The Inuit traditionally practiced a form of shamanism based basically on animist principles. They believed that all things had a form of spirit, just like humans, and that to some extent these spirits could be influenced by a pantheon of supernatural entities that could be appeased when one required some animal or inanimate thing to act in a certain way.
The shaman (Inuktitut: angakuq, sometimes spelled angakok) of a community of Inuit was not the leader, but rather a sort of healer and psychotherapist, who tended wounds and offered advice, as well as invoking the spirits to assist people in their lives. His or her role was to see, interpret and exhort the subtle and unseen. Shamen were not trained, they were held to be born with the ability.
Inuit religion was closely tied to a system of rituals that were integrated into the daily life of the people. These rituals were not terribly complicated, but they were held to be absolutely necessary. According to a customary Inuit saying "The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls."
By believing that all things - including animals - have souls like those of humans, any hunt that fails to show appropriate respect and customary supplication would only give the liberated spirits cause to avenge themselves.The harshness and randomness of life in the Arctic ensured that Inuit lived constantly in fear of the uncontrollable, where a streak of bad luck could kill an entire community.
To offend a spirit was to run the risk of having them interfere with an already marginal existence. The Inuit plead with supernatural powers to provide them with the necessities of day-to-day survival. As Knud Rasmussen's Inuit guide told him when asked about Inuit religious beliefs "We don't believe. We fear."
Early History of the Inuit
The Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, who emerged from western Alaska around 1000 AD and spread eastwards across the Arctic, displacing the related Dorset culture (in Inuktitut, the Tuniit). Inuit legends speak of the Tuniit as "giants", people who were taller and stronger than the Inuit. Researchers believe that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other technologies that gave the expanding Inuit society an advantage over them. By 1300, the Inuit had settled west Greenland, and finally moved into east Greenland over the following century.
The Tuniit survived in Aivilik, Southampton and Coats Islands, until the beginning of the 20th century. They were known as Sadlermiut (Sallirmiut in the modern spelling). Their population had been ravaged by diseases brought by contact with Europeans, and the last of them fell in a flu epidemic caught from a passing whaler in 1902. The area has since been resettled by Inuit.
In Canada and Greenland the Inuit circulated almost exclusively north of the timberline, the de facto southern border of Inuit society. To the south, Native American Indian cultures were well established, and the culture and technology of Inuit society that served them so well in the Arctic was not suited to the subarctic, so they did not displace their southern neighbours. They had trade relations with more southern cultures, but as is the usual case boundary disputes were common and often a cause of aggressive actions.
Warfare, in general, was not uncommon among Inuit groups with sufficient population density. Inuit who inhabited the Mackenzie Delta area experienced common warfare whereas the Central Arctic Inuit lacked the population density to engage in warfare.
The first contact with Europeans came from the Vikings, who settled Greenland and explored the eastern Canadian coast. Norse literature speaks of skrælingar, most likely an undifferentiated label for all the native peoples of the Americas the Norse contacted, Tuniit, Inuit and Beothuks alike.
Sometime in the 13th century the Thule culture began arriving from what is now Canada. Norse accounts are scant. However, Norse made items have been found at Inuit campsites in Greenland. It is unclear whether they are the result of trade or plunder. One old account speaks of "small people" with whom the Norsemen fought. Ívar Bardarson's 14th century account mentions that one of the two Norse settlement areas, the western settlement, had been taken over by the skrælings. The reason why the Norse settlements failed is unclear, but the last record of them is from 1408, roughly the same period as the earliest Inuit settlements in east Greenland.
After roughly 1350, the climate grew colder during the Little Ice Age and the Inuit were forced to abandon hunting and whaling sites in the high Arctic. Bowhead whaling disappeared in Canada and Greenland (but continued in Alaska) and the Inuit had to subsist on a much poorer diet. Without whales, they lost access to essential raw materials for tools and architecture that were derived from whaling.
The changing climate forced the Inuit to also look south, pressuring them into the marginal niches along the edges of the tree line that Indians had not occupied, or where they were weak enough to coexist with. It is hard to say with any precision when the Inuit stopped their territorial expansion. There is evidence that they were still moving into new territory in southern Labrador in the 17th century, when they first began to interact with colonial North American civilisation.
Inuit since the arrival of Europeans Canada
After the disappearance of the Norse colonies in Greenland, the Inuit had no contact with Europeans for at least a century. By the mid-16th century, Basque fishermen were already working the Labrador coast and had established whaling stations on land. The Inuit appear not to have interfered with their operations, but they raided the stations in winter for tools, and particularly worked iron, which they adapted to native needs.
Martin Frobisher's 1576 search for the Northwest Passage was the first well-documented post-Columbian contact between Europeans and Inuit. Frobisher's expedition landed on Baffin Island, not far from the town now called Iqaluit, but long known as Frobisher Bay. This first contact went poorly. Although relations between Frobisher's crew and the Inuit were initially cordial, five of Frobisher's men disappeared, and Frobisher assumed they had been taken by the Inuit. He responded by taking an Inuit prisoner himself for ransom. When this did not work, he took the prisoner to England, doubtless the first Inuk ever to visit Europe. The Inuit oral tradition, in contrast, recounts the natives helping Frobisher's crewmen, who believed they had been abandoned.
Mutual hostility also accompanied contacts between Inuit and the French and - after 1763 - British fishermen and whalers who operated an increasing number of whaling stations along the Labrador coast. The Inuit, having discovered that useful trade goods could be acquired from the Europeans, began raiding their outposts. In the final years of the 18th century, the Moravian church began missionary activities in Labrador, supported by the British who were tired of the raids on their whaling stations. The Moravian missionaries could easily provide the Inuit with the iron and basic materials they had been stealing from whaling outposts - materials whose real cost to Europeans was almost nothing, but whose value to the Inuit was enormous - and from then on contacts in Labrador were far more peaceful.
The European arrival caused a great deal of damage to the Inuit way of life, causing mass death through new diseases introduced by whalers and explorers, and enormous social disruptions caused by the distorting effect of Europeans' material wealth. Nonetheless, Inuit society in the higher latitudes had largely persisted in isolation in the 19th century. A few traders and missionaries circulated among the more accessible bands, and after 1904 they were accompanied by a handful of policemen. But, unlike most Native Canadians, the lands occupied by the Inuit were of little interest to European settlers. The Arctic is a very hostile environment unsuited to farming, and the natural resources it had to offer were not sufficiently valuable to merit the heavy costs of large-scale settlement.
In the early years of the 20th century, Canada, with its more hospitable lands largely settled, began to take a greater interest in its more peripheral territories. By the late 1920s, there were no longer any Inuit who had not been contacted by traders, missionaries or government agents.
Native customs were worn down by the actions of police - who enforced Canadian criminal law on Inuit who often could not understand what they had done wrong - and by missionaries who preached a moral code very different from the one they were used to. By the dawn of the Second World War, Christianity and the RCMP had all but completely replaced traditional society. Traditional life was still a memory for many adult Inuit, but it was only a memory.
WWII and the Cold War made Arctic Canada strategically important for the first time, and, thanks to the development of modern aircraft, accessible year-round. The construction of airbases and radar stations in the 1940s and 50s brought more intensive contacts with European society, particularly in the form of public education, which instilled and enforced foreign values disdainful of the traditional structure of Inuit society. Most damaging of all, the Inuit gained access to alcohol and southern drugs, whose destructive impact was extraordinary because Inuit society had no traditions or mechanisms for responding to it.
Furthermore, regular visits from doctors and access to modern medical care raised the birth rate enormously. Before long, the Inuit population was beyond what traditional hunting and fishing could support. By the mid-1960s, encouraged first by missionaries, then by the prospect of paid jobs and government services, and finally forced by hunger and required by police, all Canadian Inuit lived year-round in permanent settlements. The nomadic migrations that were the central feature of Arctic life had for the most part disappeared. The Inuit, a once self-sufficient people in an extremely harsh environment, were in the span of perhaps two generations transformed into a small, impoverished minority lacking skills or resources to sell to the larger economy, but increasingly dependent on it for day to day survival.
The 1960s saw Inuit society at its lowest point in history. According to anthropologist Diamond Jenness writing in 1964:
[The Inuit] are a fragmented amorphous race that lacks all sense of history, inherits no pride of ancestry, and discerns no glory in past events or past achievements [...] Now at last, they are emerging; but with their long background of fragmentation it seems to me very doubtful that any school instruction, or any educational "propaganda", can revive their drooping morale... (Eskimo Administration. Technical Paper 14, Arctic Institute of North America.)
However, the roots of Inuit political organization date to shortly after Jenness wrote those words.In the 1960s, the Canadian government funded the establishment of secular, government-operated high schools in the Northwest Territories and Inuit areas in Quebec and Labrador.
The Inuit population was not large enough to support a full high school in every community, so this meant only a few schools were built, and students from across the territories were boarded there. These schools, in Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Kuujjuaq, brought together young Inuit from across the Arctic in one place for the first time, and exposed them to the rhetoric of civil and human rights that prevailed in Canada in the 1960s.
This was a real wake-up call for Inuit, and it stimulated the emergence of a new generation of young Inuit activists in the late 1960s who came forward and pushed for respect for the Inuit and their territories.
The Inuit began to emerge as a political force in the late 1960s and early 1970s, shortly after the first graduates returned home. They formed new politically active associations in the early 1970s, starting with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in 1971, and more region specific organisations shortly afterwards, including the Northern Quebec Inuit Association and the Labrador Inuit Association.
These activist movements began to change the direction of Inuit society in 1975 with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. This comprehensive land claims settlement for Quebec Inuit, along with a large cash settlement and substantial administrative autonomy in the new region of Nunavik, set the precedent for the settlements to follow.
The Labrador Inuit submitted their land claim in 1977, although they had to wait until 2005 to have a signed land settlement establishing Nunatsiavut.
In 1982, the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut (TFN) was incorporated, in order to take over negotiations for land claims on behalf of the Northwest Territories Inuit from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which became a joint association of the Inuit of Quebec, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.
The TFN worked for ten years and, in September 1992, came to a final agreement with the government of Canada. This agreement called for the separation of the Northwest Territories into an eastern territory whose only aboriginal population would be Inuit - the future Nunavut - and a rump Northwest Territories in the west. It was the largest land-claims agreement in Canadian history.
In November 1992, the Nunavut Final Agreement was approved by nearly 85 percent of the Inuit of what would become Nunavut. As the final step in this long process, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed on May 25, 1993 in Iqaluit by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and by Paul Quassa, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which replaced the TFN with the ratification of the Nunavut Final Agreement. The Canadian Parliament passed the supporting legislation in June of the same year, enabling the 1999 establishment of Nunavut as a territorial entity.
The Inuvialuit are western Canadian Inuit who remained in the Northwest Territories when Nunavut split off. They are officially represented by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and received a comprehensive land claims settlement in 1984, with the signature of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.
With the establishment of Nunatsiavut in 2005, all the traditional Inuit lands in Canada are now covered by some sort of land claims agreement providing for regional autonomy.
Inuit communities in Canada continue to suffer under crushing unemployment, substance abuse, crime, violence and suicide. The problems Inuit face in the 21st century should not be underestimated. However, many Inuit are upbeat about the future.
Source : http://www.crystalinks.com/inuit.html