4 Things You Need to Know About the Inuit Cultures of the Arctic

Inuit culture has existed for thousands of years with tribes living on the Arctic coasts of several different countries including Greenland, Denmark, Canada, and the United States. In fact, the Inuit make up almost 90% of the entire Greenlandic population. They are one of the oldest cultures in the world and many still rely on traditional ways of survival. Here are four things you need to know about the Inuit cultures of the Arctic.

Don’t Call Them Eskimos

Photo of an Inuit person in traditional garb
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They much prefer to be called either Inuit or Inuk. Inuit is plural and Inuk is singular. Just like the word “Indian” to refer to Native Americans, the word "Eskimo" was coined by Europeans meaning “eaters of raw flesh.” While Inuit people do enjoy eating raw meat from time to time, it’s not hard to see why they don’t enjoy their unflattering European name. The word "Eskimo" is seen as a racial slur.

Inuit is a general term that means “people,” encompassing all native Arctic peoples. There are also several different tribes of Inuit that speak their own languages and have their own traditions scattered from Alaska to Denmark.

No Such Thing as “Eskimo Kisses”

Photo of a woman rubbing noses with a child
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Rubbing noses with a loved one is commonly referred to as an “Eskimo kiss.” While it may be cute, it is not a real display of affection for Inuit people but, instead, another misinterpretation by Europeans.

When explorers made contact with Inuit tribes, they witnessed them performing a kunik, which is a traditional greeting and show of affection typically between family members and loved ones. It involves pressing the nose and upper lip against either the cheek or forehead and breathing in. Even if they haven’t seen them for a long time, the smell of the loved one’s hair and skin reminds them of the good times and love that they have for one another. There is nothing romantic about a kunik, and it does not replace regular kissing in Inuit culture.

Igloos Aren’t Just Snow Domes

Photo of an igloo illuminated from within
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Fun fact: you live in an igloo. While many people believe that an igloo is strictly the small dome built with snow and ice, the word “igloo” actually just means a structure where people live. In some cases, an igloo is a dome made with snow and ice, though most of the time it just refers to a regular run-of-the-mill house.

Igloos in the stereotypical sense are not used as standard housing anymore, but they’re still occasionally used in long hunting or fishing trips. They remain a quick and easy way to provide reliable shelter in the Arctic.

They Like to Have Fun

Photo of Inuit teenagers laughing
Credit: BethWolff43 / iStockPhoto

Games play a major role in Inuit life. Not only are they used for purposes of entertainment, but they also prepare children for the physical and mental challenges of life in the Arctic. Games like one-foot high kick and seal hop are still common in Inuit schools and communities. There is even an annual event called the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in which tribes compete in traditional games.

Life in the Arctic is never easy, so it helps if you have a sense of humor. Despite living in such a remote part of the world, they still manage to keep up with current events and like to add their own flavor to some of the more popular worldwide trends like making an Inuit version of the famous Old Spice commercial. Having a good sense of humor is a simple way to make the hardships of living in such an unforgiving place seem a little easier.

The Tradition Continues

Credit: Lee Jorgensen / Shutterstock

Many traditions of ancient Inuit culture continue to this day and show little signs of stopping. Even with modern conveniences such as grocery stores and the internet, many Inuit tribes still rely on traditional customs to survive. Even their meat and fish-heavy diet has remained much the same through the years. We hope it can continue for another thousand.

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