INUINNAIT AND CONTACT
Inuinnait history is a cycle of seasons rather than calendar dates. Our stories extend to a time of legends when animals, people and the landscape were one. Our culture thrives in a pattern of life adapted to the environmental conditions of the central Arctic. We lived in iglu (snow house) villages on the sea ice and hunted nattiq (seal) during the winter months before returning to the land in smaller groups to fish and hunt tuktu (caribou) in spring and summer. Our lives were full of trial and hardship, but also joy and celebration.
Inuinnait were among the last Inuit groups to be contacted by the outside world. Visits from 19th-century explorers were brief and had little influence. They called us Copper Eskimos because we used the locally sourced metal for making our tools.
In 1914, a researcher named Diamond Jenness came to study Inuinnait ways as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. For two years, Jenness documented our ancestors’ ways of life. His careful notes continue to provide us with rich descriptions of our past. Jenness’ visit signalled the beginning of rapid change in our culture. The expedition opened the doorway to a stream of new visitors, material goods and ways of interacting with our environment. By the late 1920s, many hunters had exchanged their bows for rifles, and seasonal migrations were altered to focus on the fur trade. By the 1950s, many of the Inuinnait traditions described by Jenness had vanished.