Historical Events

Dr Hutton: I have not seen or heard of a case of malignant new growth in an Eskimo.

Health Conditions and Disease Incidence among the Eskimos of Labrador

I shall quote and summarize the view Dr. Hutton held in 1925 as to the relation of the former Labrador way of life to cancer, to certain other diseases of which he found no case, and to health in general. Most of the following quotations are from Dr. Hutton's Health Conditions and Disease Incidence among the Eskimos of Labrador.

Under the section heading, “Some Diseases Not Observed,” page 35, Dr. Hutton says:

“Some diseases common in Europe have not come under my notice during a prolonged and careful survey of the health of the Eskimos. Of these diseases the most striking is cancer. I have not seen or heard of a case of malignant new growth in an Eskimo. In this connection it may be noted that cookery holds a very secondary place in the preparation of food — most of the food is eaten raw, and the diet is a flesh one; also that the diet is rich in vitamins. The nomadic and open-air life may also play a part.

“I have not seen rickets among the Eskimos, though it occurs rather frequently among the children of European residents ... most European mothers resident on the Labrador coast find themselves unable to suckle their babies — the breasts are full of milk for a few days after birth, and then the supply ceases — the result, no doubt, of the preponderance of tinned and dried foods in the dietary of the European residents. The Eskimo mothers suckle their babies often for two years; the milk supply is plentiful, and the babies grow fat and strong, able to walk at eleven months ...

“I have never observed true asthma in an Eskimo ... Disease of the Fallopian tubes appears to be rare ...

“Appendicitis is another of the diseases which rarely appear among the Eskimos. I have seen one case in a young man, but in one living on ‘settler’ dietary; among the real meat eating Eskimos I have found no record suggestive of the occurrence of this disease ... The settler dietary consists of tea, bread, ship's biscuits, molasses, and salt fish or pork.”

Scattered through Dr. Hutton's writings are references to other diseases, omitted from this section, which were noted by him during the 1902-13 period but which were found only among white settlers or among Eskimos whose way of life had been influenced markedly by whites. Among these troubles scurvy and tooth decay are frequently mentioned.

Dr. Hutton says on page 9: “The Eskimo is meat eater; the vegetable part of his diet is a meager one ... Only the small black waterberry, empetrum nigrum, is eaten to any extent ... In spring the buds of the sedum roseum and the young shoots of the willow, salix argyrocarpa, are gathered and eaten. The Eskimos themselves cultivate no plants whatever, though in their inter course with missionaries they have shown a taste for garden produce, and eat what they can get. Turnips and cabbages are favorites, and are usually eaten raw; but only the few who work in the missionary households have any considerable share in this scanty garden produce. The dandelion, taraxacum, grows in plenty but is mt eaten by the natives. We may, therefore, say that the normal Eskimo dietary is poor in vegetable constituents.

“On the other hand, the native flesh foods are numerous, and of them all the flesh of the seal is most important and the most used ... Plain raw flesh is the Eskimo's favorite food; but seal's flesh is also eaten frozen (raw), dried in the open air without salt, boiled or even rotten ... The blubber, or outer fat of the seal, is usually eaten with the dried meat.

“Other flesh foods, less important because less plentiful than the seal's flesh, are walrus meat, caribou meat, bear, fox, and various birds. These are eaten raw or boiled.

“Fish is the staple food during the warmer part of the year. Trout and cod are to be had in plenty and are eaten either fresh (raw or boiled) or dried without salt. Salted fish is used by the English-speaking settlers in the southern part of the coast, and by the Eskimos who live in contact with them; but as a general rule it may be said that Eskimos do not use salt in their food ... mussels are gathered from the rocks in the spring, and sea-urchins are fished up from the sea bed in the autumn, and both of these are eaten raw.

“A certain amount of carbohydrate food enters the Eskimo dietary; the people obtain flour, ship's biscuits and molasses, and use these particularly when their native flesh foods are scarce. It should be noted that cod liver oil is used considerably; the natives dip their dried fish in it.

“To summarize ... the diet is mainly flesh and fish; vegetable foods are decidedly scanty.”

Longevity is touched upon in Health Conditions in several places. One such is page 17:

“Old age sets in at fifty and its signs are strongly marked by the time sixty is reached. In the years beyond sixty the Eskimo is aged and feeble. Comparatively few live beyond sixty and only a very few indeed reach seventy. Those who live to such age have spent a life of great activity, feeding on Eskimo foods and engaging in characteristically Eskimo pursuits ... Careful records have been kept by the missionaries for more than a hundred years ...”

(Further details of Labrador Eskimo length of life will be found in Chapter 14, “The Longevity of ‘Primitive’ Eskimos.”)

Page 18: “Perhaps the most striking of the peculiarities of the Eskimo constitution is the great tendency to hemorrhage ... young and old alike are subject to nose-bleeding, and these sometimes continue for as much as three days and reduce the patient to a condition of collapse.” Dr. Hutton says that menorrhagia and haemoptysis are also common.

Page 20: “Scurvy in its typical form is rare among the Eskimos. I have seen but one case of it in a pure-blooded Eskimo: and the fact that the other members of that woman's household show an unusually strong tendency to boils, abscesses and ulcers, leads me to attribute the scurvy to the adoption, in the case of that household, of a semi-European dietary.

“Seal's flesh, especially when eaten raw, has reputed anti-scorbutic properties. Certainly, when seal's flesh is plentiful the health of the Eskimos is good; and the tribe in the far north, who get very few berries or other forms of vegetable food, but who have seals all the year round, are free from true scurvy ...”

Page 21: “In passing, it is interesting to note the effect on the Eskimo of a European dietary adopted as a habit of life.

“On the southern part of the Labrador coast there are numbers of English-speaking settlers ... these poor folks live for the most part on tea, bread and salt fish or pork, and among them scurvy is common ... The Eskimos living among these settlers have to an extent adopted the ‘settler’ dietary instead of the normal flesh diet of the true Eskimos; and not only does scurvy occur among them in its typical form, but their physique is less robust than is that of their northern brethren ... They endure fatigue less easily, and their children are puny and feeble.”

In various places Dr. Hutton agrees with the common view that an important benefit from European contact is the decrease of childbirth mortality, both of mothers and of children. He considers tuberculosis to be probably of white introduction and to have been the worst killer during his time on the Labrador.

Page 66: “Europeanization, especially in matters of foods, is a detrimental influence of comparatively recent development, but an influence of great importance ... Hospital experience among the Eskimos has proved beyond doubt that the native foods are best suited to the native constitution ...”

We have gone so extensively into Dr. Hutton's views on the general health of the Labrador Eskimo, before and during his 1902-13 clinical experience, because of the impression derived from the total of his later writings — that he considered the extreme rarity or absence of native cancer, in which he believed, to be a by-product of an over-all good Eskimo health, which deteriorated with the advance of Europeanization.

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