The Inuit


Northeastern woodlands
Plains Indians
Nations of the Pacific
Subarctic Peoples
The Inuit




The Canadian Encyclopedia, Inuit.

The Canadian Encyclopedia, Aboriginal People: Arctic.



The 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.


Historically, 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.


The 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 material.

Many Inuit inventions are considered technological masterpieces for their resourcefulness and strength of design, like the igloo (igluvigak) and the kayak.






The 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.


The 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.