Despite outsiders may imagine the Arctic as an inhospitable and desolate land many areas of it are inhabited by humans since thousands of years. Living of the few resources that the earth and the sea offers at high latitudes in one of the most hostile place on earth these men are perfectly adapted to the environment. All the people who now inhabit the Arctic in some way descended from people who lived in central Asia and approximately 12,000 years ago began, following the ice retreat, move towards the north, originating all the modern ethnic groups that inhabit the Russia and then across the Bering Strait to the American continent, generating the Inuit culture. Today the Arctic is inhabited by about 4 million people, of which about 10% are indigenous.
Below we examine the different ethnic groups according to their geographical location.
The Russian Arctic total population is about 2 million people of which about 70,000 are indigenous.
There are many ethnic groups living in the Arctic territory of Russia, starting from the west we meet first the Saami in the Kola Peninsula, then the Nenets in the region with the same name, Nganasans, Dolgans and Evenks in Taymir, Evens and Yukagirs in Yakutia, Chukchi and finally Siberian Yupiks in Chukotka. Others live near the Arctic territories, including Komi, Khanty, Mansi, Kets, Selkups, Yakuts, Kereks, Koryaks and Aleuts in the Komandorsky Islands.
The primary source of subsistence for almost all the groups who live in mainland areas is the reindeer meat while those who are settled along the coast are involved in whales and marine mammals hunting.
The state of Alaska is the only one that extends into the Arctic. In general we can say that there are three main groups of natives: Aleut, Inuit and Indians. Only the Inuit inhabit areas that we can consider true Arctic. Among these are the Iñupiat, they live in the coastal region in the northwest and the Siberian Yupik, they live in the Island of St Lawrence, while the Central Yupik inhabit the south west of Alaska. The Aleut live mainly in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands as well as in the Komandorsky Islands. They depend mostly on fishing and hunting of marine mammals. The culturally similar Iluttiq are living in the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and south of Alaska. The Indians are not inhabitants of the arctic in the strict sense but inhabit the surrounding areas.
The Canadian constitution recognizes 3 groups of indigenous peoples: the Inuit, the Métis and the Indians. All together they make up approximately 50,000 individuals. They mainly live in northern Labrador, Nunavik, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Like in Alaska the only group that really lives in the Arctic are the Inuit.
The first inhabitants of Greenland came from North America around 4500 years ago. Kalaallit is the collective for Greenland’s indigenous people, who are Inuit and belong to 3 separate groups: Kitaamiut that inhabit the West Greenland, the Tunumiut in the eastern part and the Inughuit in the north.
The indigenous people of Lapland are called Saami and occupy the north of Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Although their territory belong to 4 different nations they share the same culture and history, this make natural to describe them into a single people. Because of different definitions of who is Saami there are no completely reliable estimates of their number but should be approximately 80,000 people.