Inuit is a blanket term for indigenous peoples with similar cultures living primarily on the Arctic coasts of Siberia, Alaska,
the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador and Greenland. Until the last few decades, the culture throughout Inuit
range remained remarkably homogeneous, notably in the their reliance on fish, marine mammals and land animals for food, heat,
light, clothing, tools and shelter. Their language, sometimes called Inuktitut, is grouped under Inuit language or Eskimo-Aleut languages.
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference defines its constituency to include Canada's Inuit and Inuvialuit, Greenland's Kalaallit people, Alaska's Inupiaq and Yupik people, and Russia's Yupik.
However, the Yupik are not Inuit in the sense of being descended from the Thule and prefer to be called Yupik or Eskimo.
Canadian Inuit live primarily in the territory of Nunavut, Nunavik in northern Quebec, and in the Nunatsiavut settlement region in Labrador. The Inuvialuit live mostly in the Mackenzie River delta, on Banks Island and part of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. Alaskan Inupiaq live on the North Slope, while the Yupik live in western Alaska and a part of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Russia.
The whitecoat / blueback ban
In 1977, stores purchased 50,000 pelts from sealers in present-day Nunavut, for re-sale on the international market. Each pelt sold for approximately C$25. In 1988, only 1,000 pelts were bought, at C$5 each. What had happened to cause this catastrophic collapse?
Faced with intense lobbying efforts by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Greenpeace, in 1983 the European Economic Community imposed an import ban on the pelts of "whitecoat" harp seals (under 12 days old) and "blueback" hooded seals (under one year).
The Inuit of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut were exempt from the ban, and did not even hunt whitecoats as they do not occur in Arctic waters. The ban was ostensibly aimed at sealers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
But the Inuit of Canada and Greenland, who supplied the same markets, suffered nonetheless as the whole market for seal products collapsed. In fact, they were hit even harder than the targets of the ban, because of the higher percentage of their income that came from seal products.
With their capacity to trade for money servely impaired, Inuit communities suffered economic, social and political disintegration.
Prices began to edge up again from the mid-1990s, but as of 2007, they are once more threatened by fresh talk of bans in European countries.
Belgium banned all imports and marketing of Canadian seal products in April 2007, and the Netherlands is set to impose a similar ban in September. Germany and the UK are contemplating similar action. The US, Mexico, Croatia and Italy have already banned seal product imports.