The Arctic has been called home by people for thousands of years. Today, the population is approximately four million, spread out more than one sixth of the Earth’s landmass. There are over 40 different indigenous ethnic groups and dozens of languages; the connection to the land they have inhabited, the language, culture and the traditional way of living is a common feature of these populations.
Reindeer herding, hunting, fishing, wild plant gathering and traditional industries are significant part of their lives. But in recent years indigenous peoples in the Arctic region have been facing some issues and dramatic changes. Industrialisation, social change and environmental problems such as climate change are the major difficulties to the people of the polar region. So, you’d better learn more about them, while they’re still here!
The Sami people, or Lapps, are indigenous people living in the north of Europe, in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The rights and general situation of these people is different in every country within which they live. They were suppressed in the past but today the authorities make an effort to create cultural institutions, promote their culture and language.
The Nenets are indigenous reindeer-herding people in north west Siberia, on the Yamal Peninsula, which has been their home for more than a thousand years. They lead a nomadic lifestyle, moving seasonally with the reindeer along ancient routes. Sadly these routes today are affected by the gas and oil industry.
The Yupik are a group of indigenous people of Alaska and the Russian Far East, related to the Inuit people. Traditionally they had a semi-nomadic way of life, following the environment’s seasonal variations. Fishing and hunting for sea mammals were the subsistence activities. Today the Yupik have also seen major changes. They live in modern houses with electricity in small towns with churches and schools.
Inuit communities are found in Canada, Northern Alaska, and Greenland. During the winter months Inuit lived in round houses made from blocks of snow, called ‘igloos’. They moved between summer and winter camps depending on where were animals to hunt. Even though many families today live in permanent settlements they leave these communities during the spring and summer to set up camps.
The Chukchi people live on the Chukchi peninsula in northeastern Siberia, Russia. Similarly to other Arctic nations they are also well adapted to the harsh environment with winter temperatures dropping as low as -65° F (-54° C). Traditionally they lived in tent-like houses called ‘yaranga’ and they have been herdsmen and hunters of reindeer. The Soviet-era caused major damage to the culture and environment of the Chukchi people.
The Yukaghir are indigenous people, also known as reindeer people living in East Siberia. They lead a nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle, hunting for deer, breeding reindeer as well as fishing. Their culture was based on ancient beliefs: ancestor worship and shamanism. These days the Yukaghir language is spoken by just a few dozen old men, the people and their language are close to being obsolete.
The Komi are indigenous peoples in northeastern Russia. The name “Komi” comes from the word “kam” meaning “large river” referring to the fact that they live around the basins of the Vychegda, Pechora and Kama rivers. They are the native inhabitants of the Komi Republic which was established in 1992.
The Yakuts are the indigenous people of the Republic of Sakha in Siberia, Russia. Yakut is the only language among the indigenous languages in Siberia, that is not declining. Every Yakut speaks the native language, there are magazines, newspapers, books published in it, even TV and radio programmes.
The Nganasans are indigenous people of Siberia. Living on the Taymyr Peninsula by the Arctic Ocean, they are the northernmost of the Samoyedic peoples. There are signs of early Nganasans from around 500 AD. Traditionally they led a nomadic existence following the herds of wild reindeer on their seasonal migrations up and down the Taymyr Peninsula.
1. Inuit of North Greenland
Greenland is a large island, much of it is icecap and nearly 90 percent of the island’s population is Inuit. The remote community of Quaanaaq is the most northerly indigenous group in the world. The main occupation of the Inuit people are fishing and sea mammal hunting. They also hunt for polar bear and walrus. As the main food are sea mammals and fat such as seal, walrus, whale and sometimes polar bear too.