Visiting Canadian North – Travel to the traditional Inuit Culture

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Introduction: The term, Inuit, means “the people.” Inuit is a a group of indigenous people living in Greenland, Alaska and Canada, all of whom share a wide range of cultural similarities. Historically, they faced struggle against nature by surviving in the harsh climate of the place, and there were many significant steps in their history of survival that point to their endurance levels. Over time, the culture has gone through a number of significant changes, but it has never left its grassroots. Assimilation has definitely influenced their culture, but the Inuit people still hold their unique values and beliefs to carry forward their identity. Let’s know more about these people.

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Geography: Inuit people live mostly in Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Russia also shares a part of the Inuit geography, as their Yupik people are indigenously close to the Inuit tribe.

Home: Since times of history,  the Inuit people have lived amongst the most hostile environment. In the tundra, since not all construction material is available for building a home, the snow itself has become a building material in order to build a home which we know as the “igloo”. The term “igloo” means a block of snow. Due to extreme cold, no trees can be grown there, and if wood is needed, it has to be transported from other places.

However, in the summer season, the scenario somewhat changes. The ice starts to melt and hence, huts do come into the role of giving shelter. These huts are primarily a frame which is covered by animal skin. But as time has passed and mode of transportation also has been evolved, other building material can be transported now, and thus, some of these people have started making permanent homes for protection.

Food habits: Food habits do play an important role in shaping a culture. The area is characterized by extreme snowy weather, which is why it is almost impossible to cultivate any trees or other vegetables. Thus, the food habits of these people is entirely dependent on meat. The Inuit people hunt and catch fish in order to have a meal on the table, including whales, walrus, seals etc.

Transportation: The area is mostly covered by snow, due to which Inuit lack a transportation method that can move them easily in the snowy area. Sleds made of animal bones and skins pulled over by the snow dogs are the primary methods by which the people move from one place to another. The dogs are of the special breed which is known as the “Huskies”. With strong thick fur, these dogs have immense strength to pull these sleds over the snow and survive in this chilled climate.

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Language: The Inuit speak several different languages, which include Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun and other languages of Greenland. Inuktitut is spoken in Canada among the Inuit people. The speaking language differs from place to place, for example, Inuit in Alaska and Northern Canada do speak English. A special mention also goes for the Inuit sign language which is used by the deaf Inuit. This language though, is at the verge of extinction, and is used by only a very small group of Inuit people.

Industry: In terms of industrial field, the Inuit revolve around animal hides, driftwood and bones. Since the harsh climate doesn’t give much opportunity, there’s a little platform in order to develop industry in other areas. The clothing is made from animal skins which are sewn together by needles. The needle itself is made up of animal bones. “Parkas” plays an important role in the winter, which is basically a thick coat with a big hood. This style of clothing has also spread to other parts of the world and hence, it has somewhat become a trending fashion in other areas.

Traditions: As time has passed, the traditions are changing, though the Inuit still hold the core value of their ancestors. Traditional storytelling, mythology and dancing still take an important role in shaping the culture of the Inuit. The family and the community play a big role in the life of an Inuit.

Once, they had very rare contacts with the outside world, but now the scenario has changed a lot especially after the cold war. Till 19th century, the Inuit used to hunt whales and their goods included trading furs. They also used to change places in summer and winter. As it has been already mentioned above, they used to live in “igloos” in winter and in a hut covered by animal skin in the summer.

But as time has progressed, these places have become strategically very important. With an aim to build settlements and gain influence, lots of structures were built in the community, including schools, airbases, radar stations etc. This in turn allowed Inuit people to communicate with the outside people more frequently. As Inuit people started getting access to better modern medical facilities, their health and longevity improved significantly. With the building of schools, the whole lifestyle of Inuit people also started to change, as the children started to go to school and become accustomed to the culture from other parts of the world.

Due to permanent settlement and building of permanent homes, the opportunity did arise in which Inuit people could think about living in a place permanently, instead of moving from one house to the other in winter and summer. With better education, the jobs also started to come, as a result of which drastic changes were introduced in the lifestyle of the Inuit people.

See also: Canadian Culture: What You Need to Know

Though, there is somewhat a struggle in the younger generation between the modern culture and the traditional values, Inuit people have still maintained a balance between the two very well. Hence, one could see the progress in Inuit without giving up on the core beliefs. With the rich history and culture, the Inuit have always been an important community in the northern part of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. If you are visiting north Canada, spending a couple of days with the Inuit tribe would be a lifetime experience for sure. Ensure you secure your Canada Eta before travelling.