The Indigenous People Of The Arctic
As well as the breathtaking scenery and the spectacular wildlife, another highlight of an Arctic cruise has to be interacting with some of the natives. Humans have lived in various parts of this region for thousands of years and the traditions of their forefathers are still alive today.
As you travel across the polar wilderness, you will come across communities thriving in places that seem more than a little inhospitable to us. Even with the language barrier, a meeting with these natives will enhance your journey and leave you feeling humbled and moved.
Let’s take a closer look at the people who live inside and along the boundaries of the Arctic.
Almost 90% of the people that live on the island of Greenland are thought to be one of the three kinds of Inuit who live here. These groups live in different areas, with the Kalaallit residing in the west, the Inughuit living in the polar north and Tunumiit making their home in the slightly milder east. The language they speak is known as Inuktitut and each group speaks a different dialect. The fact that it is taught in the schools means that is has been preserved throughout the years.
It is thought that the first people to live in Greenland colonised the island from the Canadian Arctic as early as 3000 BC. Important customs have been passed down through the generations including the making of rugs and clothing out of animal skins and the carving of tupilaq. Tupilaq are evil spirit figures made out of animal bone or ivory and could be sent to kill a powerful enemy.
The Inupiat are native to Alaska and live in villages spread right across the American state. Just like the Greenlandic Inuit, there are distinct groups of Inupiat who live in different parts of Alaska and who have different ways of life. The group living on the coast are known as Taġiuġmiut, meaning ‘people of the sea’, and those living inland are called Nunamiut, which can be translated to mean ‘people of the land’.
Sadly, many of the original dialects of the Inupiat have died out since they came in contact with European people. At one point, it was punishable to speak the Inupiat language in school and so many of them now speak English. Their diet consists of animals such as seals, caribou, walrus and whales, which are mostly eaten raw to preserve the natural vitamins. As per tradition, if a member of a village captures and kills a whale, each person associated with the village has a right to some of the animal. This even includes those that have moved away and now live in the cities.
Canadian Inuit live across the Canadian Arctic, in Nunavut, Labrador and Quebec respectively. They are descendants of a culture known as the Thule people, who started to spread across Greenland and Canada around 1000 AD. At this time, there were also other native communities living here. The major group were known as the Dorset People but were slowly displaced by the Canadian Inuit due to the fact that they had no dogs and less effective weaponry.
One of the main traditions of the Canadian Inuit is their storytelling culture. During the long winter days, they would spend a lot of time at the edge of holes in the ice, waiting for the animal to come to the surface to take a breath. It is during these times that they used to tell tales of epic hunts and look up at the Northern Lights to ponder what they were. Some believed that the faces of their ancestors could be seen in the Aurora, whilst others were convinced that if you whistled at them they would come and take your head off your shoulders.
Living in the northeast of Russia, the Siberian Yupik people have a name which means ‘true people’ in their native tongue. There is also a group which live in villages on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. The Yupik are a very spiritual community with many beliefs and traditions that display this. Shamans are present in their culture to make sure that everybody keeps a good relationship with sea animals.
Another spiritual belief means that the naming of a baby is an important decision for the Yupik. Before a child is born, the parents will analyse all of their dreams and the events in their life in order to choose the right name, in the belief that any illness suffered by the baby would be due to the wrong name being given. Many animals are revered by the Siberian Yupik including the wolf and the orca, which they regard as one entity. In the summer the orca helps them to successfully hunt at sea, whilst the wolf helps to herd the reindeer during the winter months.
If you would like to meet any of the native communities that live in the Arctic, we have many different cruise itineraries for you to choose from. Call today or submit an online enquiry for more details.