Scholars have defined the Subarctic Culture Area as territory stretching across northern latitudes from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. It covers a vast region, including most of present-day Alaska’s and Canada’s interior.
What is termed the Northern Forest, or taiga, filled mostly with evergreen trees—pine, spruce, and fir, with some birch, aspen, and willow as well—grows in the subarctic. Since there is relatively little topsoil for deep root systems, the trees of the taiga are generally scraggy and short. The northern edge of the taiga borders the treeless tundra of the Arctic.
The Northern Forest is broken up by a network of inland waterways. Some of the largest lakes are the Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, and Lake Winnipeg. Some of the largest rivers are the Yukon, Mackenzie, Peace, Saskatchewan, Red River of the North, and La Grande. There are thousands of smaller lakes and rivers, plus many ponds, streams, and swamps. In the western part of the subarctic, the rolling taiga and swamplands give way to highlands—the northern part of the Rocky Mountain chain, the Yukon Plateau, and the British Columbia Plateau.
The climate of the subarctic is fierce. Winters are long and severe. During the seemingly endless stretch of cold weather, deep snow covers the woodlands, and thick ice covers the lakes. The summers are short. During warm weather, mosquitoes and black flies breed in the swamplands.
The subarctic is home to abundant wildlife. Large mammals include caribou, moose, musk oxen, bear, and deer. Small mammals include beaver, mink, otter, porcupine, rabbits, and squirrels. Moreover, there are many species of birds, especially waterfowl, and fish.
Subarctic Indians were nomadic hunter-gatherers who traveled in small bands. The most common type of house was a small cone-shaped tent covered with animal hides. Lean-tos of brush and leaves were also fairly common, especially in the western part. Subarctic Indians did not farm.
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