The Inuit and Tuberculosis

The Inuit people is fascinating. Through their ingenuity, they remind us of the power of human adaptability. Their history vouches for the immeasurable determination to survive, but also, it goes back to the origin of all human society, to its inherent fragility. It attests to a coming together of two modes of life once unknown to each other, two ways of perceiving life, health, illness. The fantastic story of the Inuit certainly teaches us about their way of life, but it invites us also to reflect on ourselves, on the way we understand an ailing body and its treatment, on the effects that the imposition of an uprooted health system may have on another culture.
In this self-learning module, you will gain a better knowledge and understanding of the Inuit culture, but more importantly, you will discover the linkages between the northern tuberculosis epidemic and the colonization of the Inuit world by biomedicine. This epidemic will act as the gateway to better understand the sociocultural consequences that this illness and its treatment have had on the Inuit culture.

Medicine and Humanities modules focus on philosophy, ethics, history, arts and literature as they relate to the practice of medicine. Prepared by specialists in medical and human sciences, these modules aim to provide a basis of support for knowledge and reflection so that students and health care professionals are able to develop their vision of disease and care from a bio-psycho-social perspective within a wider field of knowledge.

The author


A former student of anthropology at the baccalaureate and at the master’s level, Patrick Foucault was always interested by intercultural relations and the health of indigenous peoples. After completing his medical studies at the University of Ottawa and his residence at McGill University, he pursued his dream to go work in the Arctic territory – in Iqaluit – where he currently practices medicine.



  • To gain a better knowledge of the Inuit people in Canada and of their historical relationship with tuberculosis
  • To understand the ‘concept of person’ and what it means in the context of the medical and social management of an ailing patient
  • To understand the linkages between colonization, tuberculosis and the advent of biomedicine among the Inuit
  • o reflect on the impact of colonization and of the introduction of an exogenous health system on the culture of the Inuit population



Throughout the module, we invite you to PAUSE AND REFLECT in order to reinforce what you have learned. Take the time to write down your answers and ideas. An answer is given by the expert to help you deepen and ground your reflection. It is not meant to challenge the value of your personal answer but is there to offer new directions.

We also invite you to take personal notes using the “Note Taking” tool on the right.

Subject matter expert: Patrick Foucault, MD
Concept Development and Project Management: Isabelle Burnier, MD, M.Ed
Editorial Committee: Jean Roy, MD, Diane Bouchard-Lamothe, M. Sc.S.
Programming and Graphic Design: Medtech, University of Ottawa
Production: Avril 2017