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FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
A part of our heritage...
For thousands of years, the Inuit peoples have hunted and fished the Canadian arctic. They did not build permanent settlements. Instead, they adapted their living conditions to the seasonal changes in the northern climate and to the behaviour of the animals they hunted.
During the long darkness of the arctic winter, numbers of Inuit families gathered together in camps. They hunted seals for food, clothing, and the oil that fueled their lamps. Their homes at this time of the year were igloos, the snow houses that many people still identify with the Inuit [though most modern Inuit live in houses].
When the sun rose over the horizon, and the darkness gave way to entire days of sunshine, the camps broke up into smaller hunting groups, often no larger than a single family. Some Inuit hunted caribou, the arctic deer that migrated during the summer and fall. Some moved to the rivers and coastal regions to fish and to gather bird eggs, berries, and shellfish. Whale and polar bear hunting were also ways that the hunting groups found food. During the hunts, the families lived in tents - sometimes of sealskin, sometimes of caribou hide.
The Inuit culture revolved around the closeness of the family. Each member of the family was important to the group's survival, and all - including children and the elderly - were valued for the contributions they made. The older people taught their social values to the younger ones by example. By sharing their food and other goods freely with others, the elders showed the high value the Inuit place on generosity and cooperation, qualities that are very important in a climate as harsh as the arctic's. The stories that respected adults told the children also were lessons in the Inuit way of sharing and working together.
During their summer hunts, Inuit families sometimes built stone piles, often in the shape of humans with outstretched arms. The Inuit call these sculptures "inukshuks." They marked good fishing sites, provided shelter from the wind, and sometimes offered a place for hunters to ambush caribou. On the wild arctic landscape they are often the only sign that humans have passed through, a symbol of the traditional Inuit way of life.
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