For hundreds of years, the Inuits survived in a place whose permafrost-ridden ground practically prohibited life. Then, the Canadian government intervened. Before contact with the Western world, the Inuit were a nomadic people. They lived as hunters, setting up temporary homes before moving on to the next hunting grounds. They traveled on dogsleds and kayaks, making tools from stones and animal bones. But Canadians of European ancestry had a hard time understanding that lifestyle.
Then, the Canadian government intervened. Before contact with the Western world, the Inuit were a nomadic people. They lived as hunters, setting up temporary homes before moving on to the next hunting grounds.
They traveled on dogsleds and kayaks, making tools from stones and animal bones. But Canadians of European ancestry had a hard time understanding that lifestyle. Thus, they sought to make the Inuit "modern. To prove that the territory belonged to them and to do what they thought would improve Inuit life, the Canadian government forcibly relocated the Inuit people as part of the High Arctic Relocation Program.
The government ripped the Inuit from their nomadic lifestyles and settled them into communities, where they had to stop hunting and start buying food in grocery stores. Terrified of the Inuit's sled dogs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers slaughtered their animals. Government officials pulled children away from their parents and their homes, and sent them to school in the south.
There, they were forced to speak English, to learn Canadians materials and Canadian values.
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Often, tears would beat children if they tried to speak their own language. When they returned from these schools, they were different, disconnected from their own families and culture. The relocation program ultimately ravaged Inuit culture altogether.
It brought massive spikes in depression, drug abuse, and suicides.
And though today many Inuit are fighting to give strength to the culture that the Canadian government systematically tried to destroy, the impact of the s will never be forgotten. Intrigued by this look at the Inuit people.
For more insights into what Native American culture was like before colonialism changed it irrevocably, ck out these historic Edward Curtis portraits of Native Americans and these early 20th century Native American masks. By Mark Oliver.
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An Inuit family in front of a tupiq a tent made of animal skins and used in the warmer months at Pond Inlet in Library and Archives Canada. A mother with her child in the Ungava Peninsula, A hunting party cats a beluga whale, which can provide food for a whole community for long strets of time. A little girl named Ihumatak plays the drum in a tent. An Inuit man plays a traditional drum. This drum would be banned during the High Arctic relocation program because of its association with traditional Inuit beliefs.
A man builds an igloo. These homes gave the Inuit people warmth during the winter.
Even when temperatures outside dropped below °F, the temperature inside an igloo can still be as warm as 59°F. A boy puts caribou skin shoes on his dog's feet. Inuit children on a dog sled near sterfield Inlet in the early s. Sled dogs were key to the traditional Inuit way of life. In the s, the RCMP would slaughter sled dogs en masse, making it impossible for the Inuit people to subsist on hunting.
It would be a pivotal moment in forcing the Inuit to switch to a lifestyle of relying on store-bought food and welfare.
A woman holding an ulu while eating food. The ulu is a multi-purpose knife traditionally used by Inuit women for everything from skinning animals to cutting their children's hair. Inuit boys wear top hats outside of an Anglican church.
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Colonialism certainly had already influenced the Inuit way of life even before the High Arctic relocation program. A grandmother named Iqqi gives a traditional Inuit kiss to a young girl named Mary Hickes. An Inuit man spear fishing. An unidentified Inuit man ice fishing.
A man in a kayak at Port Burwell. Kayaks were hunting boats, often using a whale bone to make up the frame.
An Inuit hunter with a seal. Seal is a staple food for the Inuit, especially during the winter.
These animals were also useful in providing materials for clothing as well as oil for lamps. A man stands by an inuksuk. Traditionally, an inuksuk would be put up to help people navigate. They served as landmarks in the often endless ice, rocks and snow of the Arctic tundra. Women carry bundles of moss on their backs. Hunting and fishing were the primary sources of food for the Inuit people, and men were traditionally responsible for these duties.
Women's duties included gathering other sources of food, such as eggs and berries, and preparing the food the hunters brought back. Sealswalruswhales and caribou were the most common targets of Inuit hunters. Animals killed by the hunters needed to be butred and frozen quickly, before they went bad or froze before being butred.
Women were traditionally responsible for the butring, skinning, and cooking of animals taken by the hunters.
In Inuit culture, it was believed that the women's respect for the animals killed during hunting trips, and subsequent care when butring them, would ensure successful hunts.
Inuit Woman Shares Her Culture
Women were in charge of the distribution of food to families in the community. The Inuit moved with the seasons to maximize their chances of a successful hunt; their entire families often moved with them.
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Among some Inuit groups this led to the development of complex tools such as light and powerful metal harpoons and wood stoves, which were being used by the late s. Childbirth and childcare were two of the most important responsibilities for an Inuit woman. Inuit parents showed a very high level of warmth and affection to their children.
Inuit children usually began to contribute to the family and community by the age of 12 through activities like picking berries and hunting small game. During this period, they learned skills from their parents through close observation.
Learning through observation was the chosen method because it was not practical for children to practice their skills by sewing valuable skins or accompanying men on important hunting trips. Women raised boys and girls.
Men taught boys certain skills, such as hunting, and women taught girls certain skills, such as sewing. Kinship is an important factor to an Inuit child's cultural belonging.
Starting from the time the child is born, he or she is introduced to their duties and ties of kinship. After a member of the family has passed away, their name is used as the name for a child of the same family line. The children are raised in a family-oriented environment, as their name serves as a reminder that the group comes first. There were no boys and girls names in Inuit culture, so it was common for a girl to have the name of her grandfather, for example.
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Children were taught at a young age to listen to their parents and respect their elders, and were treated with more autonomy than non-Inuit children. Adoption was very common in Inuit culture, and it was often very informal. Unwanted babies, or babies a family could not support, could be offered to another family. If the other family accepted, the adoption was complete. Infanticide was common when conditions were desperate and the group was threatened by starvation.
The belief that the Inuit regularly resorted to infanticide may be due in part to studies done by Asen Balikci,  Milton Freeman,  and David Ris  among the Netsilikalong with the trial of Kikkik. This was seen as best for the culture and prevented the suffering of other family members. Along with childbirth and childcare, women were responsible for sewing skins to make clothes; preserving, processing, and cooking food as mentioned above ; caring for the sick and elderly; and helping to build and take care of the family's shelter.
For protection against the bitter Arctic winter, it has not been surpassed by even the best modern clothing. The clothing created by women was vital because life in Arctic conditions was not possible without extremely well-made clothing to protect from the bitter cold. The clothing was created by the careful sewing of animal skins and furs using ivory needles, which were highly valuable in Inuit society.
The process of preparing skins to be sewn together for creating clothes was done by women and was an arduous task. Skins had to be scraped, stretd, and softened before they were ready to be sewn. In addition to this, the households Inuit women were expected to help construct and care for could range from igloosto semi-subterranean sod housesto tents in the summer months. A good amount of strength was required to construct Inuit shelters. Because of this, Inuit women often worked together and enlisted the help of men to build their homes.
For both practical and social purposes, these houses would be built close together or were made large enough for more than one family to live in.
Jobs in Inuit culture were not considered men's work or women's workbut the Inuit did believe in men's skills and women's skills.
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For example, hunting was generally done by the men. Sewing clothes, cooking and preparing food, gathering food outside of hunting, and caring for the home were generally done by women. This does not mean that women never hunted, nor that men never helped with other jobs. This was just how the work was traditionally divided.
Women hunted and boated for enjoyment or when food was scarce and the community needed extra hunters. Men and women worked together to create a functioning culture. The men would not be able to go hunting without the warm clothes the women sewed for them, and the women would not have enough food without the meat the men brought back from their hunting trips. Because of this, the work done by women received equal respect to the work done by men.
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While men and women generally did different work, one type of work was not considered better or more important than other types. It is easy to think that because men only had one job that they did less work. The truth is that hunting was extremely physically demanding and time-consuming, and often required traveling for days or weeks at a time.
As a result, the sexual division of labour in Inuit culture was relatively equal in the amount of work done.
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While women were respected by men, and often treated as equals, they did not have equal power in the community. Important decisions, such as when to migrate and where to, could be made exclusively by men. These councils were almost exclusively male. Because of this, the Inuit women had little to no say in some of their communities' most important decisions. Men usually had the final say in issues such as arranging marriages and adoption or infanticide, which have a huge impact on women's lives.
Although women had a relatively high position socially,  and had significant control of their own home, as well as ceremonially important jobs such as lighting and tending to lamps and distributing food,  their power was usually limited to those areas. In addition to this, if men were unhappy with how a woman was handling her responsibilities, they could take over or transfer her work to another woman in the community whom they considered more capable. With women having less power, they are often put in difficult positions when they are not involved in the decision-making process.
For example, a pregnant woman, or a woman with a newborn child, may not be able to migrate hundreds of miles through Arctic conditions in search of better hunting grounds. Factors such as these are rarely taken into account when men are the sole decision-makers for a community.
After contact with other cultures, the Inuit were introduced to new technologies and modernization, which changed their lives drastically. The Inuit are now a modern people and, like almost all indigenous peoples, no longer live the way their ancestors did.
This is especially true of Inuit women. After modernization, the Inuit began to move into Arctic towns and participate in wage laborgovernment employment, community councils, and the acquisition of modern clothing, housing, and vehicles. Male Inuit initially took the lead in assimilation by learning the language of the arriving culture and taking on modern, wage earning jobs; however, a lack of education began to hinder the men's ability to find and keep jobs.
As a result of this, women began to lead the way in cultural assimilation. Women started by finding work as domestic servants, store clerks, hospital aides, classroom assistants, interpreters, and in weaving and knitting shops.
Some universities in regions where the Inuit are prominent, such as the Nunavut Arctic Collegehave programs designed specifically for the Inuit people. Women, much more often than men, take advantage of these programs. Because Inuit women seek more education and, subsequently, better jobs, they have increasingly taken on the role as primary wage earner for the family. This has caused men to assume responsibilities in the house that were traditionally done by the women, such as raising children and keeping the home in order.
The "role reversal" that has begun to occur in Inuit society has given women a major increase in power and influence. Women have begun to seek more power for themselves, both in decision-making in the family and the culture as a whole. As the primary wage earners, working women are now considered the heads of their families and have the upper hand in making decisions for them. This has complicated the relationship between Inuit men and women. Reactions such as these perpetuate the cycle, as men are less likely to be employed after exhibiting these behaviors.
Another change that has begun is that Inuit women have increasingly started to run for political office. Although the positions they seek are often at the community and local levels, this increase in activism reflects the new confidence Inuit women have found in the modern world.
The second premier of Nunavut was a woman, Eva Aariakwho was one of two female MLAs in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut.