The Inuits are a race of people indigenous to the Arctic and united by a common culture and language. For years they have been known throughout the world as Eskimos, though they refer to themselves as Inuits, which translates to “the people.” Spread throughout Russia, Alaska, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Quebec, Labrador and Greenland, the Inuit tribes have crossed one of the largest continents in the world while maintaining their unique culture of values, beliefs, art and traditions.
Inuit tribes are all descended from one common ancestor known as the Thule, Inuits who migrated across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago and spread across Alaska and Canada. Journeying thousands of miles, the Inuits made their way over the continent and settled in Greenland around A.D. 1250, at the same time Norse Vikings were beginning to disappear due to harsh climate change. Inuits, who were well-adapted to the Little Ice Age of the Medieval period, survived and flourished. As of 2011, more than 40,000 Inuits reside in Canada and 55,000 reside in Greenland.
The traditional diet of the Inuit people consists mostly of sea mammals. Hunters catch seals, walruses, whales and fish, such as salmon and pike. They also hunt birds like geese, duck and ptarmigan. Inuits cook, smoke, dry or ferment their foods. The fact that Inuits continue to hunt seals and whales remains controversial, but these animals continue to play an important role in the traditional diet of the Inuit people.
Art plays an important role in the culture of the Inuit communities. Ancient tribes created sculptures and amulets believed to have magical or shamanistic powers, in addition to practical, everyday objects like baskets, pots and weapons. Today, art supports the economic survival of many remote Inuit communities, providing an important source of income. According to the Inuit Art Foundation, popular modern Inuit art includes carvings and sculptures made from bone, stone, ivory and metal, in addition to jewelry, prints, tapestries, weavings and dolls.
Shamanism is central to the religious life of Inuit tribes, with shamans bridging the gap between man and nature as they lead ceremonies, initiations and rites for hunting, healing, good weather and spiritual protection for the tribe. According to an article published in “American Indian Quarterly” in 1983 by the University of Nebraska, the Inuit people believe in a supreme being called Sila, who is both a creator deity and the essence and life force of all living things. Sila is also a personification of air, controlling weather patterns, winds and storms. In some Inuit tribes, Sila is known as Hila, Hla, Shla, Sla, Narshuk or Tla. Alternatively, Inuit tribes in parts of Alaska believe that the world was created by Raven.