Information about the similarities and differences of the lifestyles of a traditional Inuit family and that of a modern urban Inuit family.
Traditional: Summer: Tent (tupik)
Winter: Snow hut (iglu[singular]; Igluit [plural]), sod house (qarmait)
Modern: House (illuvut)
Inuit families live together.
Traditionally Inuit would move with the animals and the seasons, which is why they had several different types of houses. Today Inuit live in small communities, and for the most part stay in that community year-round.
Some Inuit still build iglus, especially when hunting.
Igluit built today are more for tourists and show
No structures have a basement- because of the permafrost.
Igluit for families have several rooms for storage and living space, usually 3 or 4 rooms.
One big iglu for all spaces.
A Inuk man can not marry unless he knows how to build an iglu.
Qarmait built onto hill side with stone, bone and wooden frames covered in seal skins, caribou hides and sod. One big Qarmaq with bedding all along the wall side.
Qarmait today have multiple rooms similar to modern houses. The roof is made of canvas or wood.
Inuit construct shelters over canoes and qamutik (sleds) to keep them warm when travelling.
Websites with more information:
Hunting & Food
Traditional: Diet consisted mainly of meat from various animals like caribou (tuktu), walrus (aiviq), seal (nattiq), and whale (qilaugaq)
Modern: Expensive food bought at the local Co-op or Northern store, or shipped up from the south. Most Inuit still eat traditional foods, they are just caught differently.
Most Inuit still hunt because food prices are very high in the community stores.
An annual shipment of dry goods is brought to each community when the ice breaks.
Most hunters have adapted modern equipment and machinery to traditional hunting. Inuit now travel by speed boats, snowmobiles, trucks, ATV’s, and motorized canoes.
Hunters had to rely on dogs to carry heavy loads when hunting and for travelling.
Inuit today hunt with rifles and spears that are not made from traditional materials.
Dogs also served as hunting companions, guides and could detect animals that were in the distance.
Qamutiik (sleds) are still made the same way without using nails or screws to keep it together.
Inuit today are selling country food or exchanging it for store bought foods.
Traditional food is still very much eaten.
Inuit still gather food for seasonal preparation and cache food for long winters or for others to take.
Inuit hold great respect for the land and animals, then and now.
When a hunter catches an animal for the first time, that animal is always brought to the midwife who was there when the hunter was born.
Traditional: Fur clothing, handmade by women, sewn by sinew and needles made of bone.
Modern: Mainly clothes bought from a store. Inuit still make traditional clothes but usually use modern materials such as duffel and cotton.
Animal skins and hides are still being used for long term hunting.
Synthetic materials such as canvas and polyester have replaced skins and hides. Much lighter and easier to clean.
New designers incorporate traditional styles into modern wear.
Clothing is most likely handed down from generation to generation depending on the quality of the material.
Inuit still make traditional kamiik with the outer parts made of skins/fur but the lining is duffel as it keeps you warm even when it gets wet.
Most northerners come to the South to shop for clothing as there are no clothing outlets in most northern communities. Internet shopping has also made life easier in getting the newest styles.
Inuit still prefer the traditional way of preparing skins if it will be used for hunting clothing, as tanned skins are easier to rip and they get really loose.
More Inuit are now embracing their culture; therefore, more traditional designs are being worn by Inuit.
Inuit still make their own hunting gear to suit the environment that they are situated in.
Inuit are working to protect Intellectual Property Rights because traditional designs are being used by non-Inuit to make profits.
Traditional: Adoption was a vital part of traditional life, families could either ask a pregnant woman for a child, or a pregnant woman would choose a family for her child.
Modern: Children are still adopted, and it is recognized by most provinces and territories.
Children are still adopted by families looking to adopt children, and by birth mothers placing their child with a particular family.
Traditionally there was no paper work needed to adopt a child, simply by discussion, arrangements would be made for adoption. Today, there is much bureaucracy when dealing with adoption, especially in the south.
Adoption is an open concept in the Inuit culture, there is no stigmatism.
Traditionally a child can refer to both sets of parents without judgement.
If a couple cannot conceive a child, they are given a child or they seek a child so they can start producing their own, it’s believed that the womb gets jealous, therefore they are able to produce children.
Traditionally the first grandchild is most likely adopted by grandparents.
If a family cannot conceive a baby girl or a boy, then they are given or they seek a child to balance out the genders and for family support.
Breast milk would be shared by children when raising them at a young age.
Traditional: Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, Inuinnaqtun, Nunatsiavummiutut
Modern: Inuktitut (commonly used to refer to the general language spoken by Inuit in Canada), English & French
Each community has their own distinctive dialect; there are similarities between close communities.
Inuit have to invent new words as new technology/materials arrive.
The Inuit culture did not have a writing system until the early 1900’s; the system was adopted from the Cree language by a missionary who taught the syllabic chart to the Inuit. Then they, the Inuit, taught the younger generation how to read and use the syllabic writing system.
The symbols that are called finals were not added to the chart until the 1970’s, and a whole row of syllabics were dropped, reducing the number from 60 symbols to 45.
The older generation can read text in Inuktitut without the finals.
Inuktitut is taught in schools. Some communities teach Inuktitut up to grade 3, and then English is taught after grade 3.
The Nunavut Language Law has been passed, 4 official languages are in practice, compared to the N.W.T. Language laws which have 13 official languages.
There is a French immersion school in Nunavut and there is no Inuktitut immersion school.
Inuktitut was forbidden in Classrooms during the Residential School era.
Traditional: Games such as string games, juggling, drumming and throatsinging.
Modern: Televisions, video games, computers and hip-hop.
Seasons play an important role in entertainment. Toonik Tyme, Summer Games and Christmas are a few examples.
Inuit like to square dance/jig during the seasonal holidays. This was adopted from the whalers who brought record players to the north.
Various Inuit games are played year round or centred on seasons.
Today’s generation like video games, T.V., internet and computer games.
Annual Arctic Winter Games are held in the North to promote the culture and to maintain good health.
See ICOR podcasts for examples of various games.
Traditional: Games like the one foot high kick, two foot high kick, seal hop, arm pull, leg wrestle and musk-ox push are still played today.
Modern: All sports are popular up north, but hockey is a favourite. Adaptations of games like baseball can last all night long in the midnight sun of the summer.
Used for entertainment and physical fitness.
Today, most sports are played by Inuit, hockey being the favourite.
Winners of events are revered and admired.
Inuit baseball, rules are a bit different and even the equipment is unique (balls made of stuffed seal skin).
Traditionally Inuit jumped with a seal skin jump rope.
Traditional: Qamautiik (sleds), Umiak (boats), Kayak
Modern: Snowmobiles, ATV’s, automobiles, trucks, speedboats and motorized canoes.
Inuit used to travel by walking, kayaking, on the Umiak or by dogsleds, some people still do.
Inuit have adapted modern machinery to northern lifestyles. Inuit now have access to all modern equipment or machinery.
Northerners still depend on airlines to travel in out of the North and it can be very expensive ($2000+ for an airline ticket alone)
Inuksuit are still used when travelling on the land.
Inuit still follow travelling patters or routes when on the land.
Annual shipments of goods by ships and barges as there are no highways linking communities to one another.
Cruise ships are a regular site in communities along the Hudson Bay coast.
Traditional: Gender differences for specific role; although men mainly hunted and women mainly made clothing, it was vital for a woman to know how to feed her family, and a man to repair damaged clothing while hunting.
Modern: Holidays such as Christmas and Easter play a vital part to many Inuit Communities, with special community gatherings with food and music.
The qulliq (stone lamp, arctic cotton is used as the wick, and animal fat or canola oil is used for fuel) is still used today although it is mainly for show when it used to be lifeline, essential for warmth, light and cooking source.
A large percentage of Inuit are Christians, mainly
Gender differences, certain parts of the animal should only be eaten by women or men.
Shamanism vs. Christianity
There are some Shamans today, but they do not want to be known, for fear of retribution from their community.
Naming is valued in the Inuit culture. A name lives on forever through another Inuk. If a person dies in a community, the children born after his/her death will more likely take on the name of the deceased. Then that child can inherit some personal traits of the carried name and he/she must use kinship terms that the name bearer used.
Traditional: Inuit children would learn through observation and imitation.
Modern: Inuit children attend schools in their own communities.
Inuit traditions were taught through observation and hands-on activities. The environment was the classroom and the people around were the teachers; everyone had a role in a community.
More Inuit are seeking formal education through post-secondary studies in southern counterparts of the country. There are no universities in the North, and some colleges offer trades that are suitable to their environment.
Some Inuit have very low literacy levels; some people cannot read or write in Inuktitut or English, but it does not impede their ability to succeed in their community.
Inuit are developing their own curriculum, as schools up north follow southern curriculums.
There is a high drop-out rate in the North, mostly because hunting seasons collide with day to day education values of the main stream society.
ANT 352 Readings
Traditional and Modern Societies: A Comparative Look
What are we talking about?
“Traditional” refers to those societies or elements of societies that are small-scale, are derived from indigenous and often ancient cultural practices.
“Modern” refers to those practices that relate to the industrial mode of production or the development of large-scale often colonial societies.
These co-exist in the world today.
It is stupid to divide things up into dichotomies or dualities, but it is sometimes useful as a heuristic device.
Even though there is no such thing as a completely traditional or completely modern society at the present time, the collision between the two forms of organization has great significance for everyone alive today.
The principle of social analysis.
Even the idea of separating society or daily life into ‘components’ (economy, religion, political organization, social relations, etc.) does not make sense in the traditional worldview, in which they are all inter-penetrated, a Gestalt.
The domination of Western ways and thought of all others, by military and economic force, may be a historical fact, but is not necessarily a permanent state of affairs.
Subsistence and economy.
Traditional: Production for use or subsistence.
Simple division of labor (age, sex); cooperation.
Units of production family, clan, village, age-set (organic social units).Units of distribution and consumption socially-based (family, etc.).
Consumption to satisfy basic needs or ritual.
Little transformation of produce (crafts, metallurgy, cooking…)
Tasks organically interdependent.
Modern: Production for profit, growth.
Complex division of labor (specialization, differentiation).
Individualized, mechanized; units hard to identify (not social).Units of dist. are individual, mechanical, commercial, corporate.
Consumption needs and competitive (over-) consumerism.
High degree of trans., commoditization.
Dependence on others’ skills, knowledge.
Traditional: Accumulation for redistribution, exchange for prestige, alliance.
No distinct economic sphere; inter-penetrated with kinship, age, ritual.
No work for pay; no formal contract; no “labor” or “shadow”.
Few possessions; similar standard of living.
Modern: Resources not always used for social ends (self). Cult of wealth.
Distinct economic sphere, with distinct domains.
Pay for goods and services; contract-based; shadow work.
Many possessions; inequitable distribution of resources and wealth.
Traditional: Subsistence strategy related to ecology, population size and structure, settlement pattern.
Sacred land and commons.
Use value of environment.
Transport by human or animal energy.
Individuals have variety of skills; make tools and control them.
Human, plant, animal and solar energy.
Migration and diverse settlement.
Limited but nutritious diet.
Modern: Techno-economic system unrelated to environmental, social and cultural factors.
Restricted access (private), but few sacred places or commons.
Resource exploitation, domination of nature.
Machine transportation; chemical energy.
Expertise replaces skill and general knowledge.
Chemical, mechanical energy intensive; muscular is leisure.
Urbanized. Rural supports growth.
Varied, but questionable diet (commercialized).
Political and social features.
Traditional: Inherently democratic, decentralized power kin-based.
Public goals (good of group over individual).
Foreign policy is trade, raiding, negotiation, or retaliation.Age, kin, and gender (some) dominance.
Groups in society inter-mixed.
Community cohesion; hospitality ‘law’.
Face-to-face relations, everything negotiable; consensus important.
Modern: State tends away from democracy; centralized. Oligarchy.
Some public and personal goals.
Conquest, commerce, assimilation, colonialism.Class, caste, stratified hierarchy of elites, also.
Social separation (apartheid).
Little sense of community.
Impersonal, distance communication, everything pre-defined.
Family pulled apart.
Traditional: More leisure, more time; time means lived life.
Mythological basis for taboos and rules. Informal social control.
People entertain themselves. Conversation is an art.
Modern: Less leisure, no time; time is independent of life; time is money.
Secular or religious.
Legalistic or doctrinal. Formal social control.
People are entertained by specialists. Consumption replaces conversation.
Less leisure, no time; time is independent of life; time is money.
Secular or religious.
Legalistic or doctrinal. Formal social control.
People are entertained by specialists. Consumption replaces conversation.