Inuit 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 constituency to include Canada's Inuit and Inuvialuit, Greenland's Kalaallit people, Alaska's Inupiaq and Yupik people, and Russia's Yupik. However, the Yupik are not Inuit in the sense of being descended from the Thule and prefer to be called Yupik or Eskimo.
Canadian Inuit live primarily in Nunavut, Nunavik (a region in the northern part of the province of 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. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is a national organization in Canada which represents over 40,000 Canadian Inuit.
Inuit Woman 1907
The Inuit are traditionally hunters who fish and hunt whale, walrus, and seal by kayak or by boat or by waiting at airholes the seals make in the ice. They use igloos as hunting or emergency shelters. They make use of animal skins in their clothing (e.g. anorak). Dog sleds, known as qamutiit, 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. Many Inuit consider the word Eskimo offensive, but is still in general usage to refer to all Eskimo peoples, though it has fallen into disuse throughout Canada, where Canadians use the term Inuit. The men are traditionally hunters of seals, whales, walrus, and caribou, using harpoons, canoes (or kayaks), dogs, and sleds. Fishing is also important. The women take care of the children, clean the house and cook.
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 Dorset culture. Accordingly, in Canada the Inuit are not considered First Nations. However, they, the Indians, and the Métis are collectively recognized by the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982 as Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Other synonyms include "First Peoples" and "Native Peoples". Inuit are members of the Mongoloid race, which also includes various Siberian tribes such as the Yakut, as well as the Chinese and Japanese.
The European arrival caused a great deal of damage to the Inuit way of life, causing mass death and other suffering. Circa 1970, 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 declining arctic mammal populations. 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 Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner directed by Zacharias Kunuk (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 Inuk to play in the National Hockey League in the 2003-04 season, playing for the Nashville Predators. Well-known Inuit politicians include Premier Paul Okalik of Nunavut and Nancy Karetak-Lindell, MP for the riding of Nunavut. Also, Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk is helping to preserve the Inuit language, Inuktitut. She wrote the first Inuit novel. (to do list: culture past and present, spirituality, customs, etc)