Labrador Inuit, who sometimes refer to themselves as Labradormiut, have occupied most of the Atlantic coast of Labrador for thousands of years.
Labrador Inuit, who sometimes refer to themselves as Labradormiut, have occupied most of the Atlantic coast of Labrador for thousands of years. The Labradorimiut are direct descendants of the prehistoric Thule Culture whose communities throughout Canada's Arctic arctic and sub-arctic regions have been identified by archaeologists. In early historic times they were found from farther to the south, crossing occasionally to northern Newfoundland and travelling far into the Gulf of St Lawrence. The Labrador Inuit share a common language and cultural with the Inuit of the circumpolar region of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the Peninsula of Russia.
The Labrador Inuit appear to have made contact with European explorers, fishermen and whalers in the south of Labrador by the late 16th century.
In spite of frequent misunderstanding and bloodshed during the first few centuries of contact, intermittent trade was already well established when Britain acquired Labrador in 1763. The Inuit had obtained a wide variety of European goods, including wooden sailing boats, in exchange for their baleen (horny plates in the jaws of certain whales), sealskins and blubber. Until they obtained firearms in the 1780s, the Labrador Inuit tried to avoid contact with their sometimes hostile Aboriginal neighbours, the Innu, who had been armed earlier by French fur traders.
The traditional Labrador Inuit, who numbered about 1500 during the late 18th century. Many Inuit who migrated south were decimated by various contagious diseases, and their survivors were largely absorbed through intermarriage with European settlers. Traditionally, the early Inuit derived most of their livelihood from the sea. While coastal waters remained unfrozen (mid-June to mid-December), the men hunted walrus, beluga and seal from their kayaks. In late autumn they hunted the giant Greenland whale from their open skin-covered umiaks. During winter they hunted seals near the ice edge. Large winter houses made of sod, stone, timber and whalebones were usually shared by several families.
In 1973, the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) was formed to promote Inuit health and communities, and advance Labrador Inuit claims with Canada and Newfoundland. In 1977, the LIA filed a claim with the Government of Canada for rights to land and sea ice in Northern Labrador. After 17 years of negotiations, the Inuit land claims were settled in 1997. In addition to self-governance, the agreement provided the Labrador Inuit with surface title to 16 000 square kilometres of land, harvesting rights and shared rights to approximately 44 000 square kilometres, and a percentage of the Voisey Bay project.
Today the traditional territory of the Labrador Inuit is called Nunatsiavut, which means "our beautiful land" in Inuttitut dialect. In 2005, the Nunatsiavut Government was established and as a regional government within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it became it became the first Inuit region in Canada to achieve self-government.
Most Labrador Inuit now live in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik, settlements which were founded by Moravian missionaries in 1771, 1784 and 1896. Since the Second World War some Inuit have moved to the inland communities of Happy Valley and North West River. After Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949, services that were originally provided by Moravian missions became the responsibility of provincial and federal government agencies. As a result of government relocation projects in the 1950s, with many Inuit moving to Nain, there are no longer any permanent Inuit settlements on the coast north of Nain. Nevertheless, many people still travel north from Nain each summer to fish for arctic char, a source of earned income for the modern Labrador Inuit. Today there are five Inuit community governments in Nunatsiavut: Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale (the administrative capital) and Nain (the administrative capital).
See also Aboriginal People: Arctic.
C. Brice-Bennett, ed, Our Footprints Are Everywhere: Inuit Land Use and Occupancy in Labrador (1977); Tim Borlase, Labrador Studies: The Labrador Inuit (1993).