, but rather based on oral advise. Although the Inuit are now in the nation of Canada, and spread as far as Denmark’s region of Greenland, and the USA’s region of Alaska, they remain true to the traditions they have been taught for hundreds of years; they can only stand by what they have always known, and as long as nobody from the outside poses any threat, the Inuit will continue to carry on living the life they have created for themselves and done well with for thousands of years.
Ekeuhnick's story is shrouded in the ancient past. He is a legendary character of the Inupiat people of Alaska, one of the "Eskimoes" -- meaning, the people of Northern Canada and Alaska that share a way of life with the Inuit and that is distinct from that of the First Nations. Even though Ekeuhnick is known only through oral legend, historians are convinced that he was indeed a real person -- possibly the first of the Inuit.
The Legend of Ekeuhnick
According to legend, Northern Alaska was once a warm, temperate climate. Ekeuhnick grew up there, a responsible young man who was loved by all. Everything changed when he met the Prophet Aungayoukuksuk. The prophet warmed him of the impending disaster: fire would rain from the sky and burst from the earth, killing all living creatures in the area. Furthermore, the land would become cold and inhospitable to human life. Ekeuhnick ran home to tell his people, who evacuated at his word because they trusted him.
The Great Disaster
As the Prophet had predicted, the sky rained fire and the world of the Inupiat turned to a frozen wasteland. Ekeuhnick's people did not know how to survive in the new, harsh environment, but Ekeuhnick's innovative thinking brought about new ways to combat the new environment: fire, dogsleds, and parkas. Under Ekeuhnick's guidance, his people not only survived the harsh transition, but also became the modern Inuit peoples, whose culture has lasted to this day.
Judgement of History
According to the Legend of Ekeuhnick, he managed to single-handedly save his people from certain death, and then train them to live in a new environment whose barren, harsh dark and cold is matched only by the Norweigan laplands. His lessons, beliefs, and techniques have been passed on for hundreds of years, becoming the foundation for a unique and valuable culture and way of life that would have been wiped out without his leadership. Clearly, Ekeuhnick's influence has stood the test of time.
The Unaaq, or harpoon, was a typical tool of the Inuit. The harpoon could be used for hunting on land or in water, and could also be used as a deadly weapon.
An Inuksuk is a stone landmark or cairn built by humans, used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. Scientists aren't sure, but the Inuksuk may have been used for navigation, as a point of reference, a marker for travel routes, fishing places, camps, hunting grounds, places of veneration, drift fences used in hunting, or to mark a food cache, or possibly a mixture of multiple uses.
During the World Wars, the Canadian military made use of Inuit snipers, since the Inuit way of life, with its emphasis on hunting in barren wildernesses, lends itself to training up the world's greatest snipers.