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The People Arrive.

The word "Inuit" means "the people;" for 4,000 years they have inhabited the harshest environment in which humans have ever lived - a place they call "Nunavut" meaning "Our Land"

The leaves of the giant fern rustle gently in the warm breeze. A 2.5-metre-long crocodile basks in the sun. Schools of tropical fish shimmer in the clear blue water. Another typical day in the Canadian Arctic; albeit 90 million years ago.

During the summer of 1998, Dr. John Tarduno of Rochester University dug up some fossils on Axel Heiberg Island. He wasn't sure what the bones were so he sent them to Dr. Don Brinkman at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta. Dr. Brinkman immediately recognized them as the remains of champsosaurs. These huge crocodile-like animals didn't hang around in cold neighbourhoods. They were cold-bloodied and needed a warm climate to survive.

The finding of champsosaur fossils so far north is evidence that the Arctic was a very different place from what it is today. Dr. Tarduno published news of his discovery in the December 1998 issue of Science. In the same issue, Dr. Brian Huber of the Smithsonian Institution writes that volcanic activity and vast lava flows caused the Earth's temperature to soar between 86 and 92 million years ago.

This was an ancient Greenhouse event; the kind of thing some scientists predict human activity may trigger again. Even if the burning of fossil fuels by humans doesn't cause a new Greenhouse Effect it's a certainty one will happen. This is the pattern of our planet when looked at on the scale of tens of millions of years.

Back at Drumheller, Dr. Brinkman says the polar ice caps we see today are the exception rather than the rule. Earth is usually much hotter than it is a present. But, sometime about 2.5 million years ago the Earth began to cool. Eventually, ice caps formed in the extreme north and extreme south. As the cooling trend continued, the ice caps spread.

Since this Ice Age began the caps have advanced and retreated several times. The last advance ended about 15,000 years ago when the ice reached south of what is now the Canada-U.S. border. Then, the southernmost glaciers began to melt; they are still melting and shrinking today.

About 4,000 years ago, the first hunters began to explore the Arctic coast from the west. They probably crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia and spread rapidly east to Greenland. These first people have been called Paleoeskimos - Paleo meaning of ancient times, and Eskimo meaning eaters of whalemeat. (The word Eskimo is no longer used today as it is considered something of an insult.)

These first people lived by hunting seals, caribou, muskoxen, and small game. They lived in temporary settlements in tents made of hide and perhaps in snowhouses. By about 500 BC, the Dorset culture had developed from the first inhabitants.

Still very much a hunting society, the Dorset people lived mainly off sea mammals such as seals, narwhals, and walrus. They lived in more permanent settlements than their ancestors, and heated their snow and turf houses with oil lamps fashioned from soapstone. They had implements such as needles and a wide variety of chipped stone tools. The Dorset people may even have used dog sleds and kayaks.

Finally, an even more sophisticated culture displaced the Dorset people. About 1,000 years ago, the Thule Inuit began migrating across the Arctic from Alaska. The Thule people hunted at sea, and took animals as large as bowhead whales. They lived in permanent winter villages with houses built of stone, turf, and whalebone. They are the direct ancestors of today's Inuit.

For centuries, their lives remained unchanged; a triumph of adaptation to a very hostile environment. They were never very numerous because there simply weren't enough resources to support a large population. Each tribal group would contain between 500 and 1,000 members. The tribe would be divided into several bands which would meet, usually during the winter, to form sealing camps.

The camps would break up at the approach of spring and small groups of two to five families would travel together. These families were usually closely related and would be led by the oldest, active male. Inuit society was marked by cooperation. Members of these small family groups shared whatever resources they had; sharing is still a feature of Inuit life today.

As their population expanded, the Inuit spread eastwards along the Arctic coast. At about the time the first Inuit reached the Atlantic Ocean so did the first Europeans. Norse explorers from Scandinavia traded with the Inuit, but they found the Arctic coast too hostile an environment to settle.

Five hundred years later, the first adventurers looking for a northwest passage to the Orient arrived. In the process of searching for the illusive shortcut to Asia much of the Arctic was mapped. The explorers were followed by whalers. The whalers were the first Europeans to have an impact on Inuit culture. They introduced Native hunters to the money economy. Fox furs, which the Inuit thought worthless, were valued in Europe. So they traded the furs for manufactured goods such as cloth, canvas, and guns. The whalers also brought diseases such as measles, smallpox, influenza, and tuberculosis which devastated many Inuit communities.

By the middle of the 19th century, the first mounties and missionaries had taken up residence. These were the first nonnatives to settle, and they began to have a profound effect on Inuit culture.

Until 1870, nobody to the south took much notice of what appeared to be a barren wasteland. Two hundred years earlier, King Charles II had granted a charter to the Company of Adventurers of England Trading into the Hudson's Bay. Nobody, of course, bothered to ask the Inuit if this was all right with them. Had they been asked the Inuit would probably have said go ahead. They had developed no concept of the ownership of land as the Europeans had. To the Inuit land was open to everyone and could be defined only as good places to hunt and bad places to hunt.

The Hudson's Bay Company did well out of the fur trade in the vast land mass of the North-West Territory and Rupert's Land. Then, the Americans started to make noises about expansion and there was a simmering dispute among Red River colonists, the Metis, and the Hudson's Bay Company. The dispute grew into the Riel Rebellion of 1870, and Ottawa decided it was time to lay claim to the area. For

300,000 [pounds sterling], Canada bought all of the Hudson's Bay Company's real estate in the north. The Inuit were not consulted.

Canada's claim to sovereignty over the Arctic wasn't accepted by everyone. In 1898, a Norwegian expedition laid claim to part of Ellesmere Island and all of Axel Heiberg and the two Ringnes Islands. The claim was settled in Canada's favour in 1931, but Ottawa decided it was time to show the flag. Police posts were opened and government vessels were sent to patrol the region.

Apart from that, the region was pretty much ignored by the federal government. Ottawa preferred to leave missionaries to take care of the health and education of the Inuit.

It took the Second World War to wake Canada up to the significance of its Arctic possessions. At first, weather stations and air bases were built to protect North America from possible invasion by Hitler's Nazis. When that danger was removed by Hitler's defeat a new one appeared.

Throughout the Cold War (1947-89) The United States and the Soviet Union threatened to blow each other to pieces. The Soviet Union was only a bomber flight away across the North Pole, which made the Canadian Arctic the meat in a nuclear sandwich.

Defence installations sprouted like Arctic sedges in the spring. The DEW line of radar stations was supposed to give warning of a sneak attack by Soviet airplanes. The threat spurred Ottawa to make its presence felt more strongly in the Arctic. Schools, nursing stations, airports, and communication outposts were opened. The Inuit themselves were used as defenders of Canada's sovereignty, but they were still out of the loop as far as governing was concerned.

The Inuit didn't get the vote until 1960, when it was given to all Aboriginal peoples in Canada. However, the Territorial Council was still an appointed body in 1966. It wasn't until 1974 that all its members were elected. Over the last 25 years, Canada has been transferring responsibility for running programs to Native communities.

The biggest transfer of all is the creation of Nunavut - Our Land.


1. Create a timeline showing the major events in the Eastern Arctic from the arrival of the first people 4,000 years ago to today.

2. There are eight main Inuit tribal groups in Canada - the Baffin, Caribou, Copper, Iglulik, Inuvialuit, Labrador, Netsilik, and Ungava. Assign a group of students to research the location of these groups and plot them on a map of the Canadian Arctic.


The Queen Elizabeth Islands are a virtual desert with total annual snowfall of less than 13 cm.

In some places in the Arctic the ground is permanently frozen (permafrost) to a depth of as much as 1,000 metres.


They lived on the islands of Salliq (Southampton), Coats, and Walrus in the northwestern corner of Hudson Bay. The Sadlermiut Inuit were not large in number, perhaps no more than 200 people. However, they were unique. Their culture seems to have combined elements of both the Dorset and Thule societies. Archeologists puzzle over a variety of theories to explain why these people were unlike their neighbours. Some suggest they were an isolated remnant of the Dorset people who were thought to have died out completely around 1500 AD. In the fall of 1902, the whaling ship Active stopped at Southampton Island. One sailor aboard was suffering from either typhus or typhoid. Sadlermiut visited the Active and took the disease back to their village. Sometime during the winter of 1902-03, the last of the original Sadlermiut Inuit died alone.


William Baffin was chief navigator aboard the Discovery which sailed from England in 1615 to search for the Northwest Passage. They found the entrance to Hudson Bay and some land they named after their ship's navigator. They also made contact with the Inuit, and William Baffin recorded his impressions of them in his journal: "The inhabitants were poor, living chiefly on the flesh of dried seals, which they ate raw. They clothed themselves with skins and also made covers for their tents and boats. They dress the skins very well.

"Concerning their religion I can say little, only that they have a kind of worship or adoration of the Sun, which they will continually point to while striking their hands on their breast crying `Klyout.' They bury their dead on the side of hills, commonly on small islands, making a pile of stones over them; yet the stones are not put so close but that we could see the dead body within."

William Baffin was a brilliant Arctic navigator but he met his end in a place about as unlike the North as it's possible to find on Earth. The British were fighting the Portuguese in the Gulf of Oman, on the edge of the Arabian Desert. Baffin was asked to make observations of enemy positions from a castle wall. He "received a shot from the castle into his belly, wherewith he gave three leaps, and died immediately."


In 1919, the Danish government declared Ellesmere Island to be "no man's land."

No, said Canada, it's Canadian land. To prove it Canada opened a post office on the Bache Peninsula.

The mail was delivered once a year, but there couldn't have been a lot of it - nobody lived within hundreds of kilometres of the location.

But, operation of a post office is an internationally recognized proof of sovereignty.


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Title Annotation:history of the Inuit
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:Life and Death in a Harsh Land.
Next Article:When the Good Life Ended.

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