Native American Culture

As the united states developed and grew, Native Americans tribes lost their land, but refused to lose their culture. Native American tribes have continued to find ways to keep their rich culture alive and pass it down through generations. The Native Americans had several impacts on the United States and serval roles to play when it came to interact with settlers.

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The Inuit tribe is an Arctic-based, nomadic tribe of hunters and fishermen. Until they were relocated, the Inuit lived in modern-day Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, especially along the Alaskan coast. They were known for living in igloos made from bricks of snow and ice, or temporary teepees when they went on hunting trips. They now live in far-north Alaska, Canada, Siberia, and Greenland. Their “prime” time period was between 1000 CE and 1530, which is when Europeans whalers and fur traders first arrived in the Arctic and first made contact with the Inuit people. Within this timeframe in Western Canada, for example, the Inuit tribe had a population of approx. 2500 people before 1850. Once the Inuit started dying due to smallpox and violence, their population in Western Canada dropped to 2000 in 1850, and to a measly 150 people in 1910. In addition to this, a more Southern group disappeared entirely in the winter of 1902 due to disease. Thankfully, the tribe population is growing again and was measured at 50,485 on the 2006 census. The tribe is, evidently, still alive and even thriving, mostly due to efforts by the Canadian government to make peace with their native people. An example of this would be the Inuit’s government: they self-govern on their territory, which is incredibly extensive as they own most of the Canadian Arctic coast. This territory is called “Nunavut,” or our land, and the treaty for this was signed in May 1993. This is now an officially recognized territory of Canada, which hosts almost exclusively Inuit people. The official language is Inuktitut, the Inuit language, and is spoken by 83% of the population. The capital, Iqaluit, is known for its people’s artwork, carvings, and clothing– although it’s incredibly hard to access. Because Nunavut is mostly islands, it’s only accessible by boat or plane; the villages are remote and spread far from each other over the tundras and mountains. Navanut is considered to be not only the largest Canadian territory, but is also one of the largest resources for any native people of North America.

The Inuit literature mainly focuses, unsurprisingly, on the creation of things commonly seen in the Arctic such as the Aurora Borealis. One of the most well-known myths from the extensive list of Inuit mythology is the Legend of Nanuk. Nanuk, which means “polar bear” in Inuktitut, was the master of bears. He was worshipped by Inuit hunters because they believed Nanuk determined which hunters would be successful and which wouldn’t. If a hunter treated a dead polar bear with respect, the polar bear would tell all other bears and they’d become willing to be killed by the hunter. Different sources disagree on how a hunter would treat a dead polar bear with respect, but there are a couple things agreed upon by most: all meat except the liver was to be eaten, the skin must be used for clothing, the soul must be respected. The bear’s soul was respected by the hunter hanging its skin in a special part of his house and offering it special tokens. If the bear was male, weapons and hunting tools were customary; if it was a female, needle cases, and skin scrapers were more appropriate. But, if the hunter disrespected the dead bear, all other bears would avoid him forever and he’d be unsuccessful on all future hunts. Even now, polar bears are still hunted by the Inuit and these traditions are still upheld. Another deity commonly found in Inuit mythology is Sedna, the goddess of the sea. Sedna was a mortal woman who became the ruler of the underworld. Most legends agree that she became immortal when her father sacrificed Sedna by throwing her off the side of a boat and leaving her to drown. The most commonly-told myth about Sedna is that the first sea mammals were made from her severed fingers. Inuit mythology and legends are unique on the topics they focus on, being so far away from most other tribes, but other Northern people like the Aleut or Yup’ik have similar legends.

The Inuit tribe is a group of fishermen and hunters, and their diet very obviously reflects this. As mentioned before, if the region allowed it, the polar bear was common, as well as other types of bear. Most groups of the Inuit tribe are coastal and eat fish, supplemented with other sea animal meat such as seal, whale, walrus, and sea lions. If necessary, “odd” food like caribou, small birds, and otters were eaten. One of the more interesting ways of hunting is breathing-hole, or “mauliqtoq,” seal hunting. Breathing-hole seal hunting is when an Inuit hunter will find a seal’s breathing hole in the ice and wait, sometimes for hours, for the seal to use that breathing hole. Seals need to come up for air every 15-20 minutes, but seals will use many breathing holes within an area. Once the seal comes up for air in the breathing hole that the hunter is watching, a harpoon will be used to catch and kill the seal. The seal will not only be used for food, but for clothing as well. Often, most Inuit clothing such as mitts, boots, and pants would be made from sealskin as it was the most easily-accessible resource. One of the more unique aspects to Inuit clothing is that while other, more Southern tribes tended to wear looser clothing, the Inuit wore very tight and form-fitting clothes as a method of conserving heat. On the other hand, something they shared in common with other natives is the fact that men and women wore very different kinds of clothes. Men tended to wear “short-waisted” parkas (parkas that go to your waist and not past it) with narrow, black tails and sleeves that went to their wrists; women’s parkas tended to have long hoods and pointed shoulders, with room to carry an infant if necessary. Both men and women wore soft-soled, supple boots made of sealskin called “mukluks” that were lined with fur. They were designed to keep an Inuit’s feet warm while hunting but weren’t good to walk around in because the Inuit made special shoes for that: snowshoes. They were incredibly similar to modern-day snowshoes; they were much larger than anyone’s actual foot and were designed to allow for easy movement across powdery snow by distributing someone’s weight evenly across a larger area of snow. The ability to not sink into the snow translates into “flotation,” because it seemed to make the wearer float above the loose snow. An Inuit’s food and clothing were closely intertwined, mostly through the seal and its skin and meat.

The Inuit’s government differs from branch to branch, but the most central governing force is that of Nunavut territory in Canada. The Inuit government system is what’s called a “consensus government,” which continues the tribe’s old traditions. However, unanimous decisions aren’t necessary or used for most circumstances: a simple majority vote will do. There are 3 branches of Nunavut’s government like everywhere else in Canada, and like the United States: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch is led by the Premier and the Cabinet, who were all members of the Legislature, and is held responsible by the Legislature; for example, the Premier and Cabinet members can only hold office with permission from the Legislative Assembly. The legislative branch is made of 2 parts: the Legislative Assembly and the Commissioner. The Commissioner’s role is very similar to that of the Lieutenant Governor. The Legislative Assembly, where each Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) represents their electoral district, is what votes in each decision presented by the general government and are supported by a member of the Cabinet. The judicial branch is essentially the Nunavut court system; the courts are responsible for interpreting the laws made by the legislature, which is similar to the Canadian and American system. However, Nunavut is unique in the sense that they have a “single level” court called the Nunavut Court of Justice– meaning there aren’t multiple levels of courts such as district or state courts. As one can tell, the Nunavut government is community oriented and focuses on the needs of the people, not the state. Even the way Inuits elect a premier is community-based: each MLA casts a vote on who the premier should be based off the wants of their district, and then the Commissioner officially appoints a premier based off the results of the MLAs. The current premier is Joe Savikataaq, who was elected the fifth premier of Nunavut in June 2018. The premier has their own Cabinet, which is the top decision-making body of the Nunavut government and is elected by the MLA body as well. Currently, there are 7 members of the cabinet, each responsible for specific things and ministers of specific committees, but there’s no fixed number for the number of ministers in a cabinet. Again, this drastically changes as one looks at different branches of the Inuit tribe, but 84% of the Inuit people are citizens of Nunavut. Therefore, most Inuit people will follow the “consensus government” of Nunavut.

The history of the Inuit tribe is long and expansive, stretching from 1000 CE to modern- day times. The Inuits were originally descended from the Thule people, who crossed from Siberia to Western Alaska in approximately 1000 CE. They then moved eastward across the Arctic and began splitting into many different tribes, one of which was the Inuit who moved mostly into Northern Canada and Southern Greenland. The Inuit remained nomadic hunters, uninterrupted by anyone except other tribes, until around 1530 when European fur traders and whalers started arriving in the Arctic. The first contact, however, wasn’t made until 1576 when European explorer Martin Frobisher visited the Arctic and found a small branch of the Inuit people. Eventually more and more Europeans arrived in the 1600s, spreading diseases like smallpox and measles– which was the leading cause of death in Inuit people for over 100 years. Eventually, in 1766, Russia sent explorers and settlers into Alaska and claimed Alaska as part of Russia, which began pushing the Inuit people further into Western Canada. Also in the 1700s, basketry and basket weaving were said to be introduced to the Inuit by Moravian missionaries. Other than this, the Inuit tended to be incredibly wary of non-Natives and stayed far, far away– that is, until the Hudson’s Bay Company, led by Samuel Hearne, reached Coppermine (Northwest Canada) began to establish trade with the Inuit. This eventually led to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s 1820 opening of Great Whale River temporary trading post in modern-day Kuujjuarapik, which is a small southern town along the border of Nunavut and Quebec. Things between Inuits and non-Natives continued improving from there, to the point where Inuit people let Christian mercenaries into their territory in the 1950s. In 1867, the Alaskan Purchase was made by the US from Russia and Russian settlers were essentially kicked out of Alaska, so more Inuit branches started moving Eastward and began to resettle in Westernmost Alaska. Because of this, there wasn’t exactly peace between the Inuit people and the US government until the Indian Affairs Department was started in Alaska in 1880 when native people started getting not only a voice but also resources. Things between the Inuit and the government continued to improve in 1896, when Edmund Puck began developing a written version of Inuktitut in the form of syllabics. Because the government viewed tribes as more “civilized” if they had a written language, the Inuit continued to gain small rights and make small victories. Up until 1905, whaling was the main source of commerce for the Inuit people and most non-Natives, when it changed to fur trading. Due to this, the Inuit were able to trade things other than snowshoes and, in return, got metal tools, wooden boats, and other forms of cutting-edge technology for the first time. This also caused the first permanent Baffin island trading post to be established at Lake Harbor. Baffin Island is in Nunavut territory, home to a large percentage of its population, and is the largest island in Canada. Things remained pretty consistent from there until 1933, when Nunavut territory was officially established. The history of the Inuit tribe is all over the place, but it ends in a common place: Nunavut territory, where natives are the majority and have the loudest voice.

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