The Arctic and sub arctic are harsh places to live. These regions were the last areas of the habitable world humans moved into.
All the people of the Canadian and American northlands were originally nomads -- people who have not only one home but move several times a year with the seasons from place to place to take advantage of the food, water, and grazing land. Did you know that Eskimo means "Eater of Raw Meat" - So, most Arctic Natives prefers to be called Inuit.
Did you know that Eskimo means "Eater of Raw Meat" - So, most Arctic Natives prefers to be called Inuit.
Anthropologists (people who study the culture and "history" of human) divide them mostly into two groups: Arctic and sub arctic. The arctic people were the Dene and Inuit. Dene most often lived in the forest and on the tundra whereas Inuit traditionally lived along the Arctic coastline. Oijbway, Cree and Chipewayan people lived in more sub arctic regions.
Near the end of the last ice age, some brave hunting peoples of northeastern Siberia crossed over the Bering Strait to what is now Alaska. They most likely crossed in the wintertime over the very unstable and dangerous ice. The next 1,000 years, they slowly spread out across all of Arctic North America, as far north as Greenland and as far South as Labrador. We call these people the Palaeo-eskimos as palaeo means "old".
After about 3000 years, the arctic climate became much cooler and the "palaeo way of life" had to change very quickly. This new way of living is called the Dorset culture. Some of what had worked great for the earlier palaeo Eskimos for some reason disappeared – they stopped using bow and arrow – even the use of sled dogs disappeared! Instead, it is believed they were more dependent on hunting sea animals such as seals, walrus, beluga and narwhal.
Then the weather changed again!
About 1000 years ago -- this time for the warmer. A new group of people who were bowhead whale hunters moved in from Alaska. They had these great big boats called "Umiat" AND qamutiit, which is what we know as sleds, pulled by dog teams. This way the Thule people as they are called, could cover distances at speeds the Dorset people could only dream about. The Dorset people – or Tuniit as they are called by the Natives today – slowly disappeared. The Thule people quickly adapted to the rich land now surrounding them. Some stayed on the coast, some moved further inland living off the land, its caribou and other mammals.
Today only the native people of Arctic Alaska call themselves Eskimo. Elsewhere – in Greenland, Siberia and Canada – the different cultures have taken proud names taken from their own language. In Canada they call themselves Inuit (pronounced INN-yoo-it), which means "the people". One Inuit person is an inuk and their language is called Inuktitut.
People of Mackenzie River
Each tribe of Inuit people has their own name even though they are all closely related. The ancestors of the Thule people living on the arctic coast around the Mackenzie River Delta where our team is traveling calls themselves Inuvialuit. In the 1800s the Nunatamiut – which means "inland people" – started coming from the interior Alaska where for some reason the large caribou population they lived on was getting smaller and smaller.
The Nunatamiut were great hunters, especially of caribou, and the relations between the Nunatamiut and the Inuvialuit were not at first smooth. An old Inuvialuit story is about how the Inuvialuit first noticed Nunatamiut moving east through the Mackenzie Delta. They were afraid that the Nunatamiut would discover the excellent hunting offered by the Bluenose caribou herd east of the River, so an Inuvialuit shaman diverted the herd so that it could not be found. Unfortunately, she hid it too successfully, and it was many years before the animals returned to their former haunts.
The word "Dene" also means "people" in their own language. The Dene are usually classified as northern Athapaskans. They include the Hare, Kutchin, Dogrib, Yellowknife, Slave, and Chipewyan ethnic groups. The Dene were traditionally of the northern forests depending on caribou, moose, hare, fish, and berries for food and clothing. Even though Dene is considered very different from Inuit, it is believed that their ancestors also came across the Bering Strait from Siberia, just much earlier – in the end of the Stone Age about 30,000 years ago!
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