Category Archives: Arctic


#15 Tribal Life
     (Julian Bilby, 1923)

 …now the time has come to get ready for a very big annual enterprise indeed—the great deer hunt, upon which the fortunes of the tribe will turn for months. If the Eskimo lay up little store of food, they accumulate all the hides they can for winter clothing. For several weeks before the start is made, stores of meat are prepared, slices of seal cut and spread on the rocks, or hung on lines in the sun to dry. Plies of moss and cotton plant are collected and dried for the winter’s supply of lamp wick. Sealskins are cleaned and stretched and dried for clothing, boot soles, boat coverings, and water buckets; intestines are inflated and dried for sail cloth and material for making windows. The dogs are outfitted with sealskin panniers for transport purposes. The trek ahead of the tribe is a long and laborious one. They will journey for days by water up the rivers, and climb long ranges of hills and cross many valleys, before they reach the interior and the pastures of the deer. Each man, woman and child must shoulder his own pack, for none can carry a double load. And so, it often chances, comes the tragedy of old and enfeebled age.

Seorapik was an octogenarian. Her hair was grey and her back was bent. She had managed, somehow, the previous year to carry her belongings on the long, long trail, and stumble along after the tribe. But at last the bitter fact forced itself upon her that she could follow the hunters no more. She must stay behind—alone. She could no longer carry her load nor keep pace with the folk on the way, and none might carry her. She had alternative but to remain in the deserted village and await the tribe’s return.

Now Seorapik, like every other Eskimo, was an intensely sociable being. She loved nothing so much as to hear laughter and jokes about her, and to be in the thick of all the village talk and doings. As she faced the prospect of the long lonely weeks ahead, in the lifeless silence of the empty camp, with the days growing ever shorter and colder, without a soul—except perhaps a child—to bear her company, her heart quailed and grew very heavy. There was the danger, too, of attack by wolf or bear, and of sickness coming on—and death. Death, all alone! True, they would leave her a plentiful store of food—the good village folk—and lots of skins; but what comfort could these afford her in their absence?

But the law of the North is stern and immutable. They knew it—those sons and daughters of hers, and all their sons daughters. They grieved for Seorapik, and remember her many acts of kindness to each and every one of them, and her life of cheery toil spent wholly in their service. They had a custom to be sure—but it was hard to endure it when it came face to face. A familiar custom, designed to meet such as case as this; but a heartbreaking one, all the same. Seorapik remembered it, too, and was the first to summon the courage to announce it.

She proposed to bid the tribe goodbye rather than let it take leave of her. Her time to go on the long, lone journey from which none ever returned could not be far off in any case. She decided to anticipate it. She could not face seeing her folk load up the packs, start out on the trail, without her, and disappear over the hills. She could not contemplate the intense loneliness that it would all mean, and miss the laughter of the children, and even the rough and tumble among the dogs. So the dread subject was broached to her son.

He gave his assent. Itteapik announced the decision to the villagers, and they came to help with the preparations for Seorapik’s death.

A rough, round igloo was built, and the old woman withdrew into it, taking her few belongings, escorted by all her kindred and friends. They encouraged her to the last with every kindly and sympathetic thing they could think of to say. She braved it out, and, with her cheery but quavering goodbye still in their ears, her loved ones blocked up the entrance to the little death chamber in such a way that no dog or wolf might break in.

And there she sat down slowly and willingly to starve to death, quite happy so long as her children continued to come from time to time and call to her from outside, and tell her all that was going on, every single little thing that happened… She never asked for food or drink; they never gave it… She never wanted to come out; they never moved a stone… She simple had to go. Their part was to make her last days, her last hours, as happy as they could, simply by being there—quite close—outside.

Then the time came when the feeble voice just ceased to make one more response. She had gone on her own long journey first, to the land where parting would be no more, nor the fear and sadness of it. Her last hour had been happy ones, cheered by the sounds of the village life, the cries and gurgles of the babies, the shouts and cat-calls of the boys and girls, the murmur of men and women talking over their accustomed tasks. She had no loneliness to bear, after all, no desolation, no silence. The old Eskimo died with a smile of love and contentment on her face, with a long record behind her of woman’s good and motherly work, of a humble, “primitive” life indeed, but lived according to what light she had—and so into the better life beyond.

There was Nandla (the spear), too, the blind hunter, who also went to death under the lash of arctic circumstance. The incident took place nearDavis’ Strait, and was related to the writer by one who had witnessed it. Again, the inexorable law of the wild left one handicapped as Nandla was no choice. The man was comparatively young, but by reason of his blindness useless to himself and a burden upon others. In a hungry land, where every extra mouth to be filled represents a problem, there is no room for one who cannot provide for himself. The severity of the code of the North is very great. It cannot be judged by the ordinary standards of humanity.

Spring was at hand—the joyous spring of the arctics. The days were lengthening and the seals increasing in numbers. They were coming up from the south for the breeding season. In the village all was life and bustle. The hunters were full of preparations, and the dogs scarcely less so. The boys were loading the sleds and harnessing the teams. One by one, each hunting outfit glided off over the frozen ground, out towards the bay.

Outside his snow house sat Nandla, the blind hunter, listening to every sound and seeing every detail in his mind’s eye. His heart was heavy as lead. In his younger days he, too, had gone forth just like these others, to spear the season’s catch, and come home rejoicing with a heavy sled. But repeated attacks of snow blindness (despite his wooden snow goggles) had destroyed his sight; and here he was, in early middle age, a useless hopeless, helpless man, tied to the house, dependent upon his folk for food and clothing, and a drag upon them all.

Each night, as the hunters came home, the whole tribe gathered as usual round the cooking pots, when the excitements and doing of the day would be discussed with no less gusto than the food. Nandla always had his place in the family circle, and eagerly drank in every word the hunter had to say. He longed to hunt again, himself; to bring back the kill, to see the children come pushing into his house for their share, and to bid his wife give generously to the aged and the destitute! In his mind he pictured it all: the village nestling in the bay, huge, snow-clad cliffs rearing up at the back of it, and overhead the pure blue of the bright sky, where the glaucus gulls wheeled and cried. He pictured the scavenger ravens perched about everywhere, on the look-out for bits; the vast expanse of the frozen bay, glaring white in the cold sunlight; and beyond, a heavy black mist smoking up in the wind, marking the water line. Out there were the hunters—mere dots—moving about in the still immensity.

And here was he—Nandla—idle and useless, unable to occupy himself even with such tasks as fell to the ancients of the tribe—the repairing of lines, harness, and weapons. He could not patch up a snow house any more, or trim a lamp! Often, during the months of severe weather and of scarcity his relations had been hard pushed to find the wherewithal to feed him or clothe him. Nandla was very wretched.

At length, one evening, after just such a bad spell of weather and of luck, Nandla begged to be taken out on to the hunting grounds. Now, his relatives had been thinking things over rather grimly, and had seen nothing ahead for him but long years of misery and possibly of want. The problem suggested but one solution. It was simple enough. This request of the blind man’s to be equipped once more for the hunt and taken along with the rest, gave them their opportunity. They fell in with his desire and made their plan. They knew of a certain rout where danger lay. Nandla should be taken that way.

It was neither treachery nor murder they planned, but an end for the afflicted man of his anxieties and griefs. Nandla set out that morning full of delight. His heart was full of unwonted excitement. He yelled to the dogs and bumped and glided over the ice on the sled with a long missed sense of exhilaration.

They soon reached the grounds. Nandla’s guide seized his hand and led him towards a gaping seal hole.

“Follow me!” he said, dropping the other’s hand and lightly stepping to one side.

“I follow!” replied the sightless man, and straightway fell into a hole.

He went right under, then and there—under the ice—and was immediately drowned and frozen. A handy piece of ice served to seal the death trap, and all was over. Nandla had died on the hunt, and had entered the Eskimo heaven like the other valiant men of his tribe, and taken his place with the doughtiest of them, where there would be joy and plenty for evermore.

[#15] Julian W. Bilby, Among Unknown Eskimo (London: Seeley Service & Co., Ltd., 1923, pp. 147-53);

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#12 Those Who Were Left Behind
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-1924)

The communism which necessarily prevails in Eskimo society in order that all can manage to exist renders it a duty for the family to care for all helpless persons; among such are reckoned fatherless children, widows or old men and women who on account of age are no longer able to keep up with the rest on the constant hunting expeditions. In the absence of immediate relatives, the village as a whole is charged with the care of those who are unable to provide for themselves. But although such might often be inconceivably modest in their demands, they might sometimes be left to their fate. This applies more especially to old women, who could no longer render any useful service. Often pure heartlessness was the cause, but it might just as often be the severity of the struggle to make ends meet, which forced the head of a household to restrict the number of mouths to be fed, in times of scarcity, when despite all efforts he could not even procure food enough for those nearest of kin. Orphan children were blocked up in snow huts and left there, buried alive. They were called “mato˙ruƒ˙ät”: “those who have been covered up.” Old and worn out folk would be left behind on the road when unable to keep up with the rest on a journey: one day the old creature would lag behind, and be left, in the track of the sledges, no one troubling to fetch the laggard in to camp when the snow huts were built. These were called “qimatät”: “those who were left behind.” Sometimes also, the party would simply neglect to take them along when first setting out from the old site, and they might then freeze or stave to death—often a lingering death, unless they chose to hang themselves rather then suffer so long. But though the severe conditions of life were responsible for these cruel customs, it was nevertheless always reckoned a shameful thing to be guilty of such heartlessness. And the stories, which have always a moral touch, and point very clearly the difference between right and wrong, generally provide some miraculous form of rescue for such unfortunates, with a cruel and ignominious death for those who abandoned them…

[#12] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 159-60.

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#11 Death, and Life in the Land of the Dead
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-24)

…No Eskimo fears death in itself, for all are convinced that it is merely the transition to a new and better form of life. But as mentioned elsewhere, there is also this mystery connected with the soul, that as soon as death has deprived it of the body, it can turn upon the living as an evil and ruthless spirit. The soul of a good and peaceable man may suddenly turn into an evil spirit. There is therefore much intricate taboo associated with death…

…After death, there are two different places to which one may pass either up into heaven to the Udlormiut, or People of Day: their land lies in the direction of dawn, and is the same as the Land of the Moon Spirit. The other place to which the dead may come lies down under the sea. It is a narrow strip of land, with sea on either side: and the inhabitants are therefore called Qimiujârmiut: “the dwellers in the narrow land.” The immigrant Netsilingmiut call them Atlêt: “those lowest down,” for they live in a world below the world in which we live.

Here also dwells the great Sea Spirit Takánakapsâluk.

As already mentioned, persons dying by violence, whether through no fault of their own or by their own hand, pass Udlormiut: those dying a natural death, by disease. go to Qimiujârmiut. Life in the Land of the Dead is described later under Shamans. It is pleasant both in the Land of Day and in the Narrow Land. ..

Some hold that all dead persons, whatever the manner of their death, go first to Takánakapsâluk, who then alone determiners where they are to dwell; those who have lived a good life without breach of taboo are sent on at once to the Land of Day, whereas those who have failed to observe the ancient rules of life are detained in her house to expiate their misdeeds, before being allowed to proceed to the Narrow Land. The dead suffer no hardship, wherever they may go, but most prefer to nevertheless to dwell in the Land of the Day, where the pleasures appear to be without limit. ..

Anyone having relatives among the Udlormiut and wishing to join them after death, can avoid being sent to the Qimiujármiut: the survivors must then lay the body out on the ice instead of burying it on land. Blocks of snow are then set out round the body, not stones, as on land. Often indeed, a small snow hut is built up over the body as it lies. But it is not everyone who can reckon on their surviving relatives’ or neighbours’ taking all this trouble, and in order to make sure of coming to the Udlormiut, the best way is to arrange one’s death oneself. This was done not long since by an old woman named Inuguk, of Iglulik. Her son had perished while out in his kayak, and as she did not live in the same village herself, the news did not reach her until the winter was well advanced. She was old and without other relatives, and could not be certain that others would comply with her wishes when once she was dead; she therefore cut a hole for herself in the ice of a big lake and drowned herself there in order to join her son.

Another example is likewise recorded from Iglulik: an old woman was frozen to death during a severe winter with scarcity of food. When her son learned the news, he went out one cold winter’s night and lay down naked in the snow and was frozen to death himself. This he did because he was very fond of his mother, and wished to live with her in the Land of the Dead.

These suicides, however, had some special reason for taking their own lives. The Eskimos’ fearlessness of death is more powerfully illustrated in the case of the many old men and women who ended their lives by hanging themselves. This is done probably not only because the Moon Spirit says that the whole thing is but a moment’s dizziness, but possibly also because of an ancient belief that death by violence has a purifying effect.”. . .

[#11] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 92-97.

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#10 The Moon Spirit
     (Knud Rasmussen, 1921-24)

The Moon Spirit, Aningâp or Tarqip inua, lives with his sister Seqineq in a double house (a house with two apartments but one common entrance) up in the land of the dead in the sky, the same which is called Udlormiut or the Land of Day. Human beings who perish by drowning in the sea or in a lake, go to dwell with the moon; so also those who are killed by their fellows openly or unawares, those who take their own lives out of weariness or because they are old, and finally, all women dying in childbirth. Human beings going up into the sky enter at once into the eternal hunting grounds, and do not have to purify their minds by a year of penance, as with those who go down to the Sea Spirit. All are loth to go down to her for fear of the ill treatment meted out to them by her father Isarrataitsoq. A few of the greater shamans can also procure special admission to the Moon Spirit for the dead; this can be done in various ways, e.g. by means of amulets. It is said that the molars of a bear, consecrated by the prayers of a great shaman, are particularly effective in this direction.

The Moon Spirit is one of the great regulating powers of the universe which is not feared. Knowing the view of the East Greenlanders, who regard the Moon Spirit as the most terrible of the punitive deities watching over the deeds of men, I enquired particularly about this point, but was everywhere informed that no one feared the Moon Spirit, only the Sea Spirit was to be feared, and especially her father. The Moon Spirit, on the other hand, is the only good and well-intentioned spirit known, and when he does intervene, it is often more for guidance than for punishment.

People in danger can often hear him calling out:
“Come, come to me! It is not painful to die. It is only a brief moment of dizziness. It does not hurt to kill yourself.”

Thus the moon sometimes calls, and it is thus also regarded more particularly as the protector of those perishing by accident or suicide…

[#10] Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24) (Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1929): 73-74.

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(documented 1840-1940)

Eskimo of Diomede Island:

  1. Father and Son
    (Edward Moffat Weyer, 1932)


  1. Are the Aleut Prone to Commit Suicide?
    (Veniaminov, 1840)

St. Lawrence Eskimo:

  1. Notes on Eskimo Patterns of Suicide
    (Leighton and Hughes, 1940)


  1. Suicide as Shameful or Insane
    (Osgood, 1937)

Copper Eskimo:

  1. Death Taboos
    (Rasmussen, 1921-24)
  2. Suicide as Rare
    (Jenness, 1913-18)

Eskimo of Cumberland Sound:

  1. Man’s Two Souls: The Afterlife
    (Boas, 1883-84)

Caribou Eskimo:

  1. Moral Rights, Social Obligations
    (Birket-Smith, 1921-24)

Netsilik Eskimo:

  1. Famine; On the Treatment of the Aged
    (Rasmussen, 1921-24)

Iglulik Eskimo:

  1. The Moon Spirit
    (Rasmussen, 1921-24)
  2. Death, and Life in the Land of the Dead
    (Rasmussen, 1921-24)
  3. Those Who Were Left Behind
    (Rasmussen, 1921-24)

Hudson Bay Inuit:

  1. Desertion of Old Women
    (Turner, 1882-84, 1889-90)

Eskimo of Baffin Island:

  1. Theological Questions
    (Hall, 1860-62)
  2. Tribal Life
    (Bilby 1923)

Labrador Eskimo:

  1. Respect for the Aged
    (Hawkes, 1914)

Greenland Eskimo:

  1. The Old Woman and the Cliff
    (Nansen, 1893)

The native inhabitants of Arctic and sub-Arctic North America and the tip of northeastern Siberia include a wide range of groups, often loosely referred to as the Eskimo or the Inuit. Generally, these peoples had no name for themselves as a group, and terms for the complete population were given by outsiders. The word “Eskimo,” a name sometimes said to mean “eaters of raw meat,” is now often regarded as derogatory; more plausible etymologies trace the name from Montagnais, an Algonquian language, as “snowshoe netters” or “people who speak a different language.” The terms “Inuit” or “Yuit” (meaning “people” or “real people”) and “Inupiaq” are also frequently used. There is no universal term accepted in all regions: the terms “Eskimo” and “Alaska Native” are more frequently used in Alaska; “Inuit” and “Inuinnaq” in Canada; and “Kalaallit” or “Greenlanders” in Greenland. Names used in the sources presented here follow the original in each case.

Arctic groups are speakers of languages within two principal branches, the Aleut and the Eskimoan, which include among others the languages Yupik, Yuit, and Inuit. While there is ongoing disagreement about precise dates, most specialists believe that all Eskimo-Aleut groups moved across the Bering land bridge several millennia ago; after reaching Alaska, they first separated into Aleut and Eskimoan, and then the latter group separated into Yupik and Inuit; some Yupik groups then migrated back across the Bering at a later date. They are all primarily coastal groups. Arctic cultures spread from Siberia in the west, across Alaska and Canada, to Greenland in the east; the selections provided here are presented in approximately this geographical order. At the westernmost extent of Arctic habitation are the Siberian Eskimo and the Eskimo of the Bering Strait, a grouping that includes the inhabitants of the St. Lawrence and Diomede Islands, as well as the Aleutian Islands. Moving east and north, Eskimo groups are found in western, northern, and southern Alaska, as well as the Mackenzie Eskimo near the Canadian border. In north-central Canada, there are several groups including the Netsilik and Iglulik, along with the Caribou and Copper Inuit. Toward the east, there are the Labrador Eskimo and the Eskimo of Baffin Island. Finally, the Inuit of Greenland inhabit the easternmost portion of the western-hemisphere Arctic world. Many of the religious, social, psychological, and economic patterns of culture are relatively constant across these various groups, although important differences do exist.

Arctic peoples have persisted despite harsh climatic conditions. Winter temperatures across the areas inhabited average minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit; snow blankets the ground from September until June. Most groups live in coastal regions and have traditionally subsisted by hunting marine mammals, including seal and whale, as well as by fishing and hunting some land animals, like caribou.

It is believed that the first contact between Europeans and Arctic peoples occurred in southern Greenland around the 12th century A.D. as the Eskimo migrating south and east came into contact with Norse settlers (including Erik the Red). Friendly relations apparently deteriorated and conflict raged until the early 1400s, when the Norse disappeared somewhat mysteriously; the poor relations with the Inuit, climate changes, and trade difficulties all might have contributed to the demise of the Scandinavians in Greenland. Also, some have speculated that the Norse were assimilated by the native inhabitants (see, e.g., Nansen, 1911, and Oleson, 1963). The similarities that exist between the Viking and the Greenlandic conception of death by violence might serve to support this theory, or they may indicate some other sort of exchange of ideas and cultural values between the two groups.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Arctic peoples first came into enduring contact with Europeans. The Jesuits began missionizing in 1605; whaling ships and other vessels used routes along the coast; Henry Hudson arrived in 1610; and Hudson’s Bay Company opened its first trading station in Labrador in 1749. Europeans began fishing intensively off the coast in the late 1770s. Such contact initiated a cultural revolution among the Eskimo that continues today. Widespread interaction with Europeans began in the 18th and 19th centuries, and several American and European expeditions were sent to study Eskimo ethnology and archaeology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These include the famous Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–24) led by Knud Rasmussen, a Danish explorer and ethnologist born in Greenland who was himself half Inuit and spoke Greenland Inuit, as well as several Canadian dialects, and the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913–18) led by Diamond Jenness. Since the Eskimo were not a people who kept written records, the accounts of these early expeditions are the only way to access original Inuit beliefs; however, it must be remembered that these accounts are filtered through the lenses of outside observers who bring with them their own sets of assumptions and biases.

The Selections

A review of these early accounts indicates that suicide was a common practice among many Arctic groups, though Veniaminov (selection #2) voices skepticism about claims that the Aleut are prone to commit suicide and Jenness’s account of the Copper Eskimo (selection #6) argues that suicide is extremely rare. In some or many groups, individuals who were near the end of life, when they perceived their utility to the group as minimal, would seek suicide as a way to relieve their fellows of the burden of having to care for them. Examples of this seemingly altruistic type of suicide include Ernest W. Hawkes’s 1914 report on the Labrador Eskimo (selection #16), Kaj Birket-Smith’s description of the Caribou Eskimo, documented in 1921–24 (selection #8), and Julian Bilby’s 1923 observations of the Inuit of Baffin Island (selection #15). If these reports are accurate (though like all reports of oral cultures by outside observers, they may well be distorted by outside values and suppositions), this practice was probably linked to other Inuit activities, such as infanticide and abandonment of the elderly: under the inexorable conditions of the Arctic tundra, those who could not contribute were undesirable. The more unproductive members of the group understood this, it is said, and thus often participated in their own demise. Suicide, according to Foulks, was also believed to be able to save the life of another, often that of a sick child. Sometimes it is true, however, that death was forced upon a sick or aged individual—see, for example, the observations of Lucian M. Turner in 1882–84 (selection #13) and Rasmussen’s report on the Netsilik (selection #12).

It was commonly reported that family members assisted in the death of their relatives; sometimes this participation became highly ritualized and subject to taboo regulation—the St. Lawrence account of Leighton and Hughes (selection #3), who did pioneering fieldwork in ethnopsychiatry in the 1940s, exemplifies this tendency. The Diomede Islander who, according to Weyer’s 1928 report (selection #1), aided in the stabbing of his father demonstrates that in other Inuit groups, there was also a community and familial involvement, although at a less formalized level. Thus, among many groups, suicide possessed a strong public flavor. In many groups, hanging was the favored method, although regional variations did exist, including throwing oneself into the frigid seawater or exposing oneself to the cold.

Inuit conceptions of the afterlife may also have contributed to a readiness to commit suicide. Most Inuit groups are said to have believed in a continuance of the soul in an afterlife and in the existence of multiple destinations that a soul could achieve after death. Broadly speaking, the Inuit thought that the conditions of the soul after death depended, at least in part, on how the person died—whether by starvation, in childbirth, by sickness, or by accidental or intended violence. Violence was often seen as having a purifying effect on those that experienced it; therefore, death by violence—including suicide—often led to a placement in the better regions of the afterlife, as for instance in Hall’s report of the Baffin Islanders, 1860–62 (selection #14) and Hawkes’s 1914 report on the Labrador Inuit (selection #16). Turner’s field study (selection #13) and Boas’s report from the early 1880s (selection #7), however, demonstrate different beliefs for other Inuit groups. If, as certain Inuit groups asserted, how one dies is largely beyond one’s control, the lot of the soul is largely determined by accidents of chance. Suicide, however, would be one way a person could exert more control over his or her future state, and might, therefore, present an attractive alternative.

Rasmussen’s account of the intellectual culture of Iglulik Eskimo, documented during the Fifth Thule Expedition of 1921–24, contains a more detailed account of these religious influences (selection #10). The Moon Spirit, protector of all those who die violently and commit suicide, beckons the Inuit soul: “Come, come to me! It is not painful to die. It is only a brief moment of dizziness. It does not hurt to kill yourself.” The Moon Spirit, for this Inuit group, was a benevolent deity, offering to the Eskimo the hope of a pleasant afterlife. It should be noted that in this system, the honored souls go up, while in other groups, the preferred direction is down to warmer regions.

Although most writers suspect that suicide practices among Arctic peoples are of ancient origin, some disagree. Asen Balikci (1970) has argued that the suicides reported by the early explorers among the Netsilik Eskimo were largely (but not entirely) a product of greater societal upheavals during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, exacerbated by increases in emigration and the introduction of new technologies like firearms (and later intrusions such as radar stations) that disrupted traditional hunting schemes. As with accounts of all oral cultures, descriptions of native beliefs and practices are filtered through the often disapproving eyes of outside observers, although the early accounts of the Inuit are clearly not as distorted by the ideologies of colonizers and missionaries as, say, those of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca, or of various African groups. And some practices are dramatically altered in more recent times, presumably in response to European influences; see Osgood on the Ingalik, 1937 (selection #4), for responses to practices concerning abandonment of the elderly. In any case, caution is important in trying to determine the content and antiquity of beliefs and practices concerning suicide in Arctic cultures.

In contemporary times, suicide rates are high in many Inuit groups. Alcohol, unemployment, and the stress and social upheaval associated with loss of traditional cultural patterns and the challenges of adaptation to modern Alaskan and Canadian life are often blamed, though some researchers have suggested that the high suicide rate is due at least in part to cultural traditions in pre-contact times that accepted altruistic self-destruction—as, according to Leighton and Hughes (selection #3), apparently was the case among all Eskimo from Alaska to Greenland.

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