Rankin Inlet & The Inuit: Background information when reading Consumption

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Consumption

by Kevin Patterson

Consumption by Kevin Patterson
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2008, 400 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Rankin Inlet & The Inuit

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Rankin Inlet (picture) has a population of about 2,200. It is located on the 63rd parallel on the west shore of Hudson Bay (map) approximately 1,100 miles north of Winnipeg in the recently formed territory of Nunavut, which was officially separated from the Canadian Northwest Territories in April 1999.


A Short History of the Inuit
According to nunavut.com, the history of the Inuit begins in the southern Bering Sea (North Pacific) where, about 2 to 3,000 years ago, an ancient culture adapted their maritime hunting life to the seasonally ice-covered waters of the Bering Sea. Traces of settlements can be found complete with splendid carvings and there are indications that metal tools had largely replaced stone.

Between 1,500 and 1,000 years ago, some of these Inuit groups learned to hunt bowhead whales, the largest animals in the arctic seas. Large communities were established on points of land along the northern coast of Alaska where whales could be easily hunted as they migrated through narrow leads in the spring ice. About 1,000 years ago, some of these North Alaskan Inuit spread rapidly eastwards across arctic Canada and Greenland (around the same time that the Scandinavian "Vikings" attempted to settle Greenland - see The Thrall's Tale) displacing the previous Tuniit occupants of the region and establishing the first Inuit occupation of Nunavut.

About 500 years ago, Inuit culture in many parts of Nunavut underwent significant changes that correspond with the "Little Ice Age". Most of the High Arctic regions were abandoned and many groups gave up whaling to concentrate on hunting smaller sea mammals, caribou and fish. Unable to accumulate enough food to survive the winter in permanent villages they began to winter in igloo communities from which they could efficiently hunt seals through the ice. Around the same time, European fisherman, explorers, whalers and traders began to encroach on the Inuit lands bringing guns, cloth, metal, tools, alcohol, tobacco, religion and disease which were bartered for furs.

The Inuit are the last of the indigenous people of North America to come off the land. While they lived on the land, eating a primarily animal fat/protein diet, diabetes* was unheard of and heart disease was rare, but now they are fast catching up, or even overtaking, other indigenous groups.



*Worldwide, indigenous people suffer Type II diabetes at 2-5 times the rate of non-indigenous people, but scientists disagree on the reasons. One theory is the "thrifty gene hypothesis" that proposes that cycles of feast and famine have caused indigenous people's bodies to be particularly efficient at storing and using nutrients, a trait that is unsuited to a modern sedentary lifestyle with no shortage of calories. Other research indicates that genes are no more important to indigenous people than for anyone else and it is poor diet, reduced physical activity, stress and other factors associated with poverty that contribute to the high rates.

This article was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the July 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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