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Inuit also Innuit (în´y¡-ît)
plural Inuit or Inuits also Innuit or Innuits
1.A member of any of the Eskimo peoples of North America and especially of Arctic Canada and Greenland.
2.Any or all of the Eskimo languages of the Inuit.
[Eastern Eskimo, people.]
Inuit, native people inhabiting
small enclaves in the coastal areas of Greenland, Arctic North America
(including Canada and Alaska), and extreme northeastern Siberia. In 1977
the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, held in Barrow, Alaska, officially adopted
Inuit (meaning "the real
people") as the replacement for the term Eskimo. There are several related
linguistic groups of Inuit, including the Kalaallit in Greenland, the Inuvialuit
in Canada, and the Inupiat, Yupiget, Yuplit, and Alutiit in Alaska. Many
of these groups prefer to be called by their specific tribal names rather
From archaeological, linguistic, and physiological evidence, most scholars conclude that the Inuit migrated across the Bering Strait to Arctic North America. The Inuit share many cultural traits with Siberian Arctic peoples and with their own closest relatives, the Aleuts. The oldest archaeological sites identifiable as Inuit, in southwest Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, date from about 2000 BC. By about 1800 BC the highly developed Old Whaling or Bering Sea culture and related cultures had emerged in Siberia and in the Bering Strait region. In eastern Canada the Old Dorset culture flourished from about 1000 to 800 BC until about AD 1000 to 1300. The Dorset people were overrun by the Thule Inuit, who by AD 1000 to 1200 had reached Greenland. There, Inuit culture was influenced by medieval Norse colonists and, after 1700, by Danish settlers.
The manners and customs of the Inuit, like their language, are remarkably uniform despite the widespread diffusion of the people. The family- including the nuclear family, nearby relatives, and relations by marriage- is the most significant social unit. In traditional culture, marriages, although sometimes arranged, are generally open to individual choice. Food sources such as game and fish are considered community property. The underlying social law is the obligation to help one's kin.
The traditional Inuit diet consists mainly of fish, seals, whales, and related sea mammals, the flesh of which is eaten cooked, dried, or frozen. The seal is the Inuits' staple winter food and most valuable resource. It provides them with dog food, clothing, and materials for making boats, tents, and harpoon lines, as well as fuel for both light and heat. Many families follow a seasonal hunting and fishing cycle that takes them from one end to the other of their customary territory; trade with other groups often occurs along the way. Today many Inuit work for wages and buy commercially prepared food.
Inuit houses (igloos) are of two kinds: walrus or sealskin tents for summer and huts or houses for winter. Winter houses are usually made of stone, with a driftwood or whalebone frame, chinked and covered with moss or sod. The entrance is a long, narrow passage just high enough to admit a person crawling on hands and knees. During long journeys some Canadian Inuit build winter houses of snow blocks piled in a dome shape. In the 20th century many Inuit have moved into towns to live in government-built, Western-style housing. The principal traditional means of transportation are the kayak, the umiak (open boat), and the dogsled. Traditional Inuit dress for both men and women consists of watertight boots, double-layer trousers, and a parka, a tight-fitting double-layer pullover jacket with a hood, all made of skins and furs.
Traditional Inuit beliefs are a form of animism, according to which all objects and living beings have a spirit. Intrinsically neither good nor bad, spirits can affect people's lives and, although not influenced by prayers, can be controlled by magical charms and talismans. The person best equipped to control spirits is the shaman, but anyone with the appropriate charms or amulets can exercise such control. Inuits put little emphasis on beliefs of an afterlife or reincarnation. Most communal rites center on preparation for the hunt, and myths tend to deal with the relations that exist between humans, animals, and the environment. In parts of Canada, Greenland, and southern Alaska, many Inuit have converted to Christianity.