Inuit1 are Indigenous Peoples living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia. Inuit have lived and thrived in the Arctic for thousands of years. Traditionally they lived off the  resources of the land, hunting whales, seals, caribou, fish, and birds, and many Inuit continue to harvest  these resources today. Inuit existed prior to contact and Inuit is the accepted term for people who are  Indigenous and do not identify as First Nations or Métis.

The Inuit way of life and culture changed when Inuit made contact with European missionaries,  whalers, and explorers and later began participating in the fur trade. It changed again between about  1950 and 1970, when the Government of Canada moved many Inuit communities away from their  traditional “hunting and gathering” or mobile way of life on the land and into permanent, centralized  settlements.

Historically Inuit were referred to as “Eskimos” or “Esquimaux,” but this term is neither accurate nor  respectful and should not be used. The word Inuit (singular Inuk) means “the people” in the Inuktitut  language.

Frequently asked questions about Inuit

Map of Inuit Nunangat (Inuit Regions in Canada). From left to right: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut.
Fig 1.5: Map of Inuit Nunangat (Inuit Regions in Canada). Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

Where do Inuit live?  

Many Inuit live in communities across the northern regions of Canada, mostly along the Arctic coast, in Inuit Nunangat, which means “the place where Inuit live.” Inuit Nunangat consists of four regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region (northern Northwest Territories), Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador).

How many Inuit are there?  

Approximately 65,000 Inuit live in Canada, according to the 2016 Census. The majority live in Nunavut, with smaller  numbers in the other three regions of Inuit Nunangat, as well  as a small number living in urban centres in southern Canada.

Are Inuit First Nations?  

Canada’s Constitution (s. 35) recognizes three groups of Indigenous peoples – First Nations, Métis, and  Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices, and spiritual  beliefs. Inuit are distinct from First Nation and Métis groups.

What language do Inuit speak?  

The Inuit language is made up of a variety of dialects that vary from region to region. The Government  of Nunavut selected the term Inuktut to represent all Inuit dialects spoken in Nunavut, including Inuktitut  and Inuinnaqtun. However, even within Nunavut there are variations in pronunciation and vocabulary.

Do Inuit live on reserves?  

Inuit do not live on reserves, but in contemporary communities.

Do Inuit live in igloos?  

Inuit do not live in igloos. However, many elders still practice building igloos and pass on their knowledge to the younger generations.

Do Inuit have land claims?  

Yes, land claim agreements have been signed in all four Inuit regions:

  • Nunavik (as part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement) in 1975
  • Inuvialuit in 1984
  • Nunavut in 1993
  • Nunatsiavut in 2005

Under their respective land claim agreements, Inuit were granted title to certain blocks of land. These  four land claim regions cover about 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass.

Do Inuit pay taxes?  

Yes, Inuit are tax-paying citizens of Canada.

Who are Innu?  

Innu are a First Nation in eastern Canada. They are not Inuit.

Inuit culture

Inuit have lived on Nunangat (the land, water, and ice) since time immemorial and continue to do  so today. Cultural and oral traditions are based on sharing, co-operation, and respect for the land, the  animals, fish, and peoples.

Government and communities

Once the comprehensive land agreements were signed, governing organizations were formed to manage  land claim implementation: Nunatsiavut Government, Makivik Corporation, Nunavut Tunngavik  Incorporated, and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. The national organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (which means “Inuit are united in Canada”), holds permanent seats for Inuit Circumpolar Council,  Pauktuutit Inuit women of Canada, and the national Inuit youth council.

Most of the 53 Inuit communities across these regions operate as municipalities. The capital of the  Inuvialuit Settlement Region is Inuvik; the capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit; the capital of Nunavik is Kuujjuaq; and the capital  of Nunatsiavut is Nain. This interactive Google Map2 provides population density and images for each  community.


Regarded and respected as the knowledge keepers and advisors, Inuit Elders have seen their roles change  since contact.

As advisors, Elders ensured that everybody’s voice was heard in decision making to ensure survival.  Today, since contact and relocation, Elders now see themselves as the holders and teachers of their  language and values, as they only form about 2 percent of the Inuit population. They also have a voice  in research, as they have seen the rapid climatic changes to the land and animals.

Knowledge of the land, importance and continuance of family structures, and rites of passage is just  one of the contributions Elders make to maintaining Inuit communities today, using an oral tradition.

Knowledge of the land – Sila

Diagram of an Inuit grocery list. What traditionally is eaten at different times of the year.
Fig 1.6: Inuit Grocery List.

This diagram highlights Inuit knowledge (sila) of the movement of resources and changes to the land  and sea. This knowledge is passed on through oral traditions and time spent on the land. With the  resettlement of Inuit to different areas of the Arctic in the 1950s, this knowledge was disrupted. Research  on and revitalization of knowledge and traditions are ongoing. For instance, the Inuit Quajisarvingat  Knowledge Centre took 15 years to relearn the trail systems across Nunangat, from Lake Winnipeg to  the tip of Ellesmere Island. The resulting Pan Inuit Trails is an interactive atlas that is a knowledge  repository and an assertion of Inuit sovereignty.


There are numerous dialects of Inuktitut, with varying levels of speaker fluency. Dialects are nuances in  a language that reflect a specific location and community. Today, each regional governance organization  supports language learning in schools and communities to continue the use of the language in everyday life.

There are two styles of Inuktitut writing: syllabics and Roman orthography. Syllabics use symbols  to represent sounds rather than letters. Roman orthography uses the English alphabet to sound out the  words.

Media Attributions

Inuit Regions in Canada © Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license

Inuit Grocery List © Mike Beauregard is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license


  1. Interactive Google Map (


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Pulling Together: Manitoba Foundations Guide (Brandon Edition) Copyright © by Manitoba Foundations Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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