Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Inuit Culture

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Inuit Culture

The Inuit are considered by many to be a separate group from other Native Americans. They have very different physical characteristics, such as broader shoulders, shorter stature with rounder faces, and lighter skin. They look much more of Asia descent than any other Native American group. Based on archeological evidence, the prevailing theory is that the ancestors of the Inuit arrived well after the ancestors of most other Native Americans by foot over the Bering Strait land bridge. Keep on reading to learn more about the Inuit Culture, Traditions, and more.

Inuit Culture, woman in traditional clothing, StudySmarter

An Inuit woman in native dress. Source: Library of Congress.

Inuit Territory and Locations

Inuit Culture, inuit region, StudySmarter

This map shows, in purple and blue, the current and historical territory of the Inuit people. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Author: Noahedits. CC-BY-SA-4.0

The homeland of all Inuit in the Arctic and the Arctic region's surrounding cultural and geographic influences. The Arctic is a tundra so far north that trees cannot grow there. The only dominant plant life is moss, lichens, bushes, and a few varieties of flowering plants. Winter is long with very little daylight during those winter months, and the summers are very short. The ground never completely thaws, making the cultivation of crops near impossible. Most Inuit peoples live near the Arctic Ocean or other large bodies of water within the Arctic region, such as the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, or Bering Strait.

Inuit Diet

For such a harsh environment, the Inuit have adapted remarkably well. With so little vegetation, the Inuit are excellent hunters and fishermen, often moving in search of whatever game is available. Sea mammals provide good food and materials for clothing, textiles, weapons, and other commodities.

The seal is the most important to the Inuit society of all the sea mammals. In the summer, they hunt seals by kayak and harpoon. When the oceans and waterways freeze over in the winter, hunters use their hunting dogs, Huskies, to find the seals breathing holes in the ice. The hunter would then place a feather on the hole as a lure and alarm; when the feather moved, the hunter would strike out with a harpoon.

Inuit Culture, An Inuit hunter in a traditional kayak and using a harpoon, StudySmarterAn Inuit hunter in a traditional kayak and using a harpoon. Source: Library of Congress.

In addition to sea mammals, the Inuit also rely on land mammals to sustain their diet, especially caribou and elk, for meat and materials. Some tribes of Inuit, whose territory was more inland, had a diet that mainly consisted of land mammals and would migrate with the herds of the animals to maintain a consistent diet. On occasion, the Inuit hunt polar bears, oxen, sheep, wolves, foxes, hares, marmots, squirrels, and wildfowl.

To hunt these animals, the Inuit employ several techniques. They use bows and arrows, spears, weighted ropes for entanglement, and snares and traps for smaller games. They used similarly innovative techniques for fishing. Fishing from kayaks, holes in the ice, and shorelines, the Inuit would build stone enclosures to capture fish, hooks and lines, lures, harpoons, and leisters.

Inuit Shelter and Transportation

In addition to the kayak, the Inuit would use a larger boat called an umiak. It was similar to a kayak but larger - approximately 40 feet, and open. Additionally, Inuit craftsmen made a komatik sled out of strips of wood, rawhide, and bone. Teams of huskies pull the sleds across the ice and tundra. Hunters traveling on ice flows would pull their sleds with kayaks on top, and when they would reach a section of open water, flip the entire contraption over to use the kayak without detaching the sled. Inuit utilize snowshoes, crampons, and walking sticks used to gauge snow and ice thickness to move around the snow.

The Inuit live in all kinds of shelters such as igloos, hide tents, and huts. The igloo is the most recognizable, but this type of shelter was only used in the winter and only by the tribe of Central Inuit. Its uniqueness has made it a stereotype of the Inuit shelter. Made of ice and snow blocks, the blocks would be stacked interlocked, with a cap block on the top made with a hole to allow ventilation. The men would complete the blocks and frame, while women would cover the structure in loose snow for insulation. Inside there would be furs for beds, oil for cooking, and lamps.

Inuit Culture, Inuit people building housing, StudySmarterAn Inuit family is constructing an igloo of block ice and snow. Source: Library of Congress.

Some Inuit used hide tents made from Caribou and driftwood poles. Others would construct more permanent dwellings out of mud and sod, called karmaks. Whale ribs may also be used in construction and using whale intestines as insulation over windows during winter months.

Inuit Clothing

As with other aspects of Inuit life, their clothing was also necessarily ingenious. They often had to survive the harsh arctic climate and meet their active lifestyle needs. The basic clothes were parkas, pants, mittens, stockings, and boots made of various materials - usually hides and furs of the animals they have hunted. The favored clothing material is seal and caribou skin. Sealskin is waterproof, ideal for hunting on the shoreline, coast, or in the summer months when it rained. Caribou skin is perfect for the winter months as it retains heat more efficiently and is lighter in weight.

Inuit Culture, An Inuit girl in an outfit of fur, showing many of the staple garments of the Inuit people, StudySmarterAn Inuit girl in an outfit of all fur, showing many of the essential articles of clothing of the Inuit people. Source: Library of Congress.

The Inuit decorated their clothing with designs and borders of different colors, leather fringes, ivory buttons, and embroidered designs. Some Inuit women wear bone, shell, wood, or sandstone jewelry, such as pendants and nose rings. Tattoos are also common in Inuit culture.

Inuit Culture and Traditions

As mentioned before, the Inuit are viewed as separate from other North American Natives due to their physical and genealogical ancestry. Their culture, traditions, and language also differ significantly from the other native societies over the continent.

Inuit Culture, An Inuit woman ice fishing, StudySmarterAn Inuit woman ice fishing. Source: Library of Congress.

Inuit Language

The Inuit language is called Eskimaleut, with many varying dialects and bands of speech that are closely related. The similarities with the Aleut peoples indicate an ancestral link between the two cultures. The Inuit are subdivided, usually distinguished by either lingual dialect or geographic location; Alaskan Inuit, Saint Lawrence Inuit, Siberian Inuit, Central Inuit, and Greenland Inuit, with many subdivisions within each group.

Did you know?

When the French began to explore the northernmost extremes of their North American territorial claims in modern-day Canada, they encountered a native called “Esquimaux,” a name based on the Algonquin word for “raw meat-eaters.” From this word, non-Native Americans began to call these tribes “Eskimo.” Inuit, however, is now the accepted term.

Inuit Religion

In the Inuit religion, there is a common belief in a supernatural being that presides in the spirit of all living and non-living things. In addition, many Inuit believe in some version of creation mythology about how the earth and life were created. However, these mythologies and beliefs vary significantly between the subdivisions of tribes within Inuit culture.

The Netsilik Inuit near the Hudson Bay has this account of the origins of life and the earth. The earth always existed but was void of life, pleasure, or suffering. Then people crossed a body of water in kayaks lashed together like a raft. As they approached land, the children of these people anxiously jumped into the water. A little orphan girl clutched to the side of the raft but was washed away when her fingers were cut off. Her detached fingers became alive and turned into seals. The girl emerged from the water like a goddess of the sea, who controlled everything the people would need to survive from the sea. The weather god was ill-tempered towards the people and would produce storms to stop them from hunting. The moon god and the sun god were brother and sister, who had an evil mother who planned on killing them. They killed her instead and ascended into the sky.1

The Inuit carved objects for their religious rituals out of various materials such as wood, bone, and ivory. At ceremonial dances, men wore face masks while women wore little finger masks. The covers represent the spirits of animals. The ceremonies themselves are directed by a shaman called an Angagok.

One such dance, performed by the Alaskan Inuit, is the Bladder Dance. This event lasts for days and involves the inflated bladders of animals, as they believe the animal's soul resides in their bladder.

Inuit Throat Singing

Some Inuit tribes practice a vocal art, throat singing, accompanying these dances. Possibly having ancestral connections to people of central Asia, such as the Mongolians, this form of singing is recreationally and ceremonially.

Inuit Society

The extended family is the most fundamental Inuit social and cultural organization. Villages are loosely connected without a chief or headman, and the village will only last as long as the food supply. To allow for friendships and alliances to develop between tribes, the Inuit have particular partnerships with non-family members. Men have “sharing partners” with whom they may hunt or share a catch. Some also have “song partners” with whom they would perform religious rituals. The Inuit are a peaceful people, but they will fight if attacked, usually by other Native American tribes, as there are few documented violent conflicts between Inuit tribes.

Inuit society - Key takeaways

    • The Inuit are considered by many to be a separate group from other Native Americans., The homeland of all Inuit in the Arctic and the Arctic region's surrounding cultural and geographic influences.

    • The Inuit live in all kinds of shelters such as igloos, hide tents, and huts. The igloo is the most recognizable, but this type of shelter was only used in the winter and only by the tribe of Central Inuit.

    • The basic clothes were parkas, pants, mittens, stockings, and boots made of various materials - usually hides and furs of the animals they have hunted. The favored clothing material is seal and caribou skin.

    • In the Inuit religion, there is a common belief in a supernatural being that presides in the spirit of all living and non-living things. In addition, many Inuit believe in some version of creation mythology about how the earth and life were created. However, these mythologies and beliefs vary significantly between the subdivisions of tribes within Inuit culture.

    • The extended family is the most fundamental Inuit social and cultural organization. Villages are loosely connected without a chief or headman, and the village will only last as long as the food supply.


References

  1. Oswalt, W. H. This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native North Americans (9th ed.). Oxford University Press. (2022).

Frequently Asked Questions about Inuit Culture

The Inuit are considered by many to be a separate group from other Native Americans. They have very different physical characteristics, such as broader shoulders, shorter stature with rounder faces, and lighter skin. They look much more of Asia descent than any other Native American group. Based on archeological evidence, the prevailing theory is that the ancestors of the Inuit arrived well after the ancestors of most other Native Americans by foot over the Bering Strait land bridge.  

The homeland of all Inuit in the Arctic and the Arctic region's surrounding cultural and geographic influences. The Arctic is a tundra so far north that trees cannot grow there. The only dominant plant life is moss, lichens, bushes, and a few varieties of flowering plants. Winter is long with very little daylight during those winter months, and the summers are very short. The ground never completely thaws, making the cultivation of crops near impossible. Most Inuit peoples live near the Arctic Ocean or other large bodies of water within the Arctic region, such as the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, or Bering Strait.  

The Inuit language is called Eskimaleut, with many varying dialects and bands of speech that are closely related. The similarities with the Aleut peoples indicate an ancestral link between the two cultures.  In Inuit religion, there is a common belief in a supernatural being that presides in the spirit of all living and non-living things. In addition, many Inuit believe in some version of creation mythology about how the earth and life were created. However, these mythologies and beliefs vary significantly between the subdivisions of tribes within Inuit culture.  

The Inuit still live in their historical territory, though much has been encroached by non-indigenous peoples and loss to climate change. Many still practice traditional hunting and craftsmanship with the aid of modern weaponry and transportation 

The homeland of all Inuit in the Arctic and the Arctic region's surrounding cultural and geographic influences. The Arctic is a tundra so far north that trees cannot grow there. The only dominant plant life is moss, lichens, bushes, and a few varieties of flowering plants. Winter is long with very little daylight during those winter months, and the summers are very short. The ground never completely thaws, making the cultivation of crops near impossible. Most Inuit peoples live near the Arctic Ocean or other large bodies of water within the Arctic region, such as the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, or Bering Strait.  

Final Inuit Culture Quiz

Question

True or False: The igloo is the staple shelter for most Inuit tribes, due to their common access to snow and ice? 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: The Inuit, much like other Native American tribes in North America, have a mythology about the creation of the earth, but their stories and myths vary between Inuit tribes. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a staple of the Inuit diet? 


Show answer

Answer

Corn

Show question

Question

Which of the following was not a use Inuit people had for animal hides?

Show answer

Answer

Weapons

Show question

Question

Why did some Inuit tribes use mobile tents as shelters? 


Show answer

Answer

To follow the animal herds they were hunting

Show question

Question

Which of the following are items of clothing the Inuit would typically wear?


Show answer

Answer

All of the following

Show question

Question

Which of the following was the most common sea mammal hunted by the Inuit? 


Show answer

Answer

Seal

Show question

Question

What was the weapon of choice for Inuit who would hunt on the water with Kayaks?


Show answer

Answer

Harpoon

Show question

Question

Which of the following was not used by Inuit in constructing their shelters?


Show answer

Answer

Trees

Show question

Question

Most anthropologists and historians believe that the Inuit crossed the Bering Strait Landbridge: 

Show answer

Answer

After the other ancestors of Native Americans in North America

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Inuit Culture quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.