The Inuit people are an indigenous people native to the Arctic regions of North America, as well as parts of Greenland. Inuit settlements can also be found in regions of Russia. The term “Inuit” is actually a blanket term for several distinct cultures, including the Yupik, Inupiat, and Aleut peoples of North America. The history of these peoples is long and complex, and these native North Americans have a rich and colorful culture.
Some people may refer to the Inuit people as “Eskimos,” but this term has fallen out of favor and is considered pejorative by some Inuits. Although the origins of the word are somewhat unclear, it reflects categorization by another group of people, rather than a self-descriptive name. In the Inuit language, their name means “the people.” This language family encompasses several dialects, which some people identify as individual languages.
The earliest people settled in the Arctic at least 8,000 years ago, with evidence of the culture emerging at least 5,000 years ago. These people have historically survived in closely connected villages in which all residents cooperate to survive. Subsistence hunting of seals and whales provided food, shelter, and clothing to the people, along with the inspiration for art, myths, and stories.
The Arctic is a very extreme place, requiring a great deal of cooperation and community commitment for successful survival. The native people are renowned for their ingenuity and crafts, creating things like waterproof boats, well insulated homes that can withstand severe winter storms, and insulating garments made from skins and furs. Many Inuit crafts are prized by people all over the world for their utility and beauty.
When Europeans first reached North America, the Inuit were probably their first native contact. They were certainly documented by early explorers of Greenland, and some historians have suggested that conflict with these people led to the ultimate collapse of early European settlements in Greenland. The Basque people also had early contact with the Inuit people, as they came to North America in search of fishing grounds.
When French and English explorers arrived, the Inuit way of life underwent dramatic changes. These explorers brought a number of virulent diseases that the natives had no natural immunity to, causing mass deaths in the community. Hostility between the Inuit people and the foreign interlopers was also an issue, with some traders exploiting Inuit skills at hunting and fishing, while others took over the valuable lands. Despite this decimation, Inuit culture was not crushed entirely, and in the mid-20th century, the governments of Canada and the United States undertook measures to preserve their language, culture, and history, offering large tracts of land to the native people to assist in this.