Within the aboriginal Canadian population, there are many distinct cultural groups and nations. Inuit peoples, who are considered to be the “original inhabitants of the Arctic regions,” are one of them (National Collaborating Center for Aboriginal Health [NCCAH], 2013, p. 2). The total size of the given ethnic group is 59.445 individuals who mainly live across four traditional areas: Labrador, northern Quebec, Nunavut, and the Inuit Tapiritt Kanatami (NCCAH, 2013). In this paper, the focus will be made on the Inuit peoples living in Labrador.
Currently, there are five aboriginal communities located in northern Labrador. Statistics show that in 2016, their total population was 1.125 people (Nunatsiavut Government, 2017). About 70% of them speak Inuktitut, yet younger generations increasingly use it only as a second language (NCCAH, 2013). Forced acculturation and discrimination were the major challenges faced by the given ethnic group since the arrival of the first European settlers. According to Moses, Khan, Gauthier, Ponizovsky, and Dombrowski (2017), these factors largely defined present-day aboriginal health disparities, including substance abuse and the lack of access to high-quality healthcare. However, in 2005, an independent Nunatsiavut government was established, and it was a major step in the promotion and preservation of Inuit values and customs.
Hunting is one of the primary traditions for every Inuit family in which every member lives close to one another in an igloo. Not only such a lifestyle is a way of obtaining food in a harsh environment but also a means for the preservation of knowledge about the local ecosystem, interpersonal communication, and the transmission of tribal knowledge from elders to the young ones (Government of Nunavut ̶ Department of Environment, n.d.). While Inuit males usually play the breadwinner role, women are represented as home keepers. However, they are all involved in cultural activities and crafts such as making of clothes and footwear with animal skins and production of traditional qulliq lamps, which are frequently utilized during ceremonies and for the creation of a warm atmosphere within homes.
For a long time, the seal oil that Inuit families acquired during hunting was often implemented in healing practices. For instance, some elderly individuals in the community reported using it for skin protection, treatment of earaches and wounds (Ootoova et al., 2001). Additionally, moss was implemented to relieve the symptoms of heartburn, and puffballs were utilized as band-aids (Ootoova et al., 2001). Shamanic ceremonies continue to be an important element of traditional medicine. During them, shamans perform healing rituals to ward off evil spirits that may cause illness in someone. Additionally, ceremonies are conducted to thank the spirits of killed animals (Reeves, 2015). All these practices are in tune with traditional Inuit values: strong communal cohesion, respect for others and the environment, promotion of a positive atmosphere through openness and friendliness, et cetera (Reeves, 2015). Overall, these beliefs, rituals, and values are closely associated with animatism.
In my culture, we often use plants and herbs to alleviate the symptoms of various adverse conditions. However, chemical medicines have become more commonly used nowadays. At the same time, the Inuit healing tradition is more holistic in its qualities as it addresses the spiritual aspect of human lives and considers environmental factors, as well as their preservation. It means that Inuit peoples regard humans as part of nature and acknowledge that the deterioration of the ecosystem will inevitably lead to the worsening of the community and individual well-being. For this reason, when working with a person from a given cultural background, I will aim to evaluate the physiological, psychological, and spiritual levels of health, as well as the individual’s communal ties. In this case, the aboriginal culture may be utilized as a protective mechanism against various detrimental behaviors such as problem drinking, aggression, suicidal ideations, and many others.
Government of Nunavut ̶ Department of Environment. (n.d.). Culture & tradition. Web.
Moses, J., Khan, B., Gauthier, G. R., Ponizovsky, V., & Dombrowski, K. (2017). Confounding culture: Drinking, country food sharing, and traditional knowledge networks in a Labrador Inuit community. Human Organization, 76(2), 171-183.
National Collaborating Center for Aboriginal Health. (2013). An overview of aboriginal health in Canada. Web.
Nunatsiavut Government. (2017). Parliamentary report. Web.
Ootoova, I., Atagutsiak, T. Q., Ijjangiaq, T., Pitseolak, J., Joamie, A., Joamie, A., & Papatsie, M. (2001). Interviewing Inuit elders: Perspectives on traditional health. Web.
Reeves, G. (2015). Their values, traditions and beliefs. Web.