41 Photos Of The Inuit People Before And After Canada Ravaged Their Way Of Life

Published March 19, 2017
Family Skin Tent
Inuit Woman With Children
Inuit Beluga Whale Hunt
Little Girl Playing Drum
41 Photos Of The Inuit People Before And After Canada Ravaged Their Way Of Life
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The natives of Canada’s Arctic have a unique culture born from life in a frozen world. For hundreds of years, the Inuits survived in a place whose permafrost-ridden ground practically prohibited life. Then, the Canadian government intervened.

Before contact with the Western world, the Inuit were a nomadic people. They lived as hunters, setting up temporary homes before moving on to the next hunting grounds. They traveled on dogsleds and kayaks, making tools from stones and animal bones.

But Canadians of European ancestry had a hard time understanding that lifestyle. Thus, they sought to make the Inuit "modern."

This push came to a head in 1950, as the USSR began to contest Canada’s sovereignty over its Arctic territory. To prove that the territory belonged to them and to do what they thought would improve Inuit life, the Canadian government forcibly relocated the Inuit people as part of the High Arctic Relocation Program.

The government ripped the Inuit from their nomadic lifestyles and settled them into communities, where they had to stop hunting and start buying food in grocery stores.

Terrified of the Inuit's sled dogs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers slaughtered their animals.

Government officials pulled children away from their parents and their homes, and sent them to school in the south. There, they were forced to speak English, to learn Canadians materials and Canadian values. Often, teachers would beat children if they tried to speak their own language.

When they returned from these schools, they were different, disconnected from their own families and culture.

The relocation program ultimately ravaged Inuit culture altogether. It brought massive spikes in depression, drug abuse, and suicides. And though today many Inuit are fighting to give strength to the culture that the Canadian government systematically tried to destroy, the impact of the 1950s will never be forgotten.

Intrigued by this look at the Inuit people. For more insights into what Native American culture was like before colonialism changed it irrevocably, check out these historic Edward Curtis portraits of Native Americans and these early 20th century Native American masks.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.