Adapting to the Great North
About 5 000 years ago, groups of people from Alaska and Siberia, in Asia, migrated to the Arctic region. They traveled across the Bering Strait, by walking across the frozen water in the winter or by using boats in the summer. By the year 1000, the ancestors of the Inuit had arrived in Northern Canada. Groups settled along the shores of Ungava Bay, Hudson’s Bay, and later on, in Labrador. Around the year 1500, about 3 000 Inuit people lived in Northern Quebec and in Labrador.
The first inhabitants of this territory successfully adapted their lifestyle to the difficult environmental conditions of the Great North. Depending on the seasons, they ensured their sustenance by hunting terrestrial and aquatic mammals (such as muskox, caribou, whales, seals, and walruses), as well as fishing and gathering.
The Inuit developed many ingenious tools and strategies to deal with the difficulties associated with living on their territory. They developed various means of transportation, like kayaks, other boats called oumiak, and qamutik (dog sleds). They invented dwellings, (like igloos), clothing (like snow goggles), and other items that were essential for survival, (such as a Qulliq, a kind of oil lamp made of soapstone). Because of their history, their lifestyle, and their traditions, the Inuit are quite different from other Indigenous peoples living in southern Quebec.
The Inuit lifestyle changed when they came into contact with Europeans, but their inhabitants were less affected than other Indigenous peoples living in southern Quebec. In 1980, there were still 5 000 Inuit living in northern Quebec.
At the end of the 15th century, the Inuit had encountered European explorers, fishermen, and hunters. They named these foreigners Qallunaat, which means “bushy eyebrows.” At that time, the meetings between the Inuit and Europeans were brief. They lasted only long enough to barter.
When trading posts were established in the 18th century, contact between the Inuit and European merchants and missionaries, who wanted to convert the Inuit to Catholicism, became more and more frequent. The traditional lifestyle of the Inuit began to change. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Inuit became more and more dependent on the materials that they traded their furs for at the trading posts. Though they were traditionally nomadic people, starting in 1950, they became more and more sedentary and began to establish permanent villages.
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