East Greenland Inuit

ETHNONYM: Tunumiut

The East Greenland Inuit are found in the Ammassalik (65°40′ N) and Scoresbysund (70° N) regions on the east coast of Greenland. Two other east Greenland groups, the Northeast and the Southeast Greenland Inuit, are now extinct. In 1980 the East Greenlanders numbered some three thousand with about twenty-four hundred in the Ammassalik region and four hundred in Scoresbysund. The East Greenlandic language is a dialect of Central Greenlandic and is mutually intelligible with the West Greenlandic dialect.

East Greenland was settled by peoples migrating east from West Greenland, beginning as early as the fourteenth century and continuing to modern times. As Europeans preferred to settle in the west, the East Greenlanders come under sustained European influence only after 1900. Early contacts were in the form of schools and churchs, followed by stores and colonial rule by Denmark. Scoresbyund was settled in 1925 by migrants from Ammassalik. Since about 1950, the East Greenlanders have experienced considerable cultural change—most significantly, a shift from a subsistence hunting economy to a money economy based on the sale of sealskins and cod fishing.

Prior to Danish rule, there were no permanent settlements, with new winter settlements established every year or so and more frequent movements in the warmer months. The extended family longhouse with nuclear families occupying "apartments" was the typical dwelling in the winter village. Tents were used in the summer. Traditional housing has now been replaced by expensive wood houses that have led to a more settled life, but that have also put new financial burdens on East Greenlanders.

The traditional subsistence economy was based heavily on seal meat and skin as well as whale, sea birds, and fish. Productive equipment included dog sleds, umiaks, kayaks, wooden boats, harpoons, knives, sealskin floats, and seal nets. The motor boat has replaced traditional modes of Transportation, though the kayak remains important for sealing. Sale of sealskins and cod along with craft sales, wage labor, and welfare are sources of income today.

The basic social unit is the patrilocally extended family usually consisting of three generations residing in one dwelling. The oldest male heads the family, though leadership in most activities vests in those who are most skilled or knowledgeable. A few households formed a settlement, although ties between the family units were loose and families could join or leave a settlement as they chose. The Ammassalik and Scoresbysund regions are governed by municipal councils and represented on the Greenland Municipal Council.

Missionary activity in East Greenland was very successful, and most East Greenlanders are now Christians. The traditional religion included beliefs in a tripart universe, a soul ( tarneq), and various gods and spirits. Shamanism was not highly developed, as individuals could use magic to approach the supernatural world directly.


Petersen, Robert (1984). "East Greenland before 1950." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5, Arctic, edited by David Damas, 622-639. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Petersen, Robert (1984). "East Greenland after 1950." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5, Arctic, edited by David Damas, 718-723. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Trap, Jens P. (1970) Gronland. 5th ed. Edited by Niels Nielsen, Peter Skautrup, and Christian Vibe. Danmark, Vol. 14. Copenhagen, Denmark: G.hE.C. Gads Forlag.

User Contributions:

Richard Learning
I am an elder for our nation here in Labrador and I am in the process of bringing back our Inuit culture and traditions. Which has been long lost for us. I am wondering how can we open our meetings in the traditional Inuit way. What words are used Inuit language and the English language? Some day we hope to bring the Inuit into our schools, for the young childern to learn. That is if there is a learning progrm out ther..( not using the christian religion )

Thank you

Richard Learning
I just wanted to say thanks to the people who built this site. It's been really helpful to me. I have this Inuit project I'm doing and this website has helped me a ton. Thanks!
John Templeton Smith
Hi Richard & Alexis,

Congratulations on your efforts to bring the Inuit culture to the world at large.

I spent many years as a ferry pilot transiting Greenland (mostly Narsarsuaq and Kulusuk) and grew to love the country and its people.
So much so that I wrote a novel (set mainly in Greenland) called Patterson's Volunteers (first published in 1983). That novel is being republished
this summer in the UK, and if you would like a copy let me know and I will arrange for my publisher to send it to you. I for one would welcome feedback on the
accuracy of the novel from an Inuit point of view.

This offer also goes to the good people who constructed this site. Well done, brilliant work.

Best regards,

John Templeton Smith

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