The Arctic climate zone covers the northernmost parts of the Eurasian and North American continents, including Greenland and regions of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Scandinavia. It is characterized by long, harsh winters and short, intense summers. The poles experience strong seasonal variations in the length of day and night. The landscapes of the Arctic zone vary remarkably during the year, alternately snow covered and grass laden, blanketed in permafrost and filled with wildflowers, thick with frozen sea ice and rolling with slate-blue waves.
The Arctic is home to about four million people, both indigenous and more recently arrived from southern regions, living in towns or on the land as hunters, fishermen, herders, or, most commonly, some combination of these occupations. The Arctic indigenous peoples have distinct but sometimes related languages and cultures. The largest groups are the Inuit (Eskimo) peoples of Greenland, Alaska, Canada, and northeastern Siberia; the Athabascan groups in Alaska and Canada; the various Siberian peoples, such as the Yakut or smaller groups like the Nganasan and Nivkh; and the Saami (Lapps) of northern Scandinavia. Traditionally, these indigenous peoples maintained a subsistence lifestyle, and their social lives, economic practices, and spirituality were interconnected with the unique Arctic seasonal cycle and its daily weather conditions. Despite numerous changes, both cultural and environmental, Arctic life remains strongly interconnected with climate.
The Arctic region is politically, economically, and socially integrated with varying success into eight nation-states (the United States, Canada, Iceland, Denmark [including Greenland and the Faroe Islands], Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia). Arctic peoples are now linked to the global market economy as citizens of countries with national and international policies on resource development, trade, biodiversity, and animal rights. However, indigenous political, economic, legal, and social practices at the local level often operate on principles different from those of the relevant nation-states. A new generation of indigenous leaders now works within institutional contexts such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council to link community practices and issues to those of the wider world. These leaders actively pursue mutually satisfying governance strategies and means of managing change while trying to mitigate the potentially disruptive impact of national and international policy on indigenous hunting, herding, fishing, and gathering practices.
Last Updated: 1/25/07