The Inuit. Inuit Arrival in North America.
The Inuit were the last native people to arrive in North America. Scientists who study people groups (Anthropologists) believe that the Inuit are not closely related to other First Nations groups in Canada. The Inuit came to the far north much later and from a different area of Asia. When they arrived, they found that all of the good land to the south was already occupied by hostile Indians, so they settled in the Arctic. Nobody else wanted to live in this land because it was one of the coldest and difficult climates in the world.
Some scientists believe that there was another type of Inuit group called the Dorset Natives already living in the this area. The Inuit legends tell that these earlier Natives were much taller people and they did not have dogs. It may be these people that the Vikings saw while in Canada. The last Dorset Inuit did not live past 1500 AD.
The Inuit are the only First Nations group in Canada that can be found on all three ocean coasts (Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic) and across all of Canada’s northern land. Today there are eight different Inuit regions across Canada. The Inuit in each of the regions are very similar. Some of these groups have developed small differences based on what was available in their area. The eight regions are:
Western Arctic Inuit
Baffin Island Inuit
Copper Inuit knife
Western Arctic Inuit – almost half of all Inuit are western Arctic Inuit. This region is rich in resources and is the only Inuit region that has small trees which these Inuit used in making winter housing.
Copper Inuit – The Copper Inuit are the only Inuit to have access to large deposits of copper that they used in making knives and arrowheads.
Netsilik - Their name means "people of the place where there is seal“ since seal meat makes up a large percentage of their food.
Caribou Inuit – This area is rich in caribou which is mainly what these Inuit eat.
Labrador Inuit man
5. Igloolik Inuit - The name "Igloolik" means "there is an igloo here" in Inuktitut, the Inuit language. These Inuit were experts in igloo construction.
Baffin Island Inuit – Baffin Island is divided between the Igloolik Inuit and the Baffin Island Inuit.
Quebec Inuit – located around Ungava Bay and the western coast of Hudson’s Bay.
Labrador Inuit – located along the Atlantic coast of Labrador.
The Canadian Arctic is one of the coldest and most unforgiving environments on Earth. Winters are long and cold, often with little sunlight. Therefore, the people of the Arctic were forced to adapt to these harsh surroundings in order to survive.
They adapted every aspect of their lives, from shelters, to food, to transportation in order to survive in the cold north.
They lived in a very large geographic area, and were some of the most sparsely distributed people on the planet. With only a few thousand people in total, the Inuit occupy a region that is 770, 000 square miles, larger than Alaska, and three times larger than Spain or France. France has over 65 million people in one third the space!
Winters were long, so the Inuit had to live with ice and deep snow most of the year.
In the far north, there were even periods of complete darkness during the winter, sometimes for months at a time, when the sun did not rise.
Most of the Canadian Arctic was like a 'frozen desert' with deep snow, and harsh weather most of the year.
There were frequent windstorms, which caused blowing snow and large snowdrifts along the barren landscape.
The summers were short, only lasting a couple of months every year.
In the very northern areas (near the north pole), there were periods of continuous sunlight in the summer when the sun never fully set.
During the winter, nothing was able to grow. The only time that plants were able to grow was during the summer, and since summers were so short, only small plants, like mosses, lichens, and scrub bushes were able to survive before winter arrived again.
The Inuit were nomadic people, so they rarely stayed in one place for very long. Therefore, their houses had to be quick and easy to build.
During the summer, the Inuit built tents out of driftwood or poles covered with animal skins, mostly caribou or sealskin. These tents were similar to the teepees of the First Nations who lived on the plains.
A ring of boulders around the base held down the tent skin covering.
Since wood was so hard to come by, the wooden poles used to make the tents were of great value and were heavily guarded.
People from different areas would form large villages during the summer. In the winter everyone scattered across the land into small bands again.
During the winter, Inuit families would follow the hunt. They needed a shelter that would keep them warm and protect them from the harsh winter weather. The most common winter shelter was a snow house, more commonly known as an 'igloo'.
Log and Sod houses made
By the western Arctic
Remains of a log
And sod house
From around 1880
The Inuit of the western arctic lived in the richest part of the high arctic and had access to trees.
They used them to build permanent log-and-sod houses in which they lived mostly in the winter.
They dug a shallow hole in the ground and set up a ring of vertical poles.
The poles were tilted inwards at the top so that blocks of sod could be piled up over them and remain in place.
The result was a log-and-sod hut with the floor below ground level which helped preserve warmth.
A fireplace provided the warmth.
Sometimes villages of 10 to 20 of these log-and-sod houses were set up.
Igloos are constructed out of large snow blocks. The Inuit builder had to make sure the snow was strong enough to be made into blocks. The best snow comes from a snow bank formed by a single snowstorm. Blocks taken from snow banks formed over two or three storms tend to break easily because of the layers within the snow. The snow that falls in your backyard would not be good for making an igloo.
The blocks are arranged in a large circle, and then a slightly smaller circle of blocks is laid on top, followed by a still smaller circle, and so on. Soft snow was used to fill any holes, and add extra insulation.
Once all the blocks except the last one have been placed, find a block that is slightly too large for the last opening on top. Place it on top of the igloo and wiggle it into place, shaping as needed. It should be shaped to fit exactly in the opening.
The final result of the building process is a dome, which is a very strong structure. A finished igloo can support the weight of a man standing on the roof. Ventilation holes must be cut into the walls and roof to prevent suffocation. Air holes also prevent body heat and smoke from causing dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.
Some experts say that a well-constructed igloo with a very small oil lamp and plain body heat can warm an igloo up to 40 degrees above the outside temperature. So, if it is -40°C outside, the igloo has the potential to warm up to 0°C. How does this happen?
As the interior of the igloo heats up from body heat and seal oil lamps, the blocks slowly melt and then refreeze, transforming the igloo into an even stronger house of ice. The best igloos are ones that have been sitting in the sun for a few days which makes them very strong and very well insulated.
The entrance to an igloo is also very important. Most modern igloos have a large opening, which is not how the Inuit made them. Most igloos had a small tunnel from the outside which went down and then up into the igloo. This allowed cool air to fall into the tunnel and warm air to rise. The Inuit would often build their beds at near the top of the igloo to take advantage of the warmest air.
Inside, snow walls may be covered with animal skins for extra warmth. Ice pads covered in animal skins would be used as beds.
On occasion, many igloos could be attached to each other connected by tunnels. This would give the Inuit more freedom to move around.
People in many countries have taken the simple igloo and transformed it. Some have used the simple shape to make small metal igloos or igloos with artistic designs. Others have used the igloo shape for large permanent buildings like arenas or hotels.
The ‘igloo’ where the Pittsburgh Penguins played.
The Fridge Igloo, by German artist Ralf Schmerbergbuilt from 322 old refrigerators.
Plastic bottle igloo
Igloo work station
The Inuit were mainly hunters, and they relied heavily on the animals of the Arctic for most of there needs. The Inuit were skilled hunters and were able to catch food year-round, even during the harsh and long winters.
Each season of hunting was different, so depending on the season they would hunt for different animals.
Summers were spent fishing and hunting caribou in the interior regions of the Arctic and hunting seal and walrus along the coasts.
One of the most important animals to the Inuit was the caribou. The Inuit used all parts of the caribous in their everyday lives.
The caribou meat was used for food and their thick and warm skins were more commonly used for jackets, gloves and parkas.
Summers were also spent fishing for Arctic Char, whitefish and trout.
Deer, musk ox and bear were also hunted in the summer.
Caribou skin tent, parka and gloves.
Hunting and fishing was harder during the winter months because of the thick ice and snow that blanketed the Arctic, but the Inuit were still able to find food.
Winters were spent seal hunting and ice fishing. In the interior regions, they also hunted caribou.
Seals were the main source of food during the winter months.
Hunters would wait, sometime for hours, at a seal's breathing holes in the ice, then kill them with a harpoon when they came up for a breath.
Fishing was a little different. When a fish appeared below an Inuit he would strike downwards with a fishing spear (or kokiwog) which would grasp hold of the fish. The kokiwog has flexible arms made from the horns of a musk ox so the fish, once speared and retrieved, can easily be released.
Some sea mammals, like whales, seals, walruses, beluga whales and narwhals were hunted in the open water in both winter and summer. Whenever the Inuit saw one, they would try to kill it for food.
Some sea mammals that were hunted for and what they were used for:
Seal: meat and skin
Walrus: ivory (tusks), and meat (mostly for the dogs)
Beluga Whales: skin, food like muktuk (outer skin and blubber)
Narwhal: ivory, meat for dogs
Some land animals that were hunted:
caribou, musk oxen, arctic fox, polar bear, arctic hare, arctic birds.
Inuit stone knife
Ivory harpoon heads
Most tools that the Inuit used were made out of stoneor parts of animals, like bone, ivory, antlers, teeth, and horns.
When fishing, the Inuit attached sealskin floats to their harpoons (with lines). These lines stopped the animal from sinking after it was speared.
Most harpoon heads (the sharp part) were made out of ivory from walrus tusks or whalebone.
To catch fish they also used fishing lines, nets, and three-pronged spears.
For hunting, the Inuit used spears, bow and arrows, clubs and stone traps.
The Inuit used knives for cutting meat, snow and ice.
A special knife that the Inuit used was called an 'ulu'. Uluswere used for skinning animals, preparing the animal skins, and for butchering.
Frozen meat cut by a saw
Frozen raw caribou known
If you were an Inuit, meat was the main source of food. There were no Inuit vegetarians!!
The Inuit had several ways of preparing their meat and fish to eat.
The first way was to cook the meat and eat it fresh. This was not very common because of the shortage of fuel (like wood) for cooking.
The second way was to dry the meat as a way to preserve it, similar to beef jerky that we can buy.
The last and most common way was to eat the meat raw, including birds! Frozen caribou was called ‘quak’.
Dried fish eaten with
In the absence of trees, birds build nests on the ground. The eggs could be collected easily by the Inuit and eaten raw. This was done generally only in the early part of the nesting season. Birds that had eggs taken from their nests early in the nesting season will lay another egg in its place. This makes sure that no bird species becomes endangered.
Some fish that was dried to be eaten later had to be remoistened. The Inuit used rotten seal blubber for this! The dried fish would be soaked in the blubber and then chewed heavily before it could be swallowed.
Although the Arctic summers were short, wild plants did produce berries. The Inuit gathered wild blueberries and raspberries to add to their diet. This short time of fresh berries was a welcomed treat!
With all of the meat, you might question how the Inuit avoided getting scurvy which is a shortage of vitamin C. Most vitamin C comes from fresh Citrus fruits (oranges) and other vegetables. However, there is another source of vitamin C….. Raw Seal Liver!
Raw seal liver was a special treat to the Inuit. Once a seal was killed, it was usually slit open on the spot, the liver was located, removed, and still warm and steaming, was hungrily eaten by all….Yumm!!
Inuit woman picking berries
Raw seal liver
Another favourite food for the Inuit was Muktuk.Muktuk is made from the skin and blubber of the Bowhead Whale, although the beluga whale and the narwhal are also used. It is usually eaten raw.
Early explorers of the Arctic region brought the Inuit’s first taste of flour and lard. To this day, this combination, called bannock, is fried and eaten. Dried berries can be added for flavour.
Kayaks and seal skin spray skirt
Two sided paddle
The Inuit people made two types of boats: the kayakand the umiak.
Kayaks were small, lightweight boats mainly used for hunting. Kayaks were one-person wood frame boats covered with sealskin. They were built to be lightweight and easy to paddle and maneuver in the water. A sealskin spray skirt was wrapped around the occupant's waist to prevent water from entering the boat. A kayak was paddled with a long two sided paddle.
The sealskin skirt kept the Inuit dry, but it also secured the Inuit inside the kayak. If one ever capsized, they would be trapped upside down under the frigid water unable to get out. Death by drowning or by cold water would be only minutes away. Was there a quick way out of this situation?
The Inuit invented an ingenious and life-saving technique of righting a kayak in seconds after being capsized. It became so famous, the technique was called the Eskimo Roll by the Europeans who first saw it performed, and it is still called that today.
There are many ways of doing an Eskimo roll, but all of them require a few basic steps to do. When upside down, both the movement of the paddle and the body position of the kayaker must work together.
Even when a person is told how to do this maneuver, only experienced kayakers who practice a lot can perform this technique quickly and efficiently.
Umiaks were large, open boats mainly used for travel. Umiakswere open, wooden, skin-covered boats.
They were larger than kayaks, 7-10 m long and 2.5 m wide, and could carry between 10 and 15 people. They were generally used to move from camp to camp and to hunt larger sea mammals, like whales.
Usually the women did the rowing, while the men steered the boat.
In the summer, travelling on the land was done on foot.
When the Inuit first arrived in the Arctic area, they came with their dogs. The dogs were not pets, yet they performed many important tasks, like scaring away bears and locating breathing holes of seals.
By far the most important task they had was as a pack animal working as a team and pulling the heavy sled which the Inuit called a Uniek.
When wood was scarce (as it is in most Inuit regions), the Inuit uniek was made out of walrus bones. As the dogs pulled the sled, the Inuit would run behind, jumping on the back of the sled every once in awhile for a rest. The Inuit would also make and wear bone crampons on the bottom of their boots to give extra grip when travelling on the ice.
The Inuit believed in animism: all living and non-living things had a spirit. That included people, animals, inanimate objects, and forces of nature.
When a spirit died, it continued living in a different world - the spirit world.
The only people who had enough power to control the spirits were the powerful religious leaders called the Shamans. Shamans used charms and dances as a means to communicate with the spirit world (similar to the Haida).
Shamans also wore carved masks-mostly representing animals - while performing their rituals. It was believed that masks had powers that enabled them to communicate with the spirits.
To get back on the good side of Spirits, the Shamans would make suggestions. They would suggest offering gifts to the spirits, moving away, and sometimes they would fine the person for breaking the rules and angering the spirits.
There were certain guidelines that the Inuit were supposed to follow to make the spirits happy.
They had rituals for hunting and eating food to deal with the spirits that lived in the animals.
They had to pay a deep respect to the spirit of the animals that they hunted, so that the spirit reappeared in another animal that could sacrifice its life again. If they did not pay their respects to the spirit, the spirit would reappear as a harmful spirit.
Here are rules that needed to be followed in order to appease the spirits:
Women were not allowed to sew caribou skins inside igloos on sea ice during the winter.
The Inuit people did not eat sea mammal and land mammal meat at the same meal.
A knife used for killing whales had to be wrapped in sealskin, not caribou skin.
After killing a seal, melted snow had to be dripped into its mouth to quench the spirit's thirst.
The Inuit saved the bladder of the hunted animals, because the belief was that the spirit was found inside.
A stone carving of Sedna throwing a beluga whale.
One of the most important spirits in Inuit culture was Sedna, the Goddess of the Sea.
She lived at the bottom of the ocean and controlled the seal, whales and other sea animals.
The belief was that if Inuit made her happy, she would continue to provide them with food.
If there was a bad season of hunting and food was scarce, it was thought that Sedna was upset, and that she was stopping the animals from being hunted by the Inuit.
The main instrument of Inuit ceremonies and dances was the shallow, one-sided drum.
Most drums were made from caribou skin or walrus stomach or bladder stretched over a wooden hoop.
Drum dances usually occurred inside large igloos with up to 60 people.
Some dances were religious in nature, while others welcomed travellers or celebrated a successful hunt.
Throat singing is performed by two women in competition using different odd sounds made in their throats and chests by breathing in and breathing out.One woman would start by setting a short rhythmic pattern, then the other woman would set her own pattern. It isn’t suppose to sound like the North American version of singing…and it doesn’t! The sounds are more like animal sounds than singing. It is also very hard to do!
The rules stated that the women had to be close to each other and face and stare at each other. Some women even held on to each other to make sure the other woman didn’t back away or look away.
It is still practiced today, but it is more of a demonstration than an actual contest.
Whale bone and
Inuit art played an important role in their culture.
They used resources that were available to them, such as parts of animals, stone, and driftwood.
Carvings: Carvings were made out of stone, bone, and ivory (from walruses and whales). Most of their carvings were of Arctic animals, people, or spirits. Most masks were made out of driftwood or whalebone. Masks were used in ceremonial dances.
Originally, the Inukshuk was one large stone turned up on its side. It was meant to be a marker for future travellers. The Arctic tundra has few obvious markers, so the Inukshuk was a way to communicate direction or location to others.
Later, the Inukshuks became larger and began to resemble a human form. The word Inukshuk means ‘something which performs the function of a person.’
Clothing of the Inuit people was mostly made out of animal skins and furs.
They usually wore many layers of clothing as protection from the cold weather.
Caribou skin was the most common choice for clothing because it provided good insulation and was relatively light.
Usually the Inuit wore clothing with two layers of caribou skin: an inner layer with the fur facing the skin, and an outer layer with the fur facing out.
The Inuit people also made clothing from other animal skins, including dog, squirrel, marmot, fox, wolf, polar bear, bird skin, feathers, and sealskin.
They sometimes used sea mammal intestines instead of hides, because they provided more resistance to water.
Baby in her Amautis.
Snow goggles used to prevent
Snow blindness on sunny days.
Mittens were usually made out of caribou or sealskin, and were sometimes layered.
Men and women both wore layered pants to add extra protection against the cold.
Clothing was custom made to fit each individual person, which helped keep cold air out at the neck, waist, and wrists.
Snow goggles, made from caribou antlers, provided protection from the cold, but more importantly protection from snow blindness. They reduced the amount of light coming into the eye, especially on sunny days with new snow.
Men and women both wore outer coats called 'parkas'
Most parkas were made out of caribou hair and skin, but they used other skins too.
When parkas were made out of bird skin, the feathers were also used as added insulation.
Women wore special large-hooded parkas called 'Amautis'.
The large hood was used to carry babies and young children.
Children's clothing was made of soft skin of younger animals.
For the first couple of years, the children would stay in the hood of their mother's amautis.
When they were 2-3 years old they start wearing 'atajuqs' or combination suits.
A combination suit is a piece of fur made into one suit with a hood, pants, mittens, and boots.
During the winter, it was very important for the Inuit to keep their feet warm, so they wore up to four layers of footwear.
Typically they wore three layers on their feet: a boot stocking, a sealskin boot (mukluk), and a fur slipper.
Inuit games were mainly played by the youth. They were meant to built the physical and mental skills needed for hunting and survival in the Arctic.
The games required very little or no equipment to play.
The different games stressed physical strength, endurance, agility, and the tolerance of pain. A few examples of traditional games include:
One-Foot High Kick and Two-Foot High Kick
In the high kick, a target (such as a bone or a piece of fur) is suspended at a height. A player begins in a standing position, with both feet together, and jumps up to kick the hanging target with one foot, landing on the same foot that kicked the target. The player must maintain his balance on landing. It is the same rules with using two feet.
The Alaskan High Kick is similar to the One- and Two-Foot High Kick in that the objective is to kick a hanging target. However, in this game, the player holds one foot with one hand, balances on the other hand, and then extends the other leg up to kick the target.
In this game, the player takes a push-up position but with his hands making fists. In this position, all upper body weight is placed on the knuckles. The player then lifts up his legs and bounces forward on his fists and toes. The player who goes the furthest distance wins. It is painful and the winner often has bloody knuckles.
This game tests competitors’ ability to endure pain. Two players sit on the floor facing each other. A loop of leather cord is strung between two of the players’ ears. Players then use their ear to pull on the cord until the cord comes free or the other player quits from the pain. This event can cause bleeding and some players require stitches. Some Arctic competitions have removed this event due to safety concerns.
The blanket toss originated as a way for hunters to be able to see across the horizon. Today, it is always conducted for entertainment. Thirty or more people form a circle, holding the edges of a large skin or blanket, and toss a person into the air as high as possible. The object is for the thrown person to maintain balance and return to the blanket without falling over.
The goal of leg wrestling is to roll your opponent over while you stay flat on the floor. To do this, two competitors lay side-by-side on a mat with their heads pointed in opposite directions. They hook their arms together. The game begins with both players lifting their legs three times together. On the third lift, their legs catch above the knee. The first person to flip their opponent wins.
The Musk Ox Push
Both contestants get down on the floor on their hands and knees in an area marked for the contest. The contestants line up facing each other and lower their heads towards the floor. Each of the contestants press their head against the other's shoulder.
When the judge says go, they both push forward and try to shove their contestant out-of-bounds. The contestants may only use their hands for crawling, and their hands and knees must stay on the floor.
Two players stand beside each other and wrap their arms around each other's shoulder, hooking the index finger into the other's mouth. Each player pulls until the loser yields to the other.
The Head Pull
In the head pull, two opponents face each other with a strap or band around both of their heads. The object is to try to pull your opponent across a center line or to force your opponent’s head down so the strap comes off.
One version of the head pull is to have the opponents face back to back with a string around their head and noses.
This has got to hurt!