For many centuries, outsiders have called Inuit “Eskimos.” This term is no longer considered acceptable. The Inuit prefer the name by which they have always known themselves – Inuit, which means “the people” in their native language of Inuktitut.
Inuit inhabit vast areas of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, the coast of northern Labrador and approximately 25 percent of northern Quebec. Traditionally, they have lived above the treeline in the area bordered by Alaska to the west, the Labrador coast to the east, the southern tip of Hudson Bay to the south and the High Arctic Islands to the north.
About 55,700 Inuit live in 53 communities across Northern Canada. The Inuit population has grown rapidly over the past few decades.
Inuit origins in Canada date back at least 4,000 years. Their culture is deeply rooted in the vast land they inhabit. For thousands of years, Inuit closely observed the climate, landscapes, seascapes and ecological systems of their immense homeland. Through this intimate knowledge of the land and its life forms, Inuit developed skills and technology uniquely adapted to one of the harshest and most demanding environments on earth.
Inuit treated human beings, the land, animals and plants with equal respect. Today, they continue to strive towards maintaining this harmonious relationship. They try to use the resources of the land and sea wisely in order to preserve them for future generations. Strict hunting traditions and rules help maintain this balance. Inuit in Labrador, for example, forbid the killing of any animal in its mating season.
Traditional knowledge of Inuit history, along with knowledge of the land, plants and wildlife, has been passed down through the generations. The family is the center of Inuit culture and co-operation and sharing are basic principles in Inuit society. Inuit share the food they have hunted and everyone does his or her part to help those in need.
Inuit culture has been exposed to many outside influences over the past century. Nevertheless, Inuit have managed to preserve their values and culture. Inuktitut is still spoken in all Inuit communities. It is the principle language used in radio and television productions originating in the North and it is implemented in the school curriculum.
Many Inuit communities continue to practice traditional Inuit dance and song including the drum dance and throat singing. Oral history and storytelling are still very much alive in Inuit culture, with tales passed down through the centuries. These stories are often about powerful spirits that inhabit the land and sea. They have been a continuing source of inspiration for Inuit artists whose prints and sculptures are prized by collectors and art galleries around the world.