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Inuit teenThe Inuit who live in the western Arctic regions of Canada are known as the Inuvialuit. These people lived, and still live, mainly on the shores of the Arctic Sea and on the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories. Traditional life for the Inuvialuit was spent hunting caribou, muskoxen, seals, fish, and beluga whales. In specific, caribou was an especially important source of food and clothing. The Inuvialuit lived in permanent villages along the Mackenzie River Delta, and traditional shelters included log and sod houses, tents, and snow houses. Caribou hunts would sometimes find the Inuvialuit venturing further south in pursuit of their game, and this would result in their occasional forays out of the Barren Lands and into the northern ranges of the northwest boreal forest.

The Inuvialuit encountered European explorers starting in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, the Inuvialuit had engaged in an indirect trade of furs with European traders through a northern tribe known as the Hare. This trade had become more direct between the Inuvialuit and the Europeans by the middle of the nineteenth century. Despite the trade efforts, the Inuvialuit remained fairly isolated from the Europeans as they only encountered them when Inuvialuit hunters and trappers travelled to Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading posts. This changed after 1889, when European whaling ships began to travel in the Arctic Sea.

Tunnel EntranceLike many other northwest Aboriginal Peoples, the presence of Europeans brought new trading opportunities, but it also brought disease, social vices like alcohol, and a forced encounter with the allies of the European whalers, the Nunatamiut, who added extra pressure on local caribou and other animal populations. By the early twentieth century, the populations of Inuvialuit had declined sharply. Through improved medical care and inter-marriage with the Nunatamuit People, the Inuvialuit of the present day number about 3,000, and still occupy their traditional lands. Through the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed by the Inuvialuit Peoples and the Federal Government in 1984, the Inuvialuit enjoy self-government on their traditional territorial lands.

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