Baffinland Inuit - History and Cultural Relations

The Baffinland Inuit have prehistoric origins that date back to approximately 2200 B.C. Many material culture traits as well as the seasonal use of territory have remained amazingly consistent over this long period of time. The earliest Inuit to occupy the territory are referred to as the pre-Dorset and Dorset cultures. The Inuit usually refer to this cultural phase as Tunit. Dorset adaptation was based on small, well-crafted stone, ivory, and bone implements used to harvest and process marine and land mammals, freshwater fish, and migratory birds. Sometime during the first thousand years the kayak, snowhouse, and dogsled came into use through a process of diffusion combined with local development. Around A.D. 1200, a different cultural adaptation called the Thule culture became evident throughout the territory and centered on the hunting of whales. Archaeological findings indicate that the Thule culture, like the population that preceded it, originated in Alaska and spread rapidly eastward. The Thule Inuit are the direct ancestors of the Baffinland Inuit of today.

Sustained contact with Europeans began around 1750, when whalers first entered the area. They introduced trade goods and disease and altered to some extent the general pattern of seasonal adaptation, especially after 1850, when they began to overwinter near the present-day communities of Pangnirtung and Kingmiruit. Whalers were the primary European presence until the early 1900s, when the decline of whales ended this activity. Whalers were replaced by fur Traders, who first entered some parts of the territory around 1910 and remained a powerful economic and social force until about 1965. Although whalers introduced bartering and the seasonal employment of Inuit as crew members, it was the fur traders who instituted formal exchange and a system of Economic control based on debit and credit. The trading era brought about occasional periods of prosperity, especially in the 1920s, but for the most part resulted in difficult economic times and a deterioration of the Baffinland Inuit's independent pattern of subsistence. Nevertheless, when the elders of today refer to traditional times, or even to "the good old days," they mean life during the fur trade era.

Around 1912, the first missionaries entered the region and the evidence points to a rapid replacement of a shamanistic-based system of belief by that of Anglican Christianity. The missionaries were soon followed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who represented the government of Canada and looked after Canadian sovereignty of the Territory. A more active government representation started to develop in the late 1950s when it became apparent that the living conditions and health of Inuit had deteriorated. Tuberculosis was the major health problem, although influenza and even common colds could cause hardship and death. By the mid-1950s, a medical ship would visit all Baffinland Inuit communities each year and seriously ill Individuals of any age were evacuated to spend one to several years recuperating in a southern hospital or sanatorium. By the 1970s, small nursing stations were built in the Communities, with a regional hospital in Iqualuit. The rate of tuberculosis has been significantly slowed, but evacuation, now carried out by airplane, is still relied upon.

The development of the six present-day communities began in 1960 when the government started to implement a wider range of programs. The first communities comprised shacks without water, sewage treatment, or other services. By 1965, government housing programs were initiated and as services accumulated the community became more Permanent. Schools were created for primary grades, but some teenage youth would be sent to boarding schools outside the region for vocational training or academic upgrading.

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