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The Inuit are semi-nomadic people who live on the Coronation Gulf area in Canada. The Coronation Gulf is located, on present-day maps, in the Canadian Nunavut territory, east of the Canadian Northwest Territories. All of the Inuit tribes that lived on the Arctic coastline from the Bering Sea to Greenland, and the Chukehi Peninsula in NE Siberia were: the Siberian, St. Lawrence Island, Nunivak, Chugach, Nunamiut, North Alaska, Mackenzie, Copper, Caribou, Netsilik, Iglulik, Baffinland, Coastal Labrador, Polar, and East and West Greenland. Each group formed their own culture and survived according to the resources that were made available to them. For example, the Copper Inuit made use of native copper deposits in their region to trade with other groups. Also, the lifestyles of the groups were very similar due to the climatic similarities.
The Inuit live in harsh conditions that demand much resourcefulness in order to survive the harsh climate. In autumn, the first snow normally falls in late August and Early September. By February, which is the coldest month, the daily temperature is -30 c and occasionally -60 c -75c. Cornation Gulf completely freezes in the winter, and even in the worst years it is ice-free by early August. In the northerly regions the sun disappears for three months and is only lit up by the moon. Spring begins in April, and by Mid-June the ground is snow-free.
Coronation Gulf is north of the tree line. The nearest trees are in protected locations along the Coppermine River. Willow thickets also inhabit the river area. Everywhere else vegetation is that of low-lying tundra plants. Grasses are also found in poorly drained areas. Despite the climate, over eight hundred species of plants still survive in the Arctic.
In the winter the Inuit traditionally lived in snowhouses on the sea ice, and when spring arrived, Copper Inuit moved off the sea ice and dispersed in to smaller family groups. They traveled to inland hunting grounds where there were caribou, muskoxen and fish. Summer life was more nomadic with tents and other belongings carried on their backs and their dogs. In winter they hunted seals and walruses. In autumn, Inuit caught large numbers of fish; and fish and meat were dried in preparation for the winter months. Plants and bird eggs gathered in the warmer months supplemented a diet of meat and fish.
The Inuit depended on animals for food as well as the raw materials for clothing, shelter, tools and weapons, fuel and transportation. Furs and skins from caribou, seals, and sometimes birds and fish were made into clothing and footwear. Skins were used for tents, blankets, ropes, kayaks, and larger boats called umiaks. Bones, antlers, and ivory were carved into tools, such as needles, knives, and harpoon heads. Even a komatik (dogsled) could be made strong using antler and bone. Sinew was used as thread and twine, and animal fat for cooking and oil lamps.
The eldest male was considered to be the head of the camp. Most important decisions were made cooperatively by the group, or by the oldest. Their goal was to maintain peace within their group. The members of groups were related to one another through blood, marriage, adoption, or ritual partnerships. Marriages were arranged during the childhood years, although spouse sharing and polygamy happened occasionally later on. The elderly were very respected, although at times of tremendous hardship it was considered necessary to kill the old and sick, for food so the others in the group could survive. Generally the men hunted and the women stayed behind to take care of the camp. Both hunting and tending the camp required a number of skills. During the winter each camp had a large ceremonial igloo for games and festivals. To pass the long winter evenings there were many forms of entertainment such as: drum dancing and singing, throat singing, storytelling, contests and games that tested the strength such as wrestling.
The importance of the land with its animals is reflected in their traditional spiritual beliefs. Powerful gods and spirits are believed to control the forces of weather and the migration of animals. They protected themselves from harm with magic charms, and avoided sickness and disaster by following strict taboos. A taboo may have been not eating seal and caribou meat together, or cooking it in the same pot, or walrus skins were not to be sewn during caribou hunting season.
Archeologists have theorized that the prehistoric culture in this area was the Dorset and Thule. The Dorset culture flourished between 500 BC and 1000 AD, when the climate was colder than it is today. Uncovered at Dorset sites were harpoons to hunt walrus and seals in open water, fishing gear, snow knives , ivory plates used to protect the runners on sleds, carved soapstone pots and lamps, carved wood masks, and carvitures to suggest a well-developed, intellectual, and ceremonial life. After the Dorset culture there was the eastward movement of the Thule Eskimo, which coincided with a warm period between 900 and 1200 AD. Artifacts showed the Thule culture harvested whale, seal, and walrus from the sea; caribou and musk ox from the land; and supplemented their diet with waterfowl and fish. Decorations on women's combs and needle cases, and small-carved birds or bird-women figures hand games reveal they were a sociable group. During the warm period when the Thule people were moving eastward across the Arctic, the Norse were moving westward and establishing colonies in Greenland. Inuit and Norse stories agree they came in contact with each other, the Norse were the first Europeans to reach the Canadian Arctic, before 1000 AD. Other evidence is found in iron artifacts at Thule sites; some that were products of trade. After 1818 explorers began searching for the Northwest Passage, a sea route through the Arctic to link Europe and Asia. This resulted in trade and contact with the outside world. For about a hundred years, beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Inuit worked for and traded with the European and American whalers. This was a period when the Inuit became more dependent on foreign trade goods.
Hessel, Ingo. Inuit Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.
Morrison, David A. Thule Culture in Western Coronation Gulf, N.W.T. National Museums of Canada, 1983.