The Eskimos, or Inuit, as they prefer to be called, are a population originally from Greenland and the subarctic regions of North America. Today they number around 150,000, and live in Alaska, Greenland, Northern Canada and Siberia. The Inuit are generally short and stocky.
They have the typically Asian facial features, with the addition of several characteristics that help them adapt to freezing climates, including an elongated nose, allowing them to warm up air as they breathe in, and more adipose tissue on the face, protecting it from the cold.
Inuit society is organized into tribes, formed in turn by families that are almost always monogamous and small. Their social structure is based on mutual support among villages of the same tribe, and property is mostly collective. In April 1999 the new Inuit territory Nunavut was born. Nunavut is part of the Canadian Federation and has an autonomous administration. Sexual customs among the Inuit are particularly liberal for both men and for women, who are highly regarded in society.
The Inuit strongly disapprove of aggressiveness, and those who commit serious crimes are punished by exclusion from the group. Controversies are sometimes solved by means of “singing duels,” which are won by whoever does a better job of publicly ridiculing his or her adversary. The Inuit are well known for their igloos, dome-shaped shelters built with blocks of ice. These constructions are typical of Canada, whereas in other regions traditional Inuit shelters are tents in the summer and wooden or stone huts in the winter. Nowadays, many Inuit live in modern homes.
Inuit support themselves by fishing and hunting, mostly seals, walruses and caribous. While many use motorboats and snowmobiles, traditional canoes and dogsleds are still popular. The Inuit believe that a living spirit resides in everything we see, and therefore shamans, who communicate with these spirits, play a very important role in Eskimo society. Among Inuit populations, art is mostly expressed through handicrafts including ceremonial masks, jewels, ivory objects and decorated skins. The most well-known contemporary Inuit are Pitseolak Ashoona, a painter; Susan Aglukark, a singer and songwriter who combines Inuit tradition and pop music, and Zacharias Kunuk, a film producer and director. His recent film Atanarjuat was the first Canadian film in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people.