What kind of job do Eskimos do

The Inuit

The Athabaska Indians disdainfully referred to their northern neighbors as Esquimantsik (raw carnivores). The Europeans adopted the offensive name and shortened it to "Eskimo". The people of the Arctic call themselves Inuit, in the singular Inuk, which simply means "man" or "people". On the basis of archaeological finds it can be assumed that in the area of ​​the Bering Strait around 1000 BC. Developed the Thule culture from which the Inuit culture emerged.

The Inuit habitat is the Arctic; i.e. Alaska, Northern Canada, Siberia, and Greenland. About 45,000 Inuit live in Greenland, 32,000 each in Alaska and Canada and several thousand in Siberia (proper name: Yuit). Although the distances between the areas are sometimes more than 5,000 km as the crow flies, the Inuit have a similar language and culture everywhere. Exceptions are the Inuit of southern Alaskas and the Alëuts, who have adopted elements of the Indian north-west coast culture.

Most Europeans find the Arctic habitat inhospitable: storms, relentless permafrost and long winter months in the dark. The Inuit have adapted to this challenge. Deprivation and the awareness of the dependence on nature shape their culture and their social system. All Inuit traditionally hunted marine mammals and caught fish. They went hunting in kayaks, and killed seals, walruses and even whales. The killing of the animals, the cutting up of the prey, took place according to strict rites. The men went hunting. The women took care of clothing and processing of the hunted booty. However: "A man is always the hunter that the woman makes of him", as an Inuit proverb goes - because without warm clothes there is no hunt, without hunt there is no survival. Swap partners and polygamy (plural marriage) were common.

Inuit in Greenland

The first Inuit settled in Greenland 3,000 years ago. They came from Siberia via the Bering Strait and from North America. The Inuit took over the iron for pots, knives and harpoon tips from the Vikings. In 1721 Denmark declared the Inuit country a colony. At the beginning of the 17th century whaling fleets had reached the sea off Greenland. This marked the beginning of a profound change in the life of the Inuit and their culture. Guns, sugar, tobacco and alcohol were exchanged for skins. The Inuit became dependent on exchange and trade. The Danish trade monopoly, the Royal Greenlandic Trade (KGH), was in effect until 1950. Many Inuit worked on whaling ships, and Inuit women hired themselves as prostitutes. Christianity forced foreign legal and moral concepts on the Inuit.

Greenland remained isolated until World War II. In 1940 the Danish ambassador in Washington signed a treaty with the USA that allowed them to use strategically important islands for military purposes. The USA took over the supply of the population. Given the American way of life, the feeling arose in Greenland that Denmark had deliberately kept the standard of living low. The protest caused Denmark to revoke its colonial status in 1953. Greenland became a province within the Danish Kingdom with two seats in the national parliament (from 179). In 1973 Greenland became part of the EC, but left the Union in 1985 following a referendum. The overfishing of Greenland waters, especially by West German fishing fleets, had contributed significantly to the leak.

Inuit in Alaska

For a long time the Inuit lived alone as gatherers and hunters in the cold of Alyeska (Alaska; "the vast country"). In 1741, in the service of the Russian Tsar, the Dane Vitus Bering established a Russian colony on the coast. In the tectonically troubled, barren area, opportunities to earn a living were largely limited to fishing and fur trading. Agriculture is only possible on 10% of the area. Russia's interest was limited to the fur trade. The decline in fur animals, the lost Crimean War of 1854 and the forced evacuation of Russian positions on the west coast of America reduced the importance of Alaska to the Tsarist empire considerably. In 1867, Russia sold all of Alaska to the United States and its residents for $ 7.2 million without ever asking. During the Second World War, the strategic importance of Alaska was discovered: First, the Japanese military occupied the islands of the Alëuts. After 1945, the US established numerous bases in Alaska. In 1959 Alaska was granted state status.

Since 1896, after gold was found in the Klondyke area, gold prospectors and soldiers of fortune flocked to Alaska. The gold is also white, but they had disappeared again by 1914. At the beginning of the 20th century, the US government tried to spread fur farming among the Inuit. In addition, she recruited members of the Saami from Norway who were supposed to introduce and spread reindeer herding as a new branch of business. However, this met with rejection from the locals. Most Saami left the country after a law (1920) stipulated that only Inuit and Indians were allowed to keep reindeer.

The discovery of oil deposits had more far-reaching consequences than the gold rush. Warnings were given early on about the consequences of oil production, such as leaks in the pipelines, in such a sensitive ecosystem. The 1973 oil crisis brushed these concerns aside. The first pipeline went into operation in 1977. In March 1989 the Exxon Valdez wrecked off the coast of Alaska, 40 million liters of crude oil contaminated the animal-rich Prince William Sound for decades.

In 1971 the US government passed the Alaskan Native American Rights Act (ANCSA). The Inuit and Alaskan Indians were awarded US $ 962.5 million and 1.76 million square kilometers of land. Since then, 13 regional and 200 village bodies have managed the money and land of the indigenous people. Instead of land and money, however, Inuit and Indians only received shares in the corporations (100 pieces each) and no self-administration. The Inuit rightly fear that their land will gradually be lost through the sale of shares.

Inuit in Canada

Only a few Inuit groups still live in the famous igloo in central Canada and Labrador. Most inhabit huts in the unitary style of the government settlements for indigenous people. The Inuit now have to travel long distances to hunt, which makes their traditional way of life difficult. Not least because many sled dogs were euthanized because they were suspected of rabies, most Inuit have switched to snowmobiles and motorboats. They kill seals and harbor seals with a rifle, and in the past they used harpoons.

Following the whalers and fur traders, multinational corporations invaded the country - in search of oil, natural gas, uranium, lead and zinc - and brought about a profound change in culture here too. In addition, Canada's policies of forced adjustment into welfare allow many Inuit people to lose their identities and take refuge in alcohol. The high suicide rates show that the forced way of life has become a torment for them. In the oil company workers' settlements, alcohol consumption, theft and rape reach above-average and frightening proportions.

Nunavut, "our country", is the name of the area between the northern border of the Canadian province of Manitoba and Greenland, which covers two million square kilometers. After an agreement between the Inuit and the Canadian federal government in May 1993, an autonomy agreement came into force there on April 1, 1999. The first self-elected government of the autonomous territory of Nunavut took office. In exchange for the fact that they can now administer themselves within the state borders of Canada, the Inuit renounce further land claims and future claims to territorial statehood.

Merciless love for animals?

The Inuit were hit hard when the European Community banned the import of seal skins in 1983. Conservationists - Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and other animal welfare organizations - had protested, with good reason, against the slaughter of baby seals by Canadian and Norwegian fishing fleets and called for the seals to be protected. For reasons of conservation of the species, however, the Inuit never hunted baby seals, only adult animals. Strict rules were observed. For example, pregnant seals or nursing mothers were not hunted. But now the sealskin market has collapsed completely. Suddenly the Inuit could no longer make a living from hunting seals and had to say goodbye to whaling. An essential part of their cultural identity and social system collapsed without replacement. The same threat poses the EU's proposed ban on the import of wild fur, which affects Inuit and other indigenous people in Canada. About 35,000 indigenous people had a license to set traps in 1995. They tend to have few other sources of income, especially in remote northern communities. Because of the permafrost, they cannot use the land to grow food. Inuit interest groups protested against the way in which the ban was supposed to be enforced: in a bad colonial manner, without consulting those affected.


So that the maintenance of their way of life does not only depend on the chance and goodwill of the governments, the Inuit have created their own international interest group with the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC). The ICC deals with the ozone hole, the extinction of marine mammals, the depletion of raw materials and also with social problems such as alcohol consumption. The work of the ICC has found recognition up to the United Nations and is an expression of the Inuit's growing self-esteem. Other regional interest groups are the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC). The LIA has made a name for itself in the struggle for civil rights, land rights, environmental protection and a culturally appropriate education system. The LIA became known in Germany through protests against low-level flight exercises by the German Air Force over Labrador. The ITC is active in six regions of Canada and is committed to land rights, against the unsolicited and uncontrolled mining of raw materials and, more recently, for the fur trade as the livelihood of many indigenous people in northern Canada. Regardless of the problems, the Inuit still have good prospects of surviving as an independent culture compared to other indigenous peoples.

Recommended reading:


  • K.-H. Raach, "Pictures from the Arctic", KaJo-Verlag, Hanover 1991
  • The magazine POGROM, Society for Threatened Peoples, Göttingen