Arctic Region

artic map

The Culture

The people of the Canadian Arctic are known as the Inuit. They used to be called Eskimos, which came from a Native American word for 'eater of raw meat'. Now the Arctic people are officially known as the Inuit, which means 'the people', or singularly, Inuk, which means 'the person'.

The region known as the Arctic Culture Area extends more than 5,000 miles, from the Aleutian Islands in present- day Alaska to Labrador in Canada. Although most of it lies in northern Alaska and northern Canada, the culture area also includes territory in Siberia (part of Russia) to the west, as well as in Greenland (part of the Kingdom of Denmark) to the east. The Arctic Culture Area touches on three oceans—the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic.


The climate of the Arctic is fierce. Winters are long and bitterly cold, with few hours of sunlight. In the northernmost latitudes of the Arctic, beyond the Arctic Circle, the Sun never rises above the horizon for part of the winter. Likewise, for part of the summer, the Sun never sets below the horizon, resulting in the phenomenon known as midnight sun.


During the long winter, the land is covered by ice. The subsoil never thaws, remaining frozen all year round, in a state known as permafrost. When the surface ice thaws during the short summer, the water does not drain, but forms numerous lakes and ponds along with mud and rising fog.


The Arctic Ocean freezes over in the winter, then breaks up into drift ice during the summer thaw. The Arctic is actually a frozen desert, having little precipitation. Arctic blizzards are not characterized by huge amounts of snowfall. Rather, gale-force winds stir up what surface snow already exists, forming snowdrifts.


The Arctic’s land environment is called tundra. Because of the cold climate and permafrost, the tundra is treeless. Little vegetation grows other than mosses, lichens, and stunted shrubs. Most of the tundra consists of rolling plains. In the western part, there are some mountains, the northern reaches of the Rockies.


Wildlife in the Arctic includes sea mammals, such as whales, walruses, seals, and sea lions; saltwater and freshwater fish; seagulls and other birds; polar bears; and caribou. These, along with other fauna appearing in certain locations on the tundra in summertime, such as rabbits, rodents, and owls, provided subsistence for Arctic peoples, who could not practice farming that far north. Arctic peoples migrated when necessary to obtain food.


northern familyThe inhabitants of the Arctic came later to North America than did other Native peoples. They came from Siberia in boats, starting about 2500 B.C., whereas the other Native peoples traveled over the Bering Strait land bridge. Arctic peoples are generally shorter and broader than other Native North Americans, with rounder faces, lighter skin, and epicanthic eye folds, the small fold of skin covering the inner corner of the eyes that is typical of Asian peoples. As a result, Arctic peoples generally are not referred to as Indians. One sees instead phrases such as Native peoples and Arctic peoples.


Arctic peoples include the INUIT and the ALEUT.The Inuit formerly were called Eskimo, a name applied to them by ALGONQUIANS and meaning “eaters of raw meat.” Inuit means “the people.”


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"I think over again my small adventures
My fears, those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things I had to get and reach
And yet there is only one great thing

The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world."



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