The Inuit, Inuit Indians, Inuit tribe or Eskimos – which name is correct?
Some call them the Inuit Indians or the Inuit tribe and more commonly, Eskimos. As an Inuit art gallery we hear these terms used frequently. As a result we have created a page to help educate people as to who the Inuit are and to help build an appreciation for these wonderful people and their amazing artistic ability. The Inuit people are the most widely dispersed group in the world still leading a partly aboriginal way of life.
They live in a region that spans more than 3,500 miles. This region includes Greenland, the northern fringe of North America, as well as a sector of eastern Siberia. In Canada, much of our Inuit population lives within Nunavut (“Our Land”), a territory established on April 1, 1999. Inuit are racially distinct from the North American Indians. In fact, the Inuit are closely related to the Mongolian peoples of eastern Asia. The Inuit – Aleut languages are unrelated to any American Indian language groups. At no time did the Inuit possess a national or well – defined tribal sense. The Inuit emphasis was always on the local and familial group rather than on associations based on land and territory. The terms Inuit Indians, the Inuit Indians, Inuit tribe and Eskimo are not the correct names for these kind and gentle people. Inuit simply means ‘The People’ in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit and Inuit is the name they wish to be known by. Inuit – their rightful name, replaces ‘Eskimo’ a term based on a Algonkian word meaning ‘eaters of raw flesh.’ In the words of Jose Kusugak, president of Inuit Tapirisit Kanatami, an organization that represents Inuit from Labrador to the Northwest Territories:
“In Canada and America we are trying to make people understand that we are a distinct people and not Indians… We want them to understand that Inuit work real hard to get children educated and make sure they hold on to their culture”.
The Inuit population was approximately 50,000 at the time of the first widespread contact with Europeans. An estimated 2,000 Siberian Inuit lived near the Bering Strait, the Alaskan Inuit numbered about 25,000. The Central Eskimos who inhabited northern Canada numbered about 10,000. The Labrador Inuit totalled about 3,000, while the Inuit on Greenland totalled about 10,000.
The terms “aboriginal” or “native” people apply not only to the Inuit, but to the North American Indians, and Métis. The term “First Nations” however refers only to Indians.
Much of the attention the Inuit people and their culture receives has been brought about as a result of their tremendous skill as artists, particularly as stone carvers, printmakers and recently creators of jewellery. Inuit art was first brought to the attention of the world outside of the North by James Houston in the late 1940′s. James Houston also taught the Inuit people how to make prints. Today, the Inuit support themselves primarily through the sale of their art.