Pamela Rae Huteson. 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: H James Birx. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2010.

Bands of Paleo-Eskimos migrated into the New World near the conclusion of the Beringia, or Land Bridge era; it is inconclusive, though, whether they traveled by land or water. Initial theories of origin suggested derivation from areas such as Mongolia, Japan, and Korea to circumscribe on a more generic area of Asia. The evolution from “Paleo-Eskimo” into Inuit occurred after arriving at the tip of the northeastern Siberian area around 8000 BCE. It was once believed that the Inuit migration initiated from the west end of the volcanic Aleutian Islands, progressed eastward toward the Alaska mainland, and then continued northerly; fieldwork reveals that the ancient encampments appear increasingly antiquated on the islands closest to the Alaska mainland and less aged on each successive island. Therefore, it is the nomadic and seasonal journeys of certain bands that initiated relocations farther south (after departing Siberia) to the Aleutian Archipelago, or “the birthplace of the winds,” as it is called by its inhabitants. These journeys resulted in the continuous occupancy at Nikolski Bay, which was established around 6700 BCE. From approximately 4000 to 1000 BCE, these Aleutian Island dwellers evolved into the Unangan people (more popularly known as “Aleut”). That the Unangan are related to the Inuit will be recognized in this chapter.

The Tuniit, a name derived from the Canadian Inuit oral history, made an epic eastward migration into Canada; by 2500 BCE to 800 BCE, Inuit settlements were maintained in Greenland (the ancestors of the modern Greenland Inuit arrived around CE 1250). A division of the Eastern Inuit returned to the northern area of Alaska. Similarities have been noted in the stone-wall habitations found in two opposite locations of the North American continent: on the Diomede Islands in the Bering Sea and in Greenland.

Inuit Seasons

The Inuit’s hunting/fishing/gathering economy transpired in an apparent two-season (summer and winter) location, although the Canadian Inuit observe six seasons:

  • Upingaassak—the material for spring (early spring)
  • Upingaak—spring
  • Aujak—summer
  • Ukiassak—the material for a small winter (early fall)
  • Ukiak—small winter (fall)
  • Ukiuk—winter

These isolated Inuit communities, which resided on the continuous terrain of permafrost, cultivated a distinctive society that is congruous with their environment and effectually capable of thriving in the Far North. An example of evolutionary adaptation is the Inuit’s physical structure, which reduces heat loss with a shorter, stockier body, as opposed to a taller, more slender body that would dissipate heat faster. The Inuit’s survival-appropriate technology meant that hunting provided material for their primary source of provisions as there was relatively little waste, for example, material for clothing such as the waterproof coats fashioned from mammal intestines (e.g., from walrus, seal, sea lion, and bear) and whalebone for housing support and various hunting and fishing implements (e.g., hooks and spears). Marine mammals and fish were subsistence staples, although from Alaska to Greenland caribou and other land mammals were also hunted, while in Siberia the reindeer was important. For the most part, the meat of fish and mammals was consumed raw. In this land that lacks vegetation (save for the summer), the nutrition that was needed to avoid scurvy was provided within the uncooked meat. Clothing such as pants could be worn with the fur on the outside, or “inside out,” with the fur next to the skin. The severe winters required two layers of clothing to be worn with the inner layer designed with the fur side facing the skin for increased insulation. The Inuit mode of land transportation consisted of dogsleds or sledges. On water, the Inuit and Unangan are experts in maneuvering their kayaks (the Unangan name for kayak is iqax); these slender and complex vessels were originally fashioned from driftwood, bone, and mammal skin, with Inuit blood for glue (some kayaks even had joints of bone or stone).

The traditional kayak is a single-person closed vessel. Russian Orthodox priest Ioann Veniaminov (Durham, 1960) noted how a cord secured within the hem of the hatch and tied around the body and under the armpits prohibited water from entering the kayak. Captain Cook (Durham, 1960) documented his ship’s sailing speed at approximately 7 to 10 miles per hour as the kayaks (or bidarka) held their pace with his ship. The Umiak (also baidar) is a wide and spacious vessel (more similar to a rowboat) that transported groups of people and cargo.

The continuity of the Inuit family was fortified through the belief in reincarnation. For example, after a death in the camp, the first child born is bestowed with the deceased’s name (from either gender). Moreover, the child is then entitled to the respect due to the former person (e.g., a child named after a mother may be endeared as “little mother”). The Inuit’s oral history occurred throughout the child’s life, with family stories and the reenactment of the family’s songs and dances. The Inuit believed in spirit entities that held power over their world. Inuit mythology reveals the entity Sedna (a half-human, half-creature being) who is credited with creating sea mammals (Paskievich, Van Raalte, Pratt, Pitsiulak, & Zemma Pictures, 1992), as well as controlling the harvest (bestowing the harvest only on those truly worthy). Consequently, the Inuit observed a myriad of rules and taboos and the belief in amulet charms. Amulets have been worn by both the hunters and their kayakers (a kayak was considered a living vessel and therefore required the protection of amulet charms). Because of the conviction that charms increase in power with each passing year, a female child would be adorned with the amulets intended for her future sons. Animal life was respected, too; when a seal was taken, freshwater was poured into its mouth so that it would let the other seals know how well it was treated. The shaman was relied on to heal the sick and to contact the esoteric world concerning issues pertaining to societal matters, hunting, and weather predictions. A majority of the seasons (from spring to fall) were spent in hunting, fishing, and harvesting in order to store for the winter. The winter was a time of festivals, drumming, singing, dancing, wearing masks, storytelling, giving gifts, and having feasts.

First Contacts

The expansive, primal attributes of the Arctic are experienced as a territory of harsh and unmitigated challenges for those unaccustomed to this harsh environment. This region has also inspired presentiment tales of early explorer adventurers who “expanded the frontier” and documented a people from a primitive social structure living within the Arctic Circle:

  • 14th century: The Norse Vikings became the first European contact and bestowed on the Inuit the nomenclature of skrælings, or screamers (Fitzhugh, Ward, & National Museum of Natural History, 2000). Their depictions of skrælings resembled dwarfs.
  • Mid-1500s: The Basque from Spain arrived with fishing and hunting parties, establishing a camp at Labrador that resulted in the first illustration of an Inuit camp (Proulx & Canadian Parks Service, 1993).
  • 1570s: The British aspiration for a Northwest Passage brought the first voyage with Martin Frobisher, in 1576, to Baffin Island and returned with documentation of the Inuit peoples (Williams, 2003). Inuit were also brought back to England in some of the British voyages.
  • 1648: The Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev documented the people he calledChukchi at the Diomede Islands between Russia and Alaska (Berg, 1949).
  • 1741: Dane navigator Vitus Jonassen Bering, employed by the Russian Navy, arrived at the Aleutian Archipelagos (Miller & Urness, 1986). The Unangan population drastically declined during Russian occupancy.
  • 1700s: Moravian missionaries began evangelical work in Greenland and Labrador (Nowak, 1999).
  • 1800s: European and American whalers occupied both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Arctic until 1918 (Spence, 1980).
  • 1825: The first English explorer in Alaska, Sir John Franklin, documented a trading system between the Inuit and the “Indians” (Simmonds, 2005).


Adaptation to Inuit Technology

The risk of early scientific expeditions lay in the paucity of available knowledge concerning preparations for an Arctic expedition, such as the inadequacy of European clothing to buffer the frigid Arctic conditions, overland travel that entailed human power to haul barges across the terrain of ice and snow, and so on. In the 19th century, Arctic explorers broke from convention. They marked the inaugural adaptation of integrating Inuit apparel and transportation into their expeditions, initiating with Charles Francis Hall (Hall, Davis, & U.S. Navy Department, 1876) in his 1860 to 1862 exploration to search for the lost Franklin expedition. Those who followed suit were Robert E. Peary, Knud Rasmussen, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson (while a minority, they also assimilated Inuit victuals into their provisions, e.g., raw meat).


Early fieldwork preparations relied on procuring a local guide, usually Inuit, for equipping an entourage for a successful Arctic journey. Charles Brower (Brower, Farrelly, & Anson, 1942), whaler/trader/census taker/ postman/novice archaeologist of Barrow, was indispensable for equipping explorers such as Diamond Jenness, Rasmussen, and Stefansson for an Alaskan Arctic exploration. Between the field expeditions, Brower also coordinated with the explorers and museums in order to supply them with shipments of artifacts, which he received from the local Inupiaqs.

Rasmussen’s amulet-artifact gathering once developed into creative negotiations. He declared that the protection constituent of the amulets—for the original owners— would hold steadfast (as Rasmussen was not from that region, he therefore should be denied benefit from an amulet’s influence). Trading resumed as a consequence of his hypothesis, although with a stipulation insisted on by the Inuit that locks of Rasmussen’s hair be a necessary condition of the trade to ensure the extension of the amulets’ charms.


The acquisition and mastery of the Inuit language, standardizing a writing system for the “Eskimo-Aleut” (also known as Eskaleut, Eskimoan) linguistic stock, aided essential cultural decoding and the comprehension of the embedded histories, belief systems, and allegories within the Inuit traditions. Rasmussen (1999) held an advantageous position over his colleagues because he was part Greenland Inuit and spoke Kalaallisut (Greenlandic Inuit language) fluently.

Major Dialects Within Each Region

  • Siberia: Yup’ik
  • Alaska: Inupiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Unangam Tunuu (Aleut)
  • Canada: Inuktitut
  • Greenland: Kalaallisut (Greenlander)

Notably commented on are the Alaskan dialects, for although in relative proximity, they are virtually different languages. Comparably, the Alaskan northern Inupiat dialect (i.e., the Point Barrow area) resembles that of the Greenland Kalaallisut dialect. It was initially observed by Rasmussen during the Danish Fifth Thule expedition that the Greenland Inuit accompanying him were able to comprehend the American Inuit, from the Naujat (Repulse Bay) to the Netsilik Inuit (Rasmussen, 1927) to the Point Barrow Inupiaq (Brower, Farrelly, & Anson, 1942). Concerning the retention of the native languages, the Inuit, due to their locale, have retained their language, although in Siberia, the Sirenik dialect from the Chukotka Peninsula is extinct. Also, the Inuit who have relocated to metropolitan areas are witnessing the disintegration of their language in younger generations.

Inuit oration contains valuable information concerning their cultures and traditions and represents insights into the Inuit psyche. In her research, Margaret Lantis (1952, 1953) ascertained that the Inuit mythology includes clues into the Inuit cognitive processes (e.g., fear, coping strategies, behaviors, etc.). Within Inuit oral history, early European contact has also been discovered (Seidelman & Turner, 1994). Rasmussen documented Inuit stories of the lost Franklin expedition, which occurred nearly 75 years prior, as well as the John Ross expedition of approximately 90 years prior. Archibald Fleming documented Inuit oral history concerning the winter encampment of the Martin Frobisher’s expedition at Baffin Island, which occurred nearly 350 years prior to documentation.

Cartography on Baffin Island

The 1883 to 1884 groundbreaking research and cultural interaction by “the father of North American anthropology” Franz Boas for his publication The Central Eskimo originated as a by-product of his unique cartographic project on Baffin Island. Boas maintained the significance of recording Inuit place names (as opposed to affixing early explorers’ names to that region). He also launched an unprecedented collaboration with the Inuit by respecting the distinction of their geographical wisdom and by encouraging both genders to illustrate maps and identify the areas. Boas therefore illustrated not only the Inuit’s technical skills and ability in creating accurate maps but also the Inuit’s personal relationship with their land as well.

Art Comparison in Origin Theory

Prior Inuit origin theories once focused on the Paleo-Eskimo emergence from Europe as claimed by British archaeologist Sir W. Boyd Dawkins (1886), who asserted that the Inuit descended from the Magdalenian/reindeer hunters of Western Europe. This theory originated from prevalent parallelisms in lifestyles of the Inuit and Magdalenian population. The theory of the Paleo-Eskimo’s originating in Europe appeared to coordinate with the “follow-the-reindeer” theory, that is, the reindeer hunters who followed their game northeasterly as the weather warmed. This concept attained popularity in 1899 when Frenchman L. Testut (Bandi, 1969) interpreted the Magdalenian skeletons from the Chancelade area to have an Eskimoid resemblance. However, in the early 1930s, Frederica de Laguna (Bandi, 1969) challenged this speculation in her article “A Comparison of Eskimo and Palaeolithic Art,” which indicated that when juxtaposed, there was an absence in the accordance of artistic expressions concerning the two cultures, albeit with similarities in the materials used (i.e., ivory, bone, etc.).

Acculturation in the Arctic

The intervals of benign and incursive contact from the Euro-American cultures established a governmental authority on the indigenous people who were unfamiliar with a conspicuous, consumptive culture. Sociologist Peter Usher (Creery, 1983) revealed that the usurpations from traditional hunting lifestyle to a trapping economy at the Arctic Hudson Bay post in 1901 was effectively realized in approximately a decade. In addition, the conventional demarcation of the Arctic region, with the consequential aggression of division and relocations of the Inuit families into countries and settlements, contributed to impairing the Inuit social organizations. The Russian and Alaskan Inuit families (e.g., the families between the Diomede Islands) though only 20 miles apart were not allowed to visit. Also, the Pribilof Islands in Alaska were inhabited by the Unangan who were subjects of Russia for the seal trade. When the Americans “took over” Alaska, the Pribilof Unangans became American wards (as opposed to the Unangans who lived on the Aleutian Islands who were not wards). The Pribilof Unangans/Aleuts did not obtain emancipation until after World War II. Meanwhile, in Canada, the separation of young Inuit couples and their children from their immediate families took place as they were shipped to mining camps. And in Russia in the 1920s, the communist Soviet Union relocated the Siberian Yup’iks from their ancestral lands and assigned them to units known as collectives for laboring at manufacturing.

In the early 20th century, the accession of ramifications concerning this unprecedented acculturation event within the Arctic imposed insurmountable digressions within the Inuit communities. The sovereign and independent Inuit had become reliant on the Euro-American cultures that projected their standpoints as benefactors, “improving” the Inuit’s circumstances. These “improvements” facilitated a cultural genocide and social alienation (i.e., the interference with the Inuit by separating them from their traditional culture that through centuries of vicissitudinous change had adapted them to their Arctic environment).

The periodic establishments of the new lifestyles became noticeably evident at the earlier stages of Euro-American contact; the Inuit felt that they had lived a healthier lifestyle prior to the “modern” standard of living conversions. Those who still lived off the land commented on how the village dwellers had lacked color and vigor.

Sample Chain Effect in the Arctic

What follows is a small sampling of certain Canadian villages that experienced a drastic change in their way of life, which started with the removal or tying of their dogs, and the progression of “civilization” (Huteson, 2007b):

  • Some “civilized” villages required that dogs be restrained to their owners’ property in lieu of the freedom the dogs once enjoyed (in certain villages, the slaughtering of dogs immobilized the Inuit families and prohibited seasonal movements). The restraint of dogs resulted in the consequential incapacity of their canines to pull their sleds for an extended traditional hunting trip (due to lack of adequate exercise).
  • The Inuit were then unable to hunt for their families or travel (this impediment produced hardships).
  • The inability to hunt forced a need to purchase food, thereby establishing the necessity for employment and solidifying dietary changes (e.g., sugars, flour, fatty acids, etc.).
  • The endorsement of gas-powered snow sleds replaced the custom of dog sledges. These modern sleds were prone to breaking down, thereby facilitating the Inuit’s mechanical knowledge (a marketable skill for employment).
  • Therefore, the Inuit, who from time immemorial had maintained a self-sufficient and active life (i.e., running alongside the dogsleds and subsistence hunting and gathering), transitioned toward a sedentary lifestyle of riding “skidoos” and retaining steady employment to purchase hunting gear and provisions.
  • And finally, the reliance on Western medicine counteracted the emergence of physiological issues (i.e., excess weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.).

Alcohol has brought devastating consequences on the indigenous peoples. In Alaska, for instance, it interrupted the food gathering activities of the Inupiaq villages, which brought starvation in numerous camps. Violence increased within the villages, and camps of these Arctic peoples, who were attempting to adapt to their new way of life, spent monies acquired through fur trade on inebriations. In the early 1900s, George Gordon (1906) witnessed the deterioration in the Arctic due to Euro-American contact—the amalgamation of rampant diseases, the Inuit’s traditional food sources substantially hunted out by nonnatives, coupled with a drastic dietary change—which prompted Gordon to warn of the impending extinction of the Inuit.

Additional preeminent advocacies of lifestyle conversions came from churches and schools; both disrupted the Inuit’s hunting and gathering practices. The church forbade hunting on Sundays, while stipulating a necessitation to attend various worship practices throughout the week. In addition, the traditional Inuit ceremonies were forbidden; in their stead, Christian holidays were enforced. Other non-Christian activities, for example, tattoos, labrets, and wife exchanges, were outlawed. The schools imposed an allocated academic schedule, which held precedence over the Inuit’s traditional mobile lifestyle. Also, children were flown to larger towns for education; some Inuit families followed their children to the new locations. The children’s relocating for school from fall to spring also created hardships for their families who relied on them to assist during the hunting season. Another hardship ensued when the children brought back diseases of smallpox, measles, and so on.

In Alaska, the excessively consuming whaling industry and growing dependence on mercantilism resulted in a cessation of the seasonal trade route traditions of the Inuit from coastal to inland bands (Brower, Farrelly, & Anson, 1942). In addition, throughout the Arctic, the Inuit people gave up their traditional semisubmerged residences, the accustomed abode of separate men and women houses, to drafty, wooden houses where families were expected to live together (prior to this, Inuit families lived together only when in camp). These drafty wood-constructed buildings augmented illnesses among the children as well as the elders. Following the adaptation to “white man” products, these single-room houses required oil for heating and induced both sewage concerns and garbage dilemmas. Becoming permanent village dwellers as opposed to living a seminomadic to nomadic lifestyle required permanent employment; having a “9 to 5” schedule was difficult to adhere to, especially during subsistence seasons. In addition, the devastating European diseases could not be cured by their shaman, which prompted the Inuit toward use of Western medicine. The combined circumstances served to reinforce assimilation and the adherence to earning wages.

Enculturation, or the integration of elements from the Euro-American customs into the Inuit culture, has also served as an alliance to augment the Inuit culture in some positive outgrowths. For instance, as sailors began frequenting Nome, assiduous carver Angokwazhuk (known as “Happy Jack”) became exposed to scrimshaw and cultivated a new art form of engraving ivory with fine needles, integrating Inuit and American art and thereby inventing a new trade. Carving pervaded the North to become either the main source of income in the Arctic villages or at least a supplement to it. The 1960s witnessed the increase of Inuit artists as Inuit prints and sculptures (i.e., soapstone, ivory, and bone) of modern Inuit art began emerging in fine art galleries. Also, the publications of anthropological monographs and biographies on Inuit lives began to reveal the Inuit’s personal perspective on history, for example, Margaret B. Blackman’s Sadie Brower Neakok: An Inupiaq Woman. The Inuit grassroots movement has also endeavored to capture the culture in documenting autobiographies and personal documentaries. Edna Wider’s Once Upon an Eskimo Time, which represents a year’s span of Inuit lifestyle prior to Euro-American contact, is an excellent example. Another illustration of nontraditional integration is with the drum songs. Originally, drum songs were performed at gatherings, especially during the winter festivals. When the missionaries became established in the Arctic, the drum songs were prohibited. Today, drum songs are once again performed at special gatherings although in addition to traditional or ancient songs, songs are also sung in English and tell stories about contemporary topics.

Arctic Politics

The rich resources in the Arctic appeared to be available for acquisition for the edacious industrial cities to the south, regardless of established Inuit hunting, gathering, and seasonal encampments. This hegemonic perspective concerning the Arctic has consequently brought the administrations of governments, their policies, and laws within this region. The executions of these policies were alien to the Inuit, which gave the semblance of subterfuge to these northern people, which in turn provoked fear and confusion within the villages. These strange and foreign policies of obtrusive coercion were also enforced to maintain “civilization” in the indigenous settlements and/or subsistence areas, for example, the establishment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to oversee the indigenous populations.

The Arctic people were attacked on various levels. These attacks were insurmountable and collapsed the very core of the Inuit lifestyle. First, the deluge of Old World epidemics initiated Arctic-wide relocations as deaths ensued, and the unforeseen accumulation of Inuit orphans was assimilated into Christian boarding schools. Then, the collapse of the whale and fur trade induced poverty throughout the Arctic; the Inuit had come to rely on a monetary system for food and warmth for their new lifestyle. A reindeer industry, imported from Siberia and attempted in Alaska in the late 1800s, deteriorated from enumerable complications such as an ill-managed reindeer association, wolf attacks, and a weak market for reindeer meat. The Canadian Inuit, in addition, experienced unforeseen alterations in the migrations of vital subsistence game, such as the caribou. Starvation ensued as game failed to appear in the accustomed hunting areas. The Inuit were no longer a nomadic people but affixed to villages, and so they could not relocate to better hunting areas. RCMP Henry Larsen (Marcus, 1995) reported on how the self-sufficiency of the Inuit communities was reduced to “starvation camps.” During Rasmussen’s fifth expedition, he assured RCMP inspector Stuart T. Wood with the highly controversial statement that he would “not make public the starving conditions” (Treude, 2004).

In 1952, nearly 30 years later, a highly controversial book, People of the Deer, was published by author Farley Mowat, who passionately revealed the Inuit hardships and mean standard of living that had occurred in the Canadian Arctic during his occupancy among the Inuit. The book’s agenda accomplished the awakening of the sensibilities of the southern communities of North America and Europe to the afflictions experienced by the Inuit peoples. The “Eskimo problem” became an insurmountable international discussion (Marcus, 1995), which compelled the Canadian government to appropriate, committed attention. This developed into an experiment of misadventure, involving the perilous relocation of a community of 34 Inuit “volunteers” (both adults and children) into the high Arctic on August 25, 1953. Death, starvation, a lack of mates, and a murder trial are samples of the consequences from this endeavor.

From the mid-20th century, an alternate approach began to be voiced by scholars such as M. Lantis (1952, 1953), James Van Stone (Van Stone & Oswalt, 1959), and Wendall Oswalt (1990), who recommended assisting the Inuit in the community to accomplish a constructive means toward their achievement of social advancement and leadership. Also, education and training the Inuit in employable skills had been suggested by scholars at that time. The combined suggestions would constructively attend to the aforementioned dependency. Furthermore, scholars such as Van Stone and Alice Wilson would advocate for bilingual Inuit teacher’s and teachers’ aides to enhance the success of Inuit children within the school system. These suggestions are comparably similar to the Danish mode of management toward the Greenland Inuit; the Danish system protects the Inuit culture, designing curriculums translated into Kalaallisut, and are significant to the Inuit lifestyle (as opposed to an urban-focused curriculum).

Contemporary Inuit

Inuit Ethnogenesis

The traditional way of life for the Inuit endured in some areas into the 1960s; nevertheless, as contemporaneous changes were established within the villages, the changes gradually altered their worldview. An Inuit ethno-genesis evolved and disseminated throughout the Arctic (Burch, 2005; Cowan, 1976; Hensel, 1996; Morgan, 1988; Oakes & Riew, 1996; Stern & Stevenson, 2006; Young, 1992). This outgrowth derived from the very challenging circumstances that were experienced that thereby contributed to the impetus of a political consciousness. The institution of this monumental Inuit political consciousness manifested itself as the Inuit began insisting on their inviolable rights as human beings. This consciousness ranged from the humble rebellion of Inupiaq teens in Alaska, who obtained a cessation from the illicit advancements from their teachers at White Mountain School in 1929 (Morgan, 1988), to the Eskimo dancing ban—which had been imposed upon Inuit residents of Noorvik, Alaska, by Quaker missionaries in 1914—lifted in celebration of being the first community to be counted in the 2010 U.S. Census, to the unprecedented first Inuit representatives who in 1959 attended the 10th Eskimo Affairs Committee (with the intention to give their own position and perspective on the Eskimo problem). In addition, a united Arctic-wide Inuit culture was strengthened with the expansion of radio programs (e.g., CBC North Nunavut) and publications in Inuktitut. During the 1960s, there was a launching of new Inuit organizations (Huteson, 2007b): Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement, Inuit Tapirisat (Inuit Brotherhood) of Canada, Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC), and the first Inuit newspaper, the Tundra Times, in the fall of 1962 (Morgan, 1988).

There was a reclaiming and redefining of the Inuit culture within new political fields associated with the rights to their culture and subsistence and a response to the encroachment of government and “big business” on their land. For instance, in 1975, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the reduction in the numbers of caribou and endeavored to initiate a regulation on the harvest (concentrating on the Inupiaqs). In the countercase, the Inupiaqs proclaimed that the “lower herd numbers” (that they debated was higher) was symptomatic of the expanding industrial occupation within the caribou’s terrain. In 1978, the establishment of the AEWC ensued in response to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) announcement 2 years prior of a reduction in its count of the bowhead whales and an imposed regulation on the harvest. In resolution, the count on whales is now a collaborative effort conducted by a representative of both the AEWC and the IWC.

Inuit representatives maintain dedicated, committed participation in the political achievements of the 1971 Land Claims Act in Alaska and the 1999 Nunavut Territory establishment in Canada. In 1979, Greenland obtained the status of home rule but with limited sovereignty. The next phase toward their independence from Denmark came as a result of the granting of a self-rule government on June 21, 2009. This new government will generate focused attention foremost on the educational and social issues of Greenland prior to the “primary objective” of sovereign independence, as stated by Greenland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.


Of late, the indigenous peoples’ aversion to the ambiguous nomenclature labels (assigned to them by early explorers) has initiated the reclamation of their indigenous identities, while symbolically casting off the collective misrepresentations and discriminations. The Inuit therefore are discarding the label Eskimo (Huteson, 2007b), an act comparable to that of the Kwakwaka’wakw of British Columbia who relinquished the name Kwakiutl. The Unangan have also renounced their title (Huteson, 2008); they no longer want to be referred to as Aleut (a name acquired from the Russians). The term Eskimo is credited to origination from an Algonquin expression of a much debatable translation; suggested translations were “to eat it raw,” “speakers of a foreign language,” and also “netter of snow shoes.” In Canada, the name Inuit is accepted as the generic term for their people; however, in Alaska, there is poignancy on being “correctly” identified as either Inupiat/Inupiaq or Yup’ik, while adamant that the Inuit are from Canada (although in Alaska, Eskimo is still in usage). In Siberian, the Yuits have become more popularly known as the Yup’iks. Comparatively, within the anthropological profession, the implementation of Inuit has occurred as an alternative to Eskimo; until the mid-1970s, Eskimology was the title for the study of the Inuit.

Future Directions in Inuit Anthropology

Comprehensive Versus Regional Focus

The expansive Inuit culture is comprised of socially isolated communities, which are geographically extended throughout four countries. Considering the immensity of the Arctic and the former difficulties of researching in Russia, Inuit researchers have developed a tendency to focus on regional areas or countries as isolated cases rather than on the completeness of a comprehensive study. Ethnologist Pamela Sterns has advocated for the research of a cultural accumulation concerning the Inuit communities from the northeastern coast of Russia to Greenland such as the method described in Charles C. Hughes’s article (1965) “Under Four Flags: Recent Culture Change Among the Eskimos.” Inuit studies would undoubtedly benefit from disembarking from the practice of regional focus and adopting the expansiveness of a comprehensive comparative method.

Underwater Archaeology

Excavating relics concealed below the eustatic rise of the Bering Sea (with the shorelines modified and submerged at the conclusion of the land bridge) can now be explored through underwater archaeology. The 10,300-year-old “Prince-of-Wales-Man” discovered in the On-Your-Knees cave in southeastern Alaska (in an area once presumed to be inaccessible due to glacier coverage) strengthened the discussion of an Inuit littoral migration advancing along the glacier-lined coasts. The ancient shoreline of the land bridge, with the submerged encampments, suggests that underwater archaeology is an important addition to Inuit anthropology.

Arctic Climate Change

Arctic warming has been creating longer summers and shorter winters, which has caused a pertinent and unavoidable concern for the preservation of the tundra biome, which from time immemorial had remained largely reliable throughout the Inuit’s occupancy in the Arctic. The Inuit way of life has become endangered as their source of sustenance is principally derived from a subsistence diet. The safeguarding of the wildlife habitats has become a primary focus, such as the dilemma concerning polar bears that are starving and being reduced in numbers as a result of the latest unfolding conditions. Of late, some Inuit communities have also become compromised due to Arctic warming. In Alaska, Inuit villages, beginning with Newtok, Shismaref, and Kivalina, have initiated the planning process of expensive relocations caused by permafrost crumbling within the villages and sliding into the ocean or nearby rivers. At the rate of this occurrence, the impending danger may occur to more Inuit villages. The surrounding Greenland coastlines are experiencing new satellite islands as apparent ice bridges melt and break away. The reduction and thinning of Greenland’s sea ice has caused dangerous conditions for dog teams on this island, which lacks interconnecting roads between villages; an increased usage of boats and planes for intervillage travel has also resulted from unsafe ice conditions. On a positive note, Greenland’s agrarian industries are on the rise, with a burgeoning tourist trade, in addition to the potentialities of oil and other mineral discoveries being made as the ice recedes.


The critical awareness of global climate change has confirmed the imperativeness in the 21st century to research the effect on human settlements. In studies of limnology by researcher Marianne S. V. Douglas et al. of the University of Toronto, pond core samples from adjacent encampments of the ancient Inuit whalers were analyzed, and the researchers discovered that these ponds became enriched with nutrients subsequent to the Inuit’s arrival due to decomposing whale remains; seemingly, these ponds endured at higher nutrient levels thereafter.

Politically Correct (PC)

A reformation of the modus operandi has occurred concerning the research ethics in combination with indigenous rights, concentrating on the reexamination of the standard protocol during bush work (also known as northern field-work). Previous uninhibited research methods involved acquiring information and artifacts (at times) by questionable means to secure intended data from “primitive people.” For example, several Northwest tribes experienced the removal of an entire totem pole from their winter villages unbeknownst to them while the community was at its summer fishing camps at the Tongass village in southeast Alaska; Boas and George Thornton Emmons participated in the ransacking of shamans’ graves for artifacts; and in 1987, anthropologist Carol Zane Jolles became apprehensive about the encouragement of her professors (prior to her first field experience) to tape-record Yup’iks incognito if necessary. The latter 20th century to early 21st century witnessed a metamorphosis within the anthropological realm concerning PC awareness. As a result, the past methods of biases of the other have been transmuted as literary works became decolonized, and Inuit are now welcomed as “part of the team.”


The study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has broadened the comprehension in researching the bloodlines of the Inuit peoples and has offered near-definitive evidence or lack thereof concerning ancestry. For example, the Norse occupied Greenland settlements from CE mid-980 to the end of the 15th century, with exploration activities in the surrounding territories. An urban legend of “blond Inuits” surfaced following Captain “Charlie” Klengenberg who informed explorer Stefansson about a “tribe” of Inuit with “European features” although that band of Inuit asserted no prior European contact. In turn, Stefansson observed and proclaimed that the Copper Inuit of northern Canada indeed appeared to have European features, although this declaration was seriously debated. In 2003, Icelandic scientists Agnar Helgason and Gisli Palsson (Steckley, 2008) conducted DNA research on a sample group of both Inuit and Norse descendants, without demonstrating a successful link to either ancestry. DNA research in the Aleutians has been conducted by Dr. Michael Crawford and Rohina Rubicz (Rubicz, Schurr, & Crawford, 2003) from the University of Kansas. Through their research, it was discovered that the Unangan DNA has an extant closer relationship with the Siberian Yup’iks and the Chukchi People.

Inuit Community and Anthropology Cooperation

Although the examination and sampling of prehistoric skeletal remains has aroused concerns by the Lower-48 (an Alaskan term for mainland America) natives, the Inuit, Unangan, and northern indigenous tribes, in comparison, have been supportive of cooperation with those in the anthropological field and with the inclusion of the determining of genetic similarities between the prehistoric skeletal discoveries and the contemporary native population. In Alaska, the Tlingit and Haida tribal corporations on Prince of Wales Island joined in cooperation with Washington State molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp (Kemp et al., 2007), concerning the remains of the Prince-of-Wales-Man, which were discovered mere weeks prior to the unearthing of the controversial Kennewick man discovered on the banks of the Columbia River. Sealaska Corporation included a volunteer DNA sampling from their members during their 2008 biannual cultural festival, Celebration, to ascertain the tribal identity and moreover to discover the possibility of existing relations. The research conclusion noted no direct lineage from the limited sampling; the DNA from the skeletal remains was of the D mutation, which is found among some Unangans in addition to certain tribes in Southern California and farther south. The remains of this ancient person were returned to the tribes on Prince of Wales Island after Kemp’s research conclusion. At the burial, the name of Shuka Kaa (Man-Ahead-of-Us) was given to this ancestor of the indigenous peoples of the North American continent.

The dynamics of cooperation within the Arctic have cultivated a collaborative enterprise of both Inuit and non-Inuit scholars. In the beginning, unexpected and favorable developments resulted from addressing the mounting concerns that had culminated from the years of research in the Inuit communities. Examples of problematic concerns are as follows: A range of years may be required for scientists to publish their research reports; in addition, there is an apparent rarity of follow-up from the researchers to the participating communities; also, certain communities had felt the weight from years of study endured and concluded to suspend further research on their people. Addressing the concerns of the Inuit population created partnerships to integrate an agenda to benefit the Inuit communities.

Sample of Mutual Negotiations

The Inuit Heritage Trust of Nunavut is a model of this investiture concerning its cooperation and alliance with academic research in regard to the prehistoric skeletal remains inventoried at the Museum of Civilization:

  1. A substantial quantity of skeletal material was allowed (more than researcher Dennis O’Rourke requested).
  2. Copies of documentations, published or unpublished, are to be submitted to the Inuit Heritage Trust.
  3. A nontechnical report translated into Inuktitut will also be submitted.

This progressive level of cooperation addresses the obvious—research will continue in the Arctic and mutual collaboration can accommodate both researchers and communities.


The practices and methods of Inuit study have become comparably altered and sophisticated since those early expeditions to the Northern Hemisphere. New technology, such as DNA research, has significantly broadened and enhanced anthropological research from the Inuit’s epic journey from their traditional way of life, through their many challenges to learn a whole new lifestyle, and to their cultural culmination back to sovereignty, which has been actuated within their cultural arts, education, research, and politics. The Inuit have tenaciously demonstrated the incentive for the reestablishment of their autonomy and inviolate rights pertaining to their accurate representation in research, their rights as hunters/fishermen/gatherers, and their right to speak their own language and govern their own education, and to establish the direction of growth in their communities. The Inuit’s aspiration to study their own culture and direct their own destiny has, indeed, broadened the 21st-century Inuit community and fundamentally established their political stance and desire to enrich their culture.

This 21st-century Inuit anthropological focus will ultimately continue to benefit the expansion of DNA research with the Inuit, the Unangans, and the North coastal tribes. They have been exemplars in forming cooperations with the scientific community to allow DNA sampling, which is increasing the knowledge and appreciation of the family of Shuka Kaa, the people who have arrived ahead of us!