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Who are the Inuit People?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The Inuit people are an indigenous people native to the Arctic regions of North America, as well as parts of Greenland. Inuit settlements can also be found in regions of Russia. The term “Inuit” is actually a blanket term for several distinct cultures, including the Yupik, Inupiat, and Aleut peoples of North America. The history of these peoples is long and complex, and these native North Americans have a rich and colorful culture.

Some people may refer to the Inuit people as “Eskimos,” but this term has fallen out of favor and is considered pejorative by some Inuits. Although the origins of the word are somewhat unclear, it reflects categorization by another group of people, rather than a self-descriptive name. In the Inuit language, their name means “the people.” This language family encompasses several dialects, which some people identify as individual languages.

The earliest people settled in the Arctic at least 8,000 years ago, with evidence of the culture emerging at least 5,000 years ago. These people have historically survived in closely connected villages in which all residents cooperate to survive. Subsistence hunting of seals and whales provided food, shelter, and clothing to the people, along with the inspiration for art, myths, and stories.

The Arctic is a very extreme place, requiring a great deal of cooperation and community commitment for successful survival. The native people are renowned for their ingenuity and crafts, creating things like waterproof boats, well insulated homes that can withstand severe winter storms, and insulating garments made from skins and furs. Many Inuit crafts are prized by people all over the world for their utility and beauty.

When Europeans first reached North America, the Inuit were probably their first native contact. They were certainly documented by early explorers of Greenland, and some historians have suggested that conflict with these people led to the ultimate collapse of early European settlements in Greenland. The Basque people also had early contact with the Inuit people, as they came to North America in search of fishing grounds.

When French and English explorers arrived, the Inuit way of life underwent dramatic changes. These explorers brought a number of virulent diseases that the natives had no natural immunity to, causing mass deaths in the community. Hostility between the Inuit people and the foreign interlopers was also an issue, with some traders exploiting Inuit skills at hunting and fishing, while others took over the valuable lands. Despite this decimation, Inuit culture was not crushed entirely, and in the mid-20th century, the governments of Canada and the United States undertook measures to preserve their language, culture, and history, offering large tracts of land to the native people to assist in this.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon265862 — On May 03, 2012

Thank you so much. This is a lot of help for those who wonder about the exact meaning of the Inuit group.

By anon162331 — On Mar 23, 2011

Can anyone tell me what the Inuit call Caucasians and what the name means. Thanks.

By anon153091 — On Feb 16, 2011

I am NunatuKavummuit from the eastern sub-arctic. Simply put, it means "person from our ancient land". NunatuKavummuit traditional lifestyle is transhumant, or semi-nomadic.

Just north of us is Nunatsiavut. Nunatsiavummuit means "person of our beautiful land". The Nunatsiavummuit live in small villages along the north coast of Labrador.

Both peoples are Labradorimmuit and share much ancestry. Unintentional segregation between the peoples developed into two similar but distinct cultures. Labradorimmuit speak Inuttitut, an Inuktitut dialect. Labradorimmuit do not use "symbolics", since it was adapted from Cree symbolics further west. In contrast, Moravian Missionaries developed a writing system for Inuttitut based on the latin alphebet to preserve the language and educate people in Labrador.

In NunatuKavut we call ourselves Inuk, Eskimo, or InuKmetis. In Nunatsiavut they call themselves Inuk or Kablunângajuk.

The term Inuit is also used to distinguish us from other aboriginal people like mohawk or cree, commonly referred to as first nations, indians, or metis.

By anon152378 — On Feb 14, 2011

in fact, it's great to learn about inuit people.

By anon83605 — On May 11, 2010

Inuit means in english "The People." So saying Inuit people, the people part would be taking the word Inuit out of context, simply because you are saying the word twice.

The term Inuit is not a blanket term but simply a term everyone has decided to use. Why, might you ask? I'd like to think simply because everybody knows the word. If I told everybody I was Inuvialuit everybody would be like "Huh?" But when I go on telling them that I speak Inuvialuktun which is an Inuit language then they better understand.

The term Inuvialuit means "real human beings." We use the term Inuit like "white" people use Caucasian, then we get into the specifics. What most people do not understand is there are many different types of Inuits. Sure we all are descendants of Aleut peoples, but that doesn't give a overall good understanding. The term "Eskimo" means people who eat raw meat. Sure, the Inuit eat raw meat just not all the time. And just like there are vegetarians around the world, some Inuit do not choose to eat raw meat. And not all Inuit people hunt whale and seals.

My ethnic group, the Inuvialuit hunt, caribou. I'd love to tell you all about Inuit cultures but I'm going to leave the rest up to you.

By anon75960 — On Apr 08, 2010

it's good to learn about the inuit people.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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