Baffinland Inuit - Economy

The traditional economy of the Baffinland Inuit was based on seasonal harvesting that took place within the framework of settlement and territoriality described above. Marine mammals were the primary species harvested by the Baffinland Inuit, including, in general order of importance, ringed and bearded seals, beluga whale, walrus, and polar bear. A very generalized description of the seasonal economic cycle can be applied to the Baffinland Inuit as a whole, though each area had a particular pattern. In the winter, the primary activity was hunting for seals at their breathing holes or along the floe edge where permanent ice gives way to open water. Winter was the time of lowest productivity, and traditionally the ease of survival was often a function of the amount of food that could be stored from fall hunting and fishing. As winter gave way to spring, seals began to sun themselves on top of the ice, making them easier to find and harvest. In May, beluga whale and migratory birds would begin to move into the region and anadromous fish move to the ocean. Spring was an important hunting time, since surpluses of food could be obtained. When dogsleds were in wide use, these surpluses would be stored for dog food. During the summer families relied on fishing near coastal or inland lakes or rivers and on the gathering of seaweed and clams, as well as berries and roots. By September, the weather often made coastal travel difficult, so people moved to fishing sites for Arctic char, but on calm days seal hunting was often productive. Early fall was marked by long inland hunts for caribou, with caribou fur at its best for the preparation of winter clothing. The transition from fall to winter was marked by the movement of beluga whale and, in certain areas, walrus along the coast. These species could often be harvested in large quantities and stored for winter use.

Dogsleds were the primary means of land transportation until about 1965, when the snowmobile was introduced. Introduction of the snowmobile, along with the motor-powered freighter canoes and, most recently, the four-wheel drive overland vehicles, meant that new economic strategies needed to be created since this technology had to be Purchased and supported through large sums of money. At Present, it costs an Inuit hunter approximately thirty thousand dollars (Canadian) to obtain and operate the minimal equipment needed. Since the Arctic environment is hard on equipment, full replacement, at least of snowmobiles, is necessary every two to three years. The types of economic activity used to generate income have changed over time. The reliance on the debit and credit system of the fur trade began to disappear around 1965. At that time, universal programs of social assistance such as family allowances and old-age benefits were applied to the Inuit, and there was also the creation of more permanent wage employment in the new settlements.

The transition between the reliance on trapping and the employment patterns of today was bridged for many Inuit by the creation of an industry based on Inuit soapstone carving. This industry still flourishes in some of the Baffinland Communities, especially Kingait and Kingmiruit. The economy of Iqualuit is based on the provision of services to the inhabitants of this community and the region. The economy of Pangnirtung has recently been supported through the Development of a tourist industry based on the creation of a unique national park supplemented by commercial fishing in winter. The national park has also affected Broughton Island on Davis Strait. Throughout the territory, there continues to be an emphasis on hunting in part because of its importance to the food economy but also because of its values for maintaining and enjoying a more traditional life-style. The sale of furs and sealskin has been badly damaged by pressures from the animal rights movement. Even though many Inuit now participate in wage employment that may range from driving trucks or heavy equipment to serving as community mayor or administrator, many jobs are still held by nonnatives. The development of schools and the creation of academic vocational programs should bring about a shift in this situation. It is now possible for Inuit to look forward to employment as pilots, managers, and politicians, and a number of small business ventures have been attempted. Nevertheless, the Economic outlook is still not secure, and there is the persistent question of how the youth of today will be able to support themselves.

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