ancestors of the present-day Inuit, known as the Thule people,
began migrating east from Alaska in the 1000s and expanded
eastwards across Canada, reaching Greenland by the 13th century.
In the process, they replaced people of the earlier Dorset
culture that had previously inhabited the region. The Dorset
culture was a Paleo-Eskimo culture (500 BCE–1500 CE); it was
extinct by 1500 due to difficulties in adapting to the Medieval
Warm Period; therefore archaeology
has been critical to adding to knowledge about the Dorset.
Inuit communities contained 500–1,000 members; they regrouped
several regional bands and constituted the larger groups within
which marriages occurred and all members spoke a similar dialect.
Regional bands were composed of closely related families, which
generally consisted of a married couple and their children,
though elderly or unmarried relatives might also be present.
Marriage was nearly universal among Inuit and customarily took
place in early adulthood; it was customarily preceded by a
period of trial marriage. Many households included adopted
children, an indication of the high value accorded to children.
Traditionally, the Inuit were hunters and gatherers who moved
seasonally from one camp to another. In the winter, regional
bands would congregate in winter camps of around 100 people; in
the summer, Inuit lived in smaller hunting groups bands, often
composed of two to five families.
leadership of the group was generally assumed by the oldest
active member. Many economic and social activities involved
inter-household co-operation, and widespread sharing was a
fundamental characteristic of Inuit social life.
Most Inuit groups based
their economy on sea-mammal hunting, particularly seals
In summer and fall they
also hunted caribou and other game.
Fishing and food
gathering (for bird eggs, shellfish and berries) were
important seasonal activities, as were hunts for polar
bear and whale.
Traditional technology was based on locally available
Many Inuit inventions are considered technological
masterpieces for their resourcefulness and strength of
design, like the igloo (igluvigak) and the kayak.
Inuit of Canada's Arctic live in one of the world's most extreme
climates. Their clothing has been one of the keys to survival.
When Inuit lived exclusively on the land, caribou and seal were
the main sources of clothing material. The insulating properties
of caribou fur made it ideal for protection from the harsh
winters. Sealskin was preferred for footwear because of its
durability and water-resistance. To conserve heat, skin garments
were designed so that adjacent pieces of clothing overlapped.
Further insulation was provided by wearing two layers.
Although the struggle to sustain life must have been a constant
challenge, Inuit seamstresses found the creativity to make
clothing that not only provided physical protection, but also
expressed their culture. Clothing defined the wearer's age,
gender, occupation, and geographic location.
arrival of Europeans in the North provoked cultural changes that
found expression in Inuit clothing. Access to trade goods, such
as glass beads, fabric, and metal, added a new dimension to
personal adornment and clothing decoration. Some of these
materials were fashioned into new forms of dress and adornment;
others were combined with existing clothing traditions in
creative and artistic ways.