9 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Inuit Culture

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How much do you know about Inuit culture? To be honest it wasn’t something I’d given much thought to until my recent Arctic Adventure.

While on this trip of a lifetime, I realized how little I actually knew. Fortunately, Adventure Canada employs several Inuit staff members and guides who were able to fill in the gaps.

Here are 9 Things That You Probably Don’t Know About Inuit Culture:

1. If you think it’s hard dating where you live, trying doing it in Nunavut.

Locals of Pond Inlet, Nunavut
Inuit in traditional clothing after a performance

My guide, Alex who lives in Pond Inlet (population 1600) put it best. I’ve been single for a long time. It’s much easier if you’re comfortable dating your third cousin she says her eyes twinkling with mischief.

2. Inuit have a great sense of humour and a unique one.

The humour is often based on the close relationships the Inuit have with each other and everyday occurrences. See: http://www.nac.nu.ca/Special/001_e.htm for further details.

As Anguti Johnston, culturalist and performer explains;  under hard living conditions, it helps to go with the flow.

Author and naturalist, C. W. Nicol describes a time when he fell into the ice while dog sledding on one of his many Arctic Expeditions. He thought he was a goner. When he finally resurfaced his Inuit companion asked Did you see any seals down there?

Check out this short clip, a spoof on the Old Spice commercials from Aanurli? Now What? The TV show that Anguti hosts and writes:

 

3. Inuit are not First Nations People

Greenlandic Inuit on his boat.
Inuit are not a First Nations people.

According to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs office of the Government of Canada First Nations are those peoples who historically lived in North America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, below the Arctic. Inuit historically lived along the coastal edge and on the islands of Canada’s far north. The Métis descend from the historical joining of First Nations members and Europeans.

4.The Inuit Have a Mutual Respect for Nature

Inuit culture has a deep respect for nature.
Most Inuit are very connected to their natural environment.

You might have known that Inuit are more connected to nature than most of us but you probably don’t know this. According to Anguti and Lois Suluk-Locke, also an Inuit culturist, and who I also met on my Arctic Adventure, when Inuit kill a seal they give it a drink of fresh water. When the seal is surfacing, not only is it coming up to breathe but also for the droplets of fresh water melting from the ice. It’s a way of showing mutual respect. A way of saying thank you for giving me your life for our survival.

As part of this respect, it’s taboo in Inuit culture to disrespect animals. All killings should be done quickly to minimize pain. Disrespecting animals will bring back luck.  Louis recounts a story passed on to her from her grandmother of two brothers who were excellent hunters killed a walrus but didn’t eat all of it. The walruses didn’t return for the next 50 years. Whether it’s true or folklore she isn’t sure but the message is clear.

5. Sled Dogs Aren’t Pets

Greenland dogs play an important role in Inuit culture
Purebred Greenland dog. As cute as they are, they’re not tame and they’re not pets.

In many Inuit villages dogs rival the number of inhabitants. Despite their friendly appearance they aren’t pets. They’re not tame. Don’t try to pet them or you’ll risk being bitten. The dogs are used for hunting polar bears and seals and for travelling over long distances in winter. On summer they’re on vacation.

In Sisimiut, and other villages in Greenland, but not all, the dogs are Greenland dogs, a pure bred type of husky. To keep the race pure, no other dogs are allowed as pets to prevent breeding.

6. Inuit Don’t Hunt Orcas (Killer Whales)

The Inuit believe that Orcas will seek revenge so they don't hunt them.
Inuit don’t hunt Orcas.

According to Louis, Inuit don’t hunt orcas because they believe that the deceased partner will remember the boat that killed them and seek revenge. It may not be that day, but eventually, they will come for them.

7.Inuit Sports and Games Are Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen

Much like the rest of the world, sports and games play an important role in Inuit culture. But instead of playing soccer or football, they have sports such as Two Foot High Kick or Kneel Jump. The sports served two purposes: 1) the movements are designed to improve hunting and help you to survive the harsh Arctic conditions and 2) they provided a source of entertainment and kept spirits up during the long dark winters. Source: http://icor.ottawainuitchildrens.com/node/39

Check them out and you’ll see what I mean:

8.Eating Narwhal Helps Prevent Scurvey

Narwhal whales contain vitamin C which protected the Inuit against scurvey.
Eating Narwhals helps protect again scurvey.

The Unicorn of the Sea’s skin and blubber contains vitamin C which has helped the Inuit stave off scurvey in earlier times when fruits and vegetables weren’t brought in.

9. Many Inuit People Believe in Both Animism and Christianity

Many Inuit believe in both animism and Christianity.
Animism is the belief that both living and non-living things have a spirit.

Several of the Inuit I spoke said that many people believed in both Animism, the belief that all living and non-living things have a spirit, and Christianity which was introduced into the Canadian Arctic towards the end of the 1950s.

In the past, all Inuit communities had a prominent Shaman (Angakok). He was the only person who had enough power to control the spirits…Shamans used charms and dances as a means to communicate with the spirit world. Source: http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_groups/fp_inuit5.html.

In the present day, Shamanism is at odds with Christianity so while communities may still have one, the Shaman may or may not admit that they’re actually a Shaman. Unless something changes soon, Shamanism is in danger of becoming extinct in some Inuit communities.

In relation to beliefs is Sedna, the goddess of the sea and marine mammals. While legends vary, when there’ not enough food, a shaman must come to visit her and comb her hair so that she’ll release more fish and animals for the hunters.

How many of these 9 things did you know about Inuit culture?

Greenlandic Inuit on his boat

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About Author

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Laurel
Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.

Comments

September 24, 2017
Fascinating people ... loved this post!
September 24, 2017
Thanks, Edward.
October 3, 2017
Hi Laurel, Thanks for this such a wonderful article about Inuit Culture yes this is a big fact. Most of people don't kow about Inuit Culture. So this article is really helpful to understand Inuit Culture!
October 9, 2017
Thanks, Sophia. I was surprised at how little I also knew about Inuit culture.
Olivia Bourke
October 5, 2017
You are right Laurel; I didn't know most of these cultural facts about Inuit people. They seem very happy people. Also, they respect nature which is very inspiring.
krista allen
January 13, 2019
Hi! I have been studying the Inuit while reading the book Kabloona. It is a facinating true story of a frenchman living amongst these people in 1938. It is very detailed. If I could smell what the author describes, it would be like living there.
January 17, 2019
@Kirsta - Thanks for the book recommendation. Will have to check it out.

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