People Facts

Inuit Peoples: Lifestyle

Located at 58 ° latitude, -68° longitude.

Traditional Inuit way of life was influenced by the harsh climate and stark landscapes of the Arctic tundra. Inuit invented tools, gear, and methods to help them survive in this environment. There is very little vegetation in the northern range of their habitat, and no wood for building.

They had to find ways to build shelter for both the summer and winter months. In the winter they build houses of snow blocks, known as igloos. In the summer they lived in tent-like structures, made of animal hides stretched over frames. Today, in the north, they live in wooden houses, built up off of the ground.

The Inuit are almost exclusively meat and fish eaters, depending on hunting and fishing for survival. In the summer, berries and other plants may be added to their diets.

Parkas: Traditional Inuit clothing and footwear is made from animal skins and fur. The most recognizable of these is the parka, a warm jacket with large hood. Today, this is worn by people all over the world and now made with many different materials.

Boots, called kamiks, are usually made from sealskin but may incorporate the skin or fur of caribou, arctic fox and hare, wolf, polar bear, or other animals. Fur or felt textile socks are worn on the inside of kamiks for extra warmth. Boots were traditionally sewn with sinew made from the back or leg tendons of animals, such as caribou, although today many modern materials are used. Embellishment might include appliqué, embroidery, or fur cut-outs, and designs are often symbolic.

Dog Sleds - Mush, Chi, U!
Traditionally, the Inuit traveled by sled, pulled by large white/grey dogs called huskies.

There are actually a few breeds of sled dogs; the most popular breeds are the Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and the German Shorthaired Pointer.

These breeds are chosen for two qualities- speed and endurance. These dogs can travel up 30 km/h for over distances of 45 km. The number of dogs can range from three to 24.

Mush (forward), Chi (turn right) and U (turn left) are not Inuit words, but commands to the sled dogs.

Early sleds were made of bone and later of wood, found in the southern range of the Inuit habitat. They were used by Inuit people as well as by the early European traders. Today, sleds are still used to get around on the ice and snow. They are also used for dog sled races.

Kayaks - The Hunter’s Boat
The kayak is a one-person boat used by the Inuit for hunting and transportation. The hunter uses a double-bladed paddle to move the boat. Inuit and Aleuts used driftwood or whalebone to make a light framework that was then covered with stretched skins and made watertight with whale fat. Kayak means "hunter's boat" and it is perfect for hunting on the water. It is almost silent, making it easy to sneak up behind prey. Sometimes a white cloth is draped on the bow of the boat to fool the animals into thinking it is a piece of drifting ice.

Sometimes referred to as webs, snowshoes are footwear for walking over snow. Snowshoes work by distributing the weight of the person over a larger area so that the person's foot doesn't sink completely into the snow - a quality called "flotation".

Traditional snowshoes have a hardwood frame with rawhide lacings. Some modern snowshoes are similar, but most are made of light metal while others are a single piece of plastic attached to the foot to spread the weight. The open webbing keeps snow from collecting on the shoe, which would hamper walking.

The Inuit had their own style of snowshoe, but did not often use them as they traveled in winter on the ice or on the tundra, where the snow did not pile very deeply.

Inuit people still use the traditional methods of travel, but also travel by snowmobiles to get travel on the frozen lakes and rivers. In the summer they use cars and trucks, and fly in and out of the region in small planes.

Inuit and Caribou
The Inuit and other northern peoples use all parts of the caribou for various purposes:

  • The flesh is consumed as food by humans and dogs
  • The oil is also used for food, and for light in oil lamps and heating houses
  • The skin, when tanned and oiled, makes a durable cover for their large skin boats and summer dwellings
  • The intestines make waterproof clothing, window-covers, and floats
  • The antlers make lance or spear points or are carved into a great variety of useful and ornamental objects, and
  • The bones are used to make heads for spears and other purposes.

Image: By Ansgar Walk. High kick competition. Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 General

« Back to the treeline map