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 Dorsets, the last major Paleo-Eskimo culture (in Inuktitut, the Tuniit). Inuit legends speak of the Tuniit as “giants”, although they were sometimes called “dwarfs”, 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. By 1300, the Inuit had settled in west Greenland, and they moved into east Greenland over the following century.
Inuit (plural; the singular Inuk means “man” or “person”) is a general term for a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States.The Inuit language is grouped under Eskimo-Aleut languages.
The Inuit people live throughout most of the Canadian Arctic and subarctic: in the territory of Nunavut (“our land”); the northern third of Quebec, in an area called Nunavik (“place to live”); the coastal region of Labrador, in an area called Nunatsiavut (“our beautiful land”); in various parts of the Northwest Territories, mainly on the coast of the Arctic Ocean and formerly in the Yukon. Collectively these areas are known as Inuit Nunangat. In the US, Alaskan Inupiat live on the North Slope of Alaska and the Seward Peninsula. Greenland’s Kalaallit are citizens of Denmark. The Yupik live in both Alaska and the Russian Far East.
In Alaska, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat (which technically is Inuit). No universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, is accepted across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples. In Canada and Greenland, the term Eskimo has fallen out of favour, as it is considered pejorative by the natives and has been replaced by the term Inuit. In Canada, the Constitution Act of 1982, sections 25 and 35 recognised the Inuit as a distinctive group of Canadian aboriginals, who are neither First Nations nor Métis.
“OLD INUIT SONG”
“I think over again
My small adventures
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet there is only one great thing
To live and see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.”
The ancient tales, called okalugtuat (plural of okalugtuak), and the more recent ones, called okalualârutit (plural of okalualârut). The first kind may be more or less considered the property of the whole nation, at least of the greater part of its tribes; while the tales included under the second are, on the other hand, limited to certain parts of the country, or even to certain people related to each other, thus presenting the character of family records. The Inuit are, more than any other nation, spread over a wide extent of country, only occupied by themselves, and thus are little acted upon by alien settlers. The inhabitants of their extreme western bounds, with their native means of transport, would have to traverse somewhere about five thousand miles before reaching the dwellings of their countrymen in the farthest east, and in this journey would meet only with scanty little bands of their own tribes settled here and there, generally consisting of less than a hundred souls. Their little hamlets are severed from each other by desolate tracts of ten to twenty—nay, even hundreds of miles.
Though there is every probability that the various tribes of these vast regions have originated from one common home, their present intercourse is very limited; and it may without exaggeration be asserted that the inhabitants of Greenland and Labrador, and those of the shores of Behring Strait, cannot in any likelihood have communicated with each other for a thousand years or more, nor have they any idea of their mutual existence. In accordance with this isolation, a closer study of the traditions will also show how wide a space of time must be supposed to exist between the origin of the two classes of tales. The greater part of the ancient tales probably date from a far remoter period than one thousand years; the invention of the more recent traditions, on the other hand, must be supposed in most cases not even to go back so far as two hundred years, and they chiefly comprise events concerning families living in the very district where they are told.
It may, however, be taken for granted, that in days of yore such new tales may have appeared at any time; but after a short existence they were gradually forgotten, giving place to others, and so on, continuously alternating during the lapse of ages: while the ancient tales have been preserved unchanged, like some precious heirlooms which it would have been sacrilege to have touched. The definition we have here tried to give of the two classes is, however, by no means exhaustive, nor without exceptions. In our collection will be found stories which undoubtedly must have originated between the two periods described, and therefore should form an intermediate or exceptional class, if the division were to be complete and fully carried out. There are, moreover, many others which we are at a loss how to classify.
Mountain at Muskrat Falls
The Innu carve strange and beautiful figures, representing people, animals, birds, fish, and supernatural characters, then paint them with bright colors. The tallest red cedar trees are selected for totem poles, and are used for landmarks as well as illustrating the legends told from generation to generation.
On one of these poles was carved a stunning Raven, but he had no beak!
The Raven in Alaska was no ordinary bird. He had remarkable powers and could change into whatever form he wished. He could change from a bird to a man, and could not only fly and walk, but could swim underwater as fast as any fish.
One day, Raven took the form of a little, bent-over old man to walk through a forest. He wore a long white beard and walked slowly. After a while, Raven felt hungry. As he thought about this, he came to the edge of the forest near a village on the beach. There, many people were fishing for halibut.
In a flash, Raven thought of a scheme. He dived into the sea and swam to the spot where the fishermen dangled their hooks. Raven gobbled their bait, swimming from one hook to another. Each time Raven stole bait, the fishermen felt a tug on their lines. When the lines were pulled in, there was neither fish nor bait.
But Raven worked his trick once too often. When Houskana, an expert fisherman, felt a tug, he jerked his line quickly, hooking something heavy. Raven’s jaw had caught on the hook! While Houskana tugged on his line, Raven pulled in the opposite direction. Then Raven grabbed hold of some rocks at the bottom of the sea and called, “O rocks, please help me!” But the rocks paid no attention.
Because of his great pain, Raven said to his jaw, “Break off, O jaw, for I am too tired.” His jaw obeyed, and it broke off.
Houskana pulled in his line immediately. On his hook was a man’s jaw with a long white beard ! It looked horrible enough to scare anyone. Houskana and the other fishermen were very frightened, because they thought the jaw might belong to some evil spirit. They picked up their feet and ran as fast as they could to the chief’s house.
Raven came out of the water and followed the fishermen. Though he was in great pain for lack of his jaw, no one noticed anything wrong because he covered the lower part of his face with his blanket.
The chief and the people examined the jaw that was hanging on the halibut hook. It was handed from one to another, and finally to Raven who said, “Oh, this is a wonder to behold!” as he threw back his blanket and replaced his jaw.
Raven performed his magic so quickly that no one had time to see what was happening. As soon as Raven’s jaw was firmly in place again, he turned himself into a bird and flew out through the smoke hole of the chief’s house. Only then did the people begin to realize it was the trickster Raven who had stolen their bait and been hooked on Houskana’s fishing line.
On the totem pole, Raven was carved, not as the old man, but as himself without his beak, a reminder of how the old man lost his jaw.
Sedna, the Sea Spirit, was once a mortal girl, living with her father by the seashore. She was very beautiful and many men came to court her, bringing gifts to win her favour. But Sedna was very proud and haughty and would have none of them. Always she found some fault. This one was too short or that one had bad teeth. She spurned their gifts and turned her back on them, refusing even to speak.
This behaviour infuriated her father ‘Why can you nor take a husband like other girls?’ he asked impatiently. ‘Now that I am old, I need a son-in~law to help me with hunting.’ Sedna only shrugged carelessly and fumed away, brushing her long dark hair and humming.
Finally, when yet another young man had gone away, hurt and saddened by Sedna’s cruelty, her father lost his temper. ‘The very next man who comes here,’ he stormed, ‘you shall marry! Next time I will make you! You will not refuse again!’ He did not have long to wait. The very next day a strange kayak appeared at the waters edge. In it sat a tall young man dressed in rich, dark furs . A heavy hood covered his head and his face was half-hidden by his wooden snow-goggles. Sedna’s father hurried down to the shore, dragging his struggling, protesting daughter behind him. Even before the stranger had time to disembark, the old man shouted, ‘Do you seek a wife? Here is my daughter Sedna ! She is young and beautiful, and can cook and sew. She will make you an excellent wife.’
The young man smiled. ‘I have heard much of your daughter’s beauty,’ he nodded, ‘and have come with the purpose of making her acquaintance ‘ Turning to Sedna, he went on, ‘I have a large and splendid house in my own country, hung with furs to keep out the elements. If you marry me, you will sleep on soft bearskins and eat only the finest food.’ Sedna looked at the young man sitting tall and straight in his kayak.
‘Well, if I must take a husband, I suppose I must,’ she thought grudgingly. ‘He seems kind and nor too ugly. I could do worse.’ Indeed she had little choice in the matter, for her father’s mind was made up and without more ado he bundled her into the kayak. The young man picked up his paddle and pushed off from the shore.
For many miles they travelled across the ice-cold sea. Sedna, cross and sulky, said nothing, nor did the young man seem inclined for conversation. Only the lapping of the water against eke kayak or the occasional cry of a solitary bird disturbed the silence. On and on they went until at last a rocky island loomed out of the mists. Look!’ said the young man. ‘There is my home.’ Sedna was filled with dismay. The island seemed a bleak and inhospitable place. Nothing grew on its stony shores and sea birds swooped about the cliffs, filling the air with their wild, mournful cries.
The young man brought the kayak into the shallows and leaped ashore. He threw back his hood and pulled off his goggles. Sedna looked at him aghast. He was very ugly, short and squat, with tiny, red-rimmed eyes. He had seemed tall before only because of the high seat of his kayak. He saw Sedna’s horrified face and burst into harsh, cackling laughter.
‘Come!’ he cried, roughly seizing her arm. ‘Come and see my fine house–your new home!’
But it was not at all fine. It was nothing but a heap of twigs and driftwood perched on a high rocky ledge. There were no soft furs as the young man had promised, only a few miserable fish skins thrown on the rough floor. Sedna looked at her new husband and, before her eyes, he turned into a small, soot-black bird. Too late she realized the truth. This was no young man whom she had married, but a storm petrel in human disguise.
Sedna regretted bitterly the foolish pride which had brought her to this terrible place. The cliff-top nest was cold and uncomfortable and there was only fish to eat, but there was no way of escape and so for a long time Sedna lived with the storm petrel on the rocky island. During the day he left the nest in his bird form and flew over the sea in search of food. When he returned in the evening he became a man once more.
Meanwhile, Sedna’s father, repenting his hasty temper, decided to go in search of her and, after many days travel, he too came to the lonely rock where the storm petrel lived. When he saw his daughter’s misery, he was stricken with remorse. ‘Oh my poor child, ‘ he cried, ‘I did not mean you to suffer such a fate. Surely you have been punished enough! Let us return home at once.’
They climbed hastily into his kayak and set off, but, even before the island had faded from view, Sedna, looking back, saw a black speck appear. ‘Father! Father!’ she screamed. ‘My husband is returning! When he finds me gone, he is sure to follow us. What shall we to do?’
The old man pushed her down into the bottom of the kayak and covered her over with skins. Urged on by fear, he paddled as fast as he could and the kayak flew over the waves.
Out of the darkening skies came the storm petrel, swooping low, his wingsstiff and outstretched. Although Sedna was hidden under the pile of skins, he knew she was there. He flew round and round the kayak, shrieking wildly. At first the old man paid no heed, but again the bird swooped low, beating at the sea with his wings so that it grew black and angry and great waves began to wash over the kayak. The old man shouted and struck out at him with his paddle, but the bird dodged the blows and, skimming the surface of the water, beat his wings so furiously that the storm raged even more fiercely and the sea became a churning whirlpool, tossing and spinning the kayak like a child’s toy, threatening to engulf it completely.
Fearing for his life, the old man lost his reason and dragged the trembling Sedna from her hiding place. ‘Here is your wife! he cried. ‘Take her for yourself,’ and he hurled her into the sea.
Screaming in terror, Sedna clung to the kayak, but her father, maddened with fear, struck at her hands with his paddle, and the first joints of her fingers, frozen with cold, broke off like icicles and fell into the sea. As they bobbed away, they changed miraculously into seals, diving and twisting in the waves.
Again Sedna clung to the kayak, pleading for her life, but again her father tried to make her release her grasp, this time cutting off the second joints of her fingers. These, too, fell into the sea and became the first walrus. With her bleeding stumps, Sedna made one last despairing attempt to seize hold of the kayak, but her father had no pity and struck off the remaining joints, which took the form of whales and followed the seals and walrus down into the depths of the ocean.
Now Sedna had no more fingers and she sank to the bottom of the sea. The storm petrel circled the kayak, lamenting his lost wife. Then he turned and flew back to his bleak island home.
But Sedna was not drowned. Instead, she became the Spirit of the Sea and Mother of the Sea Beasts. Legend says that she lives still at the bottom of the sea, jealously guarding the creatures which came from her fingers. Because of her father’s cruelty, she has no love for human beings. Their wicked deeds trouble her, affecting her body with sores and infesting her hair like lice. Lacking fingers, she cannot brush her hair and it becomes tangled and matted. In revenge, she calls up storms to prevent men from hunting, or keeps the sea creatures to herself.
At such times shamans must travel to the land below the sea to confess men’s sins and to beg her forgiveness. Only the most powerful, who fear nothing, can undertake this journey for the way is long and dangerous, blocked by great rolling boulders, and evil spirits guard the entrance to the Sea Mother’s sealskin tent. To sooth Sedna’s rage and pain, the shaman must first comb her hair until it hangs clean and smooth once more. Then Sedna may feel more kindly and release the whale, walrus and seal from the great pool below her lamp, so that for a time, until they forget and sin again, people may hunt freely and without fear.
The Inuit are the people of the high arctic. It’s what they call themselves, formerly called by outsiders as Eskimo.
The Naskapi are an Indian nation whose area stretches from northern Quebec, north of the St. Lawrence River, into most of presentday Labrador. They have begun to call themselves once more the Innu.
The Montagnais speak a similar Aboriginal language (with differences in dialects), share an Aboriginal culture with (again with certain differences) and face many similar political concerns as the Innu. Their territory stretches south of the Innu into central Quebec. There are some Montagnais and Innu who feel their differences and separations were imposed upon them by the drawing of a boundary between Quebec and Labrador. Many Montagnais want to *erase* those differences to define their own identities and reject those imposed upon them by outsiders. As a consequence, many Montagnais, including many of those from the village of Betsiamites where the two members of Kashtin hail from, are now beginning to identify themselves as Innu as well.
THE INUIT NATION
P.O. BOX 119
SHESHATSHIU, NITASSINAN (LABRADOR)
PHONE: (709) 4978398
VIA CANADA A0P 1M0
Groups involved in solidarity with the Innuit include:
International Campaign for Innuit & Earth (ICIE)
Oakville Comm. Centre for Peace, Ecology & HR
148 Kerr St.
(905) 8495501 (phone/fax)
contact: Stephen Dankowich
Arctic Peoples Alert
Nl-2512 TN Den Haag
tel/fax 0031 704020943
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
contact: Govert de Groot
Gesellschaft Fer Bedrohte Volker
D 37010 Gottingen
[ + 49551499060 ]
[ + 114955158028 (fax)]
Dept. Indigenous Peoples
Support group for Indigenous Peoples
B-9100 Sint Niklaas
tel (32)03 777 55 89
contact: Martina Roels
1115 Emerald. St
London, WC1N 3QL
[ + 44712421441 ]
[ + 44712421771 fax ]
contact: Johnny Mazower
Freedom of the Skies
Lampeter, Dyfed SA48 8Z
[ + 440157045576 (tel)]
[ + 440157045636 (fax)]
contact: Gillian Metcalf
The Aleuts are considered to have advanced medical skills because they have the ability to mummify a body, and they have knowledge of and names for the major internal organs. Mummification, like that in the Egyptian pyramids, was accomplished by using the geothermal conditions found in neighboring volcanic caves and islands — believed to help in the drying process and the preservation of the mummy.
“We were many now we are few!” Is the cry of the Aleut people to themselves. It’s meaning begins before contact with the white man. “We were many”, just as it states, means the Aleut before contact were a large and noble people — not without infractions between themselves. Population was estimated between fifteen and eighteen thousand people at time of contact. Along with white man, came disease, slavery, depletion of the food supply, change from the subsistence economy to a cash economy.
Basically we have seen a steady and systematic genocide of the Aleut culture, language, art, and being since the time of contact. To where the Aleut say. “Now we are few.” Where there are only a few thousand now. With factions of language and culture falling into extinction with each passing day. — like the Eyak.
Disease was, and in many cases still is, the main killer of the Aleut. White man’s diseases brought over by the Russian Promyshleniks seeking plunder and riches killed much of the population within twenty years.
The Aleut was no stranger to the idea of slavery. They themselves would take captives, usually female, to do the hard labor tasks, sometimes keeping them bearfooted to hinder the slave from fleeing. The Russians would take both male and female: the males that were taken would hunt for the seal, sea lion, and otter for their pelts. Soon depleting the food supply. the females were taken to replenish the lack of women in Siberia. Some of these attempts were fruitful and some disastrous.
If the Russians didn’t take captives, in some cases, they killed everyone — by the turn of the 19th century less then 20 percent of the Aleut population had survived the Russian on-slot.
After the food supply had dwindled due to depletion, the Russian influence became ever more important to the Aleut. Without food the Aleut had to barter for the things he needed instead of recycling it from the wild. This changing of economies from a subsistence to a cash economy has yet to be fully mastered by the Alaska Native.
That is why the Aleut cry “We were many now we are few!” Along with the loss of the Aleut, the loss of their laughter, language, and dance is greatly missed too.