The name Inuit means "the people." The Inuit were a group of peoples that lived in the Arctic regions of North America and Greenland. Anthropologists believe the Inuit descended from the Thule Culture, a group of people who crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America, before spreading throughout the Arctic portions of North America
The Inuits were and are fishers and hunters. They hunted whale, seals, caribou, walrus, birds, and even polar bears. Despite the harsh Arctic climate, the Inuit were able to gather plants and fruits such as grasses, seaweed, and berries. Sea animals were hunted from single-occupancy, easily transported, sealskin boats called qajaq (now called kayaks). In winter, the Inuit would hunt sea animals similar to the way polar bears hunt, by patiently waiting at breathing holes for seals to emerge.
While many Inuit built igloos, others built homes out of whale bones and animal hides and insulated such homes with snow. When used as insulation for an igloo, the snow served to trap pockets of air within the igloo. Combined with the body heat of the inhabitants of the igloo, temperatures can be more than 100 degrees warmer inside an igloo that outside.
Igloos were built with wind-blown snow that was easily shaped and compacted into blocks. The gaps left in the ground when the ice blocks were removed would serve as the base of the igloo structure. Such "snowbricks" would be laid in stacked circles until a dome was created. The entrance of the igloo would be covered with animal skins to keep as much warm air in the igloo as possible. Sleeping quarters were little more than large, raised ice blocks covered with caribou skins. Additionally, the lighting of the igloo’s stone lamp would cause slight melting within the igloo. When the lamp was extinguished, a re-freeze would occur, providing stability to the igloo structure.
Dogs were an important part of Inuit culture. Dogs such as Canadian Eskimo Dogs, Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies were used as pack animals in the summer to drag supplies and to pull sleds in the winter. Such dogs also played an important role in hunting as they were experts in sniffing out seal breathing holes or in discovering and harassing polar bears. Inuit peoples would perform rituals upon the birth of new pups and would prick their noses with pins to enhance their sense of smell.
Inuit mythology related to the natural wonders of the Arctic. The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, were of particular mystery to the Inuit. Some believed that the faces of ancestors could be seen dancing within the swirling colors of the lights, while others believed the lights to be more deadly in nature. Still others saw them as hunting guides, healers, animal souls, or representations of giants. Inuit villages depended on shamans to interpret spiritual mysteries. These shamans (called angakkuq) also served as psychologists, healers, and fortune-tellers. Inuit peoples believed that all living things had powerful spirits and that the spirits of animals were equal to those of humans. Thus, if proper respect was not given to the spirit of an animal killed in the hunt, the Inuit believed its spirit would be able to avenge its death.