The Cultural Side of an Arctic Tour

The peoples and cultures of the Arctic span several countries—including the Eskimo of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland; the Saami (or Lapps) of Scandinavia; the Nenets of northwest Russia; the Sakha (or Yakut) of Russia; and the Chukchi of Siberia. Despite the harsh climate it may surprise visitors on an Arctic tour to learn that people have been living in the Arctic for a millennia. In Siberia, for example, there is evidence of human presence as far back as 40,000 years ago. Humans first inhabited North America approximately 15,000 years ago, while Greenland was settled around 4,000 years ago.

Over the years, these peoples learned to adapt to the climate. When the area was first settled, people made houses from hides, whalebone, sod, driftwood, and snow. As resources are limited in the Arctic, those living there learned to make use of everything possible. When they hunted sea mammals such as seals, walruses, and land animals like caribou, reindeer, and musk oxen, they not only ate the meat, but used the bones, hides, wool, and blubber, wasting nothing. They made their shoes, clothing, their weapons, fuel, and their transportation from the animals they killed. Meat, however, was not their only sustenance. A number of edible plants and berries are found in the tundra, which helped to supplement the diet of meat and fish.

Today, on an Arctic tour you will notice that the peoples of the Arctic have added modern technology to their historic adaptation skills. While dog sleds, skis, snowshoes, and kayaks have largely been supplanted by snowmobiles and fiberglass boats, the traditional methods of transportation are still occasionally utilized. In the past century, many formerly nomadic peoples have settled into towns scattered across the Arctic. Despite the shift from the traditional way of life to a more modern one, many of the native people of the Arctic are still rooted to the land and the natural world. Preserving their ancient traditions is becoming increasingly important, and the people are hanging onto their culture by telling stories, passing on traditional hunting and survival skills, speaking their native languages, maintaining close family ties, and teaching traditional arts and crafts to the younger generations. The Inuit people, for example, make such lovely carvings from soapstone and turpentine that they have received international recognition.

Current issues for the indigenous people of the Arctic include making land claims for their ancestral territories, seeking to be represented in regional government, improving their quality of life through educational reforms, establishing an Arctic College, and promoting the region as a desirable travel destination.