Inuit (American Indians Ready Reference)
The Inuit are one of the two major branches of the Eskimo family, the other being the Yupik of southwestern Alaska, southern Alaska, St. Lawrence Island, and Siberia. Inuit are distinguished from Yupik on the basis of both culture and language. The Inuit are distributed over the northern tier of the North American continent from Alaska to Greenland and have developed a lifestyle which allows for efficient adaptation to a cold and harsh habitat.
While the term “Inuit” (meaning “people”) is an appropriate designation for all the northern Eskimo groups, there are more specific self-designations for different Inuit subgroups: “Iñupiat” in North Alaska, “Inuvialuit” in the western Canadian Arctic, “Inummaariit” in the eastern Canadian Arctic, and “Kalaallit” for Greenland.
With a few exceptions, most Inuit groups inhabit Arctic tundra north of the treeline. The climate is harsh and characterized by pronounced seasonality in temperature and light conditions. Those areas north of the Arctic Circle experience varying periods of continuous sunlight in midsummer and continuous darkness in midwinter. For example, in the community of Barrow, located at the northernmost tip of Alaska, the sun does not rise above the horizon for two...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
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Inuit (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
INUIT. The northern indigenous peoples known as Eskimo or Inuit (not including the Russian Inuit and Yupiget) numbered approximately 143,582 in 2002. In the United States, Alaskan Eskimos (Inuit, Yupiit, Yupiget, and others) numbered 55,674 according to the 1990 census (U.S. Bureau of the Census, personal communication, May 2002). In Canada, Inuit numbered 41,800 in the 1996 census, while the nation of Greenland, formerly a Danish territory, had an Inuit population of 46,108 in 2001. Alaskan Eskimos live in rural coastal villages, along northern rivers, in isolated island or northern interior valleys and, increasingly, in regional population centers such as Anchorage, Barrow, Fairbanks, Kotzebue, and Nome. In Canada, despite rising migration rates to the south, most Inuit live in fifty-five rural communities located in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Quebec province, Newfoundland, and Labrador. In Greenland, too, Inuit live in coastal villages, although those who live in population centers such as Nuuk are increasing.
In Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, names such as Inuit, Yupiit, and Yupiget identify Eskimos as "the people" or "the real people." Regardless of location or name, food is a critical feature of identity for all. (The term "Eskimo" is used here because it includes all groups.) Identity is often expressed as a longing for locally harvested and prepared foods by those who find themselves separated from traditional homeland communities. Local foods are referred to as "our" food, "real" food, or, in Alaska, simply "Eskimo" food. In Canada, such foods are called "country" food. Among the Alaskan Yupiget of St. Lawrence Island, for instance, the term neqepik means "real" food, while imported foods are called laluramka or "white people's" food (Jolles, 2002).
Across the north, dietary habits and cultural meanings attached to food are similar, due partly to adaptation to a common arctic ecosystem and partly to similar socioeconomic conditions, which keep unemployment rates as high as 50 to 80 percent. Under such conditions, subsistence-oriented hunting, fishing, and gathering activities, vital to community survival, are performed year round. In Nunavut, Canada, alone, replacing subsistence foods with equivalent amounts of beef, chicken, and pork would cost an estimated $30 to $35 million annually.
Types of harvested foods depend on local environments and overall resource availability. In 2002, in Ingaliq,
In Alaska, meat and fish are the centerpieces of Eskimo diets and constitute 90 percent of locally harvested foods. In addition, communities take several types of whales: bowhead, gray, minke, and beluga, or white. Reindeer (introduced in the late 1890s by the U.S. government and managed by local villages), moose, caribou, and a newly reintroduced resource, musk oxen (available to hunters in 1995) are also taken. Numerous migratory seabirds are hunted during late spring and early fall, as is the ptarmigan, a permanent resident. Fish are prominent in southwestern coastal diets, especially salmon. Herring, tomcod, Arctic char, grayling, flounder, sculpin, and halibut also contribute to the diet. Clams are taken from walrus stomachs. Ground squirrels, once commonly harvested for their furs and their meat, are seldom taken any more. While meat is the mainstay, wild greens and berries are much sought. At least thirty species of plants are collected for food purposes from the land and from the beaches (Jones, 1983; Schofield, 1989, 1993).
For Canadian Inuit, diet in the early twenty-first century also consisted of two major classes of food, Inuit food or "country" food, and Qallunaat, or "white people's" food. "Country" foods include caribou, Arctic hare, ptarmigan, ringed seal, bearded seal, walrus, polar bear, beluga whale, migrating fish (Arctic char, Atlantic salmon, and Pacific salmon), and migratory birds (Canada goose, common eider, king eider, and black guillemots). "White people's" food includes items shipped from southern Canada and purchased at local stores, including fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, processed foods, and dry goods.
In Alaska, especially in the most northern communities, it was once common to consume uncooked meats. This has become less common with the introduction of such modern conveniences as microwaves, refrigerators, propane-fueled stoves, and the like. However, in Canada, the preference for uncooked meats is still a significant cultural feature. This practice became a powerful marker of Inuit identity in the postorld War II era as Canadian Inuit experienced more sustained contact with Europeans and Canadians of European descent such as missionaries, teachers, and administrators. Consumption of raw or frozen foods, a practice typically disdained by non-Inuit, intensified boundaries separating Inuit and non-Inuit (Brody, 1975), and fostered increased social unity and political activism among Inuit who sought to protect and promote their hunting and fishing rights and to achieve local resource management in Inuit homelands.
Greenland Inuit obtain their food from two major sources: local land, seas, and lakes (called "country" food) and through local store purchases and via mail order. The main subsistence foods are ringed seal, beluga whale, caribou, bearded seal, and polar bear as well as a wide variety of fish, including cod, capelin, Atlantic salmon, Arctic char, and Greenland halibut. One feature that distinguishes the Inuit of Greenland from Canadian and Alaskan Eskimos is the abundance of small-scale fisheries, which include fish plants that provide a number of settlements with seasonal employment (Dahl, 2000). In addition to subsistence production, many Greenlandic Inuit are also involved in large-scale commercial fishing operations, and fishing products, including shrimp, Greenlandic halibut and crabs are Greenland's major exports. Many of the companies are owned and maintained by Inuit. Finally, there are approximately sixty sheep farms in southwest Greenland that produce lamb and other products for both domestic and international markets.
Food management in Eskimo communities combines traditional practices with modern convenience. Subsistence meats are often "half-dried" on outdoor meat racks, cooked (boiled), and stored in containers of seal oil or, alternatively, stored in home freezers, either "halfdried" or fresh. Greens, roots, and berries are more often stored in freezers, although some residents also use seal oil. Traditional underground or semiunderground food caches are gradually becoming a part of the past, while home freezer storage and consumption of fresh frozen foods has become increasingly common. In the late twentieth century and early twenty-first, in spite of significant changes in food storage methods, locally harvested foods from the land and the sea remained a major component of Eskimo food consumption. However, while "country" food or "real" food still defines ethnic and cultural boundaries in the North, "white people's" food is increasingly popular among young people, whether in Alaska (Jolles, 2002), Canada, or Greenland (Searles, 2002). The presence of contaminants in locally harvested foods is a major concern in the Arctic, for example, PCP, and is under discussion in all of the affected regions. It is unclear how this information, along with changing lifeways, will modify Eskimo diets.
See also Arctic; Canada: Native Peoples.
Anderson, Douglas, Ray Bane, Richard K. Nelson, Wanni W. Anderson, and Nita Sheldon. Kuuvanmiit Subsistence: Traditional Eskimo Life in the Latter Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1977.
Brody, Hugh. The People's Land: Eskimos and Whites in the Eastern Arctic. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975.
Dahl, Jens. Saqqaq: An Inuit Hunting Community in the Modern World. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
Jolles, Carol Zane, with Elinor Mikaghaq Oozeva, elder advisor. Faith, Food, and Family in a Yupik Whaling Community. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2002.
Jones, Anore. Nauriat Nigiñaqtuat: The Plants That We Eat. Kotzebue, Alaska: Maniilaq Association, 1983.
Searles, Edmund. "Food and the Making of Modern Inuit Identities." Food and Foodways 10 (2002): 558.
Carol Zane Jolles Edmund Searles