After a period of extensive migration, the ancestors of today's Inuit moved from Alaska to the Arctic in around 1000 AD. Many of the population settled in Greenland, whale hunting and navigating the harsh conditions with the likes of sled dogs, kayaks and harpoons. Not long after, the Vikings arrived, settling for 500 years before dying out, assumably due to their farming culture which made for hard adaptation.
The Danish colonisation beginning in the eighteenth century and interest by European whalers, fur companies and missionaries throughout the nineteenth century had limited impact on the culture, relative to the transition witnessed since the end of the Second World War. Permanent settlements with schools and health centres were established surrounding country's radar stations and as a result of Danish investment. Many Inuit moved to these, accessing jobs, services and imported food.
Where do inuits live in the Arctic?
The Inuit live across the far north of Canada, Russia, the United States and Greenland. In Greenland, where most of the Inuit live, the capital city of Nuuk is home to almost a quarter of the population. Others are spread across the island's western coast in small settlements and towns, with just a few remote villages on the east coast.
Coastal locations have been favoured given that the Inuit are a marine people, dependent on the sea for food – for hunting and fishing as well as the more modern shipping of goods. Towns are far apart from each other, with access to neighbours often restricted by limited roads. Yet within communities, they live closely together.
This is what makes the Arctic so special, it has scenery and wildlife to match southern polar regions and on top of that there are rich cultures, fascinating stories and wonderfully welcoming people.
Jon Goldsmith Head of Arctic
The Inuit values of resilience and innovation have been laced into the culture over thousands of years. The spirit of interdependency and a familiarity within communities runs strong, as does the recognition of the importance of nature and the elements.
Communities today continue to be built around family units and subsistence hunting; modern culture a distinct fusion of traditional and new ways of life. While fish hang to dry outside houses, the Inuit settle down to cable TV or tune into the radio, spoken in the Inuktitut language, indoors. Children learn a Western curriculum at school, while the preservation of Inuit traditions is emphasised through teaching and the passing down of survival skills. As modernisation has taken place, you'll see how the Inuit have upheld certain traditional options, out of a deep knowledge for their home.
The resourcefulness of the Inuit is at the heart of many traditions. As everything used was either hunted, gathered or made, lifestyles were shaped around this work and each family member had a specific contribution to it.
Igloos decorated with snow furniture have provided winter dwellings for thousands of years; whalebone constructed tents being the summer equivalent. Most houses today are permanent wooden structures but igloos are still used during long winter hunts. Animal skin is utilised for traditional clothing, again still owned by the Inuit but primarily worn on special occasions or again for long travels.
Well-known forms of Inuit recreation, culture and art include the love for storytelling, particularly legends and hunting accounts, dance, namely the drum dance often with a story basis, and throat singing, whereby the sounds of the environment are echoed through voice manipulation and breathing techniques.
Having kaffemik in Greenland is a must for any visitor. Take some time to drink coffee and eat cake with locals, chat about life, past present and future. It's a tradition that anyone can take part in.
Inuits as guides
While fishing is Greenland's largest industry and the source of many people's livelihoods, tourism is now very much a part of the culture. Experiencing Greenland with an Inuit Guide presents a wonderful opportunity to get to know the locals and support their economy. With great regard to traditional skills and practices persisting, you'll share in the appreciation for the land at present and in times past.
Inuit Guides lead on hiking, kayaking and fishing tours, sledge-trips, Aurora experiences, and museum visits. If you're lucky, you may also get to hear the retelling of a local legend or myth.
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