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Inuit (singular, Inuk or Inuq; also, generally vulgarly, Eskimo) is a general term for a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples of the Arctic who descended from the Thule. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference defines its constitutency to include Canadian Inuit and Inuvialuit, Greenland's Kalaallit people, Alaska's Inupiaq and Yupik people, and Russian Yupik.

Canadian Inuit live primarily in Nunavut, Nunavik (a region in northern Quebec defined by the James Bay Agreement) and in Nunatsiavut (a region in Labrador whose borders are yet to be fixed.) The Inuvialuit live primarily in the Mackenzie River delta, on Banks Island and part of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. There have been Inuit settlements in Yukon, especially at Herschel Island, but there are none at present. Alaskan Inupiaq live on the North Slope of Alaska, while the Yupik live in western Alaska and a part of Chukotka Autonomous Area in Russia.

Table of contents
1 Occupation
2 Eskimo
3 Classification
4 Losing the traditions
5 Culture
6 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links


The Inuit were -- and many still are -- hunters, who hunt whale, walrus, and seal by kayak or by boat or by waiting at their airholes in the ice. They used igloos as hunting or emergency shelters. They made and make ingenious use of animal skins in their clothing (e.g. anorak). Dog sleds, known as qamutiit, were and are used for travel pulled by Inuit Sled Dogs in a fan hitch, though snowmobiles have largely replaced this mode of travel.


In Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people, "Inuit" means "the people". The English word "Eskimo" comes from the French "Esquimaux" but the origins of this French word are unclear.

The name is widely but incorrectly believed to derive from a Cree word sometimes translated as "eaters of raw meat". A few have gone so far as to claim that Cree Indians, on first encountering the Inuit, were disgusted by the Inuit practice of eating meat raw, and so called them, essentially, "sickening humans." Because this folk etymology is so tenacious, many Inuit consider the name "Eskimo" to be derogatory. (Minnie Aodla Freeman - "Life Among the Qallunaat" ISBN 0-88830-164-2)

However, this etymology is generally held to be false by philologists. Some Algonquian languages - particularly Plains Ojibwa - do call Inuit by names that are cognate to "eaters of raw meat." However, in the period of the earliest attested French use of the word, these peoples were not in contact with Europeans, nor did the Plains Ojibwa have very much direct contact with the Inuit in pre-colonial times. It is entirely possible that the Ojibwa have adopted words resembling Eskimo by borrowing them from French, and the French word merely sounds like the Ojibwa word for "eaters of raw meat." Furthermore, since Cree people also traditionally consumed raw meat, a pejorative significance based on this etymology seems unlikely.

The Montagnais language - a branch of Cree spoken on the east coast of Canada where the French made their first explorations - does not have vocabulary fitting this etymological analysis. A variety of competing etymologies have been proposed over the years, including the possibility that the name derives from the Montagnais word for the way snowshoes are tied, or as meaning "speaker of a foreign language." Since many Algonquian languages refer to the neighbouring Micmac people using words that sound very much like eskimo, many researchers have concluded that this the more likely origin of the word. (Mailhot, J. L'étymologie de «Esquimau» revue et corrigée Etudes Inuit/Inuit Studies 2-2:59-70 1978.)

Among many who are not Inuit, the word "Eskimo" is falling out of use. Much of the impetus behind this change probably traces to the books of Farley Mowat, particularly People of the Deer and The Desperate People. However, in Canada at least, a belief in the pejorative etymology of the word was a major factor.

In Alaska, according to a webpage from Libraries of the University of Connecticut, the Inuit continue to be called "Eskimo" more commonly particularly in order to distinguish them from other aboriginal groups of Alaska: the Aleuts and various other Native Americans (e.g., Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida) people. Also, "Eskimo" is still used in Alaska to refer to the state's Arctic peoples in general, whether or not they are Inuit in the sense of speaking Inuktitut. For example, while the Yupik people prefer to be called "Yup'ik", they do not generally object to being called "Eskimo"—but they resent being called "Inuit". [1]


The Inuit living in North America were formerly classified together with other Native Americans, but they are now considered to be an entirely separate ethnic group who arrived in North America a few millennia after the latter did, probably around 500 as the Thule, replacing the so called paleoeskimos. Accordingly, in Canada the Inuit are not considered First Nations, although they are included in the term "Native Peoples", "First Peoples", or "Aboriginal Peoples" along with Indians and Métis;.

Early European explorers continually called all the people they met in the area, as they explored from east to west, "Eskimos". Their culture is broadly the same over all the area, although the eastern groups speak Inupik dialect and the western, Yupik. Kinship culture also differs east and west, as eastern Inuit lived with cousins of both mother and father, but western Inuit lived in paternal kinship groups. In general though, the Inuit practice the Eskimo system of kinship.

Losing the traditions

Since the European arrival, racist and misguided government policies caused a great deal of damage to the Inuit way of life, causing mass death and other suffering. Circa 1970, strong Inuit leaders came forward and pushed for respect for the Inuit and their territories. One of the resulting land-claims agreements created the Canadian territory of Nunavut, the largest land-claims agreement in Canadian history. In recent years, circumpolar cultural and political groups have come together to promote the Inuit people and to fight against ecological problems, such as the greenhouse effect and resulting global warming, which heavily affects the Inuit population due to the melting and thinning of the arctic ice and die-offs of arctic mammals. Nunavut premier Paul Okalik took the lead in this regard in a First Ministers' meeting discussing the Kyoto Accord.


One of the most famous Inuit artists is Pitseolak Ashoona. Susan Aglukark is a popular Canadian singer. In 2002 the feature film from Isuma Productions (with all dialogue in the Inuktitut language and written, filmed, produced, directed, and acted almost entirely by Inuit of Igloolik) was released world wide to great critical and popular acclaim. Jordin Tootoo became the first Inuit to play in the National Hockey League in the 2003-04 season, playing for the Nashville Predators.

(to do list: culture past and present, spirituality, customs, etc)

See also

Further reading

External links