History of the Labrador Inuit
Content provided by: Adrian Tanner, Professor, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Inuit at Nain - Labrador Institute photo
The present-day Labrador Inuit come from a culture known to archaeologists as Thule. They arrived in Labrador from the north only shortly before the Europeans, in the late 15th Century. There had been earlier Inuit peoples in the region, the so-called Dorset and the Paleo Eskimo, who lived both in Labrador and on the island of Newfoundland. The Inuit lived by hunting marine and land animals, and were remarkably well adapted to their distinctive northern environment.

The Labrador Inuit have a fascinating history, in many ways unique among Canadian Inuit groups. They settled further south than most other Inuit groups, and had limited access to trees. Most Canadian Inuit did not come into regular contact with Europeans until the 20th Century, through the fur trade. However, the Inuit of Labrador began these contacts in the 1760s, when the Moravian mission established settlements among them. The Moravians combined Christian mission work with trade for furs and other Inuit products. Labrador Inuit culture includes some early Moravian influences, for example in the language and in music. Eventually the northernmost Moravian settlements of Killinek, Ramah, Zoar, Okak, Nutak, and Hebron were closed, the latter two in the 1950s, with the people resettling in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik.

The Labrador Inuit are also unique in Canada due to intermarriages with Europeans. This began in the 19th Century, in the communities of the north coast, who now form the Labrador Inuit Association. But Inuit-European intermarriage also occurred in southern Labrador and upper Lake Melville, and descendants in these areas now form the Labrador Metis Nation.

A third unique feature is their relationship to government. Unlike other Canadian Inuit, who, prior to self-government, came under federal jurisdiction, Newfoundland took over administration from the Moravians before Confederation, and this arrangement has continued, with some federal support. The Labrador Inuit Association formed in 1973 now has a land claim settlement, and increasingly the approximately 4,000 Inuit are managing their own affairs. Efforts are now under way among the Inuit to preserve their language and culture.
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