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John Henry Nanagoak, Jason Akoluk and Cassel Kapolak (Page Burt photo).

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Ovik Akoluk shows how to tend a kudlik
(Doris McKinley photo).

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Stretching dog team lines .

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Jackie and his grandson Nash (Page Burt photo).

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Cassel Kapolak, Marlowe Kapolak and Bernice Kapolak (Doris McKinley photo).

Culture

Inuit culture means many things: language, communication, survival, spirituality, sharing, friendliness, food, family and creativity. Each of the 25 communities in Nunavut are slightly different but the collective Inuit identity is one of kindness, compassion, giving, caring, helping, concern for others, laughing, joking discipline, endurance, common sense and most of all responsibility.

Inuit culture and language are inseparable. Inuit culture has been passed on orally since time immemorial. There is one Inuit language across Nunavut and many different dialects. Inuit have always called themselves “Inuit” which means “The People” and Nunavut means “Our Land” in Inuktitut.

Inuit survival has depended on living in balance with the land, people and resources. Inuit have great respect for all people, for the environment, and every living creature. Inuit have had to be disciplined, practical, patient and most of all responsible to survive the elements in the Arctic climate.

In the past, traditional activities in the fall were caribou hunting and fishing for arctic char to be cached away for the winter. In the winter, it was a time for traditional songs and drum dancing in the igloo since there was very little hunting, due to the shorter winter days. Spring meant seal hunting. When a seal was caught, it was a welcome event because it meant fresh meat for all. It also provided seal fat oil for the qulliq (a soapstone oil lamp in the shape of a half moon) to provide light during the long days of winter. Summer was welcomed with great excitement. Bird meat and eggs were hunted. Arctic char was caught and dried and berries gathered to supplement other foods. Caribou was also cut and dried for variety. Today, Inuit hunt to a lesser extent, and while a handful of Inuit still travel by dog sled, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles have taken over for transportation.

Spirituality

Spirituality has been a very important part of Inuit life. The spirit of Inuit has always been that of contentment despite hardship. Inuit have survived by being patient and spiritual people. In earlier times Shamanism was widely practiced. Inuit Shamans had spirits known as “tuunngait”. These spirits were drawn upon to heal and cure the sick. Spiritual or shaman songs were sung at rituals and special occasions to rejoice in the good spirits and keep the bad spirits away. Good Shamanism embodied the people’s attachment to the land and environment and respect for the land and the animals.

Today many Inuit are members of Christian churches. The Anglican, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic faiths all have thriving congregations in many communities across Nunavut.

Sharing/Friendliness

By having a culture of sharing Inuit have survived thousands of years. To this day, Inuit still share many things with others: food, possessions, thoughts and words. Traditionally, homes were always open and you were just expected to come in, one would have difficulty imagining themselves knocking on an igloo!

There is no real word for “hello” in Inuktitut. When Inuit greet someone, they just smile. One must always return a smile, or risk developing a reputation for being self-centered, grouchy or unfriendly. Communicating through facial expressions and other body language is also very common. For example, when one raises their eyebrows, it means “Yes”.

Food

Food is the connector to everything that surrounds Inuit culture. Country food is still the main diet choice of Inuit today. It’s more nutritious and less expensive than commercial food. Traditionally, every celebration included a feast. Feasts are very special because sharing food is an important part of Inuit culture.

Family

Traditionally, Inuit cared for each other and family ties were strong. Every human being was treated as an equal, regardless of his or her physical condition. Necessities of life were shared with those less fortunate to ensure survival. Children were taught by parents to treat others the way they would like to be treated, with respect. They were also taught the qualities of discipline and endurance in order to survive the arctic climate. Family is still a very important part of Inuit life.

Creativity/Humour

Traditionally, Inuit played games and sang songs. This included strength games, wrestling contests, throat singing and drum dancing. Traditional Inuit songs were mostly composed by hunters telling their experiences. A drum dancer would beat his/her drum to accompany a traditional song. These songs are both powerful and entertaining. Inuit enjoy humour and love to laugh and tell jokes. Storytelling is also an important element in our culture because it saves and enriches the Inuit language and culture, Today, Nunavut is full of talented signers, dancers, carvers, artists, storytellers and writers that help keep traditions and culture alive.

Language

Nunavut has three official languages – the Inuit language, English and French – as set out in the Nunavut Official Languages Act. The two most common forms of the Inuit language are Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
The Inuit language is protected by the provisions of the separate Inuit Language Protection Act, which gives the Inuit languages — including Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun — the most powerful protection among Canada's aboriginal languages. The Inuit Language Protection Act guarantees that services in both the public and private sectors will be provided in an Inuit language.
The act guarantees that unilingual Inuit will be given services in their language of choice. The legislation gives time for everyone — including government, businesses and community organizations — to get ready to provide Inuit-language services.