views updated May 29 2018


It is difficult to define the indigenous (native) peoples of Arctic North America by the recognized boundaries of the modern political world because the geographical context in which they live goes beyond the borders of several countries. The United States (Alaska) and Canada make up the Arctic region of North America, but Alaska’s Siberian Yup’ik (pronounced YOO-pik) peoples, for example, are also found on the Russian side of the Bering Straits, and the Inupiat (in-NOO-pee-aht) people of Alaska’s Arctic slope also reside on the Canadian side of the border. In Alaska’s northern interior, the Gwich’in (GWITCH-in) Athabascan Indians live in both Alaska and in Canada’s Yukon Territory. All the indigenous people of Arctic North America therefore belong to a larger community of peoples who live in the Circumpolar North, the area surrounding the North Pole.

The people of the North American Arctic region belong to one of three major cultural and linguistic divisions: Aleut (Unangan), Eskimo, and Athabascan. While the Aleut have traditionally occupied Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the Eskimo, who are further divided into the Yup’ik, Inupiat/Inuit, and Sugpiat language groups, live from Alaska to Greenland. The Athabascan are also further divided into several groups with the Gwitch’in being the most northerly. Despite the vast territory separating Arctic peoples, which also includes many different groups in Arctic Siberia and the Sami people of northern Scandinavia, they remain united both culturally and politically. As the then Inuit Circumpolar Conference President Caleb Pungowiyi, a Siberian Yup’ik, proclaimed in 1995, “While we are divided by four political boundaries, our common languages, traditions, and ancestry give us common bond and strength to work together.”


Most archaeologists believe that the Arctic region of North America has been populated only within the last 11,000 to 14,000 years. These scientists base their estimates on the theory that a bridge they call the Bering Land Bridge, or Beringia, once spanned the distance from Asia to Alaska with lands that are now under the waters of the Bering Strait. While this land bridge existed, they say, hunters from Asia gradually migrated into Alaska and from there, they and their descendants spread throughout North and South America. Scientists believe that this bridge became submerged by about 12,000 bce . The Beringia argument is hotly contested by some Native Americans, however.

The more recent history of the Arctic is well documented. European contact with the Inuit of Arctic Quebec began in the late sixteenth century as the British, French, and Danish all sent ships in search of a Northwest Passage to China (a water route along the northern coast of North America extending between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans). The British Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1667, beginning a long period of trade among Arctic indigenous peoples. By the nineteenth century, the Hudson’s Bay Company had expanded westward and was trading with Athabaskan Indians in what is now interior Alaska. A colonization process began in what would later be Canada on the margins of Inuit territory in the mid-eighteenth century, as Europeans, particularly the English and French, formed settlements. This process included the establishment of trading posts, missions, and whaling stations.

The Russians rule Alaska

The first European contact in Alaska came from the opposite direction, Russia, when Vitus Bering, a Dane serving in the Russian Navy, landed in Prince William Sound in 1741. Over the following decades, the Russians made attempts at establishing outposts in the Aleutian Islands and on Kodiak Island but were rebuffed by the Unangan (pronounced oo-NUNG-an and also known as Aleut, pronounced AHL-lee-ay-LOOT) and the Sugpiat (Alutiiq; ahl-loo-TEEK). The Aleut destroyed four Russian sea vessels in 1763, but paid dearly in the savage retaliation by the Russians. The Sugpiat were able to hold off the Russians for over 20 years, beginning with their first landing attempt in 1761. In 1784, however, Russian vessels headed by Grigorii Shelikhov made a brutal assault on Kodiak Island that ended with the massacre of many Sugpiaq people at a refuge rock near the present day village of Old Harbor.

The early years of Russian rule in this part of Alaska were marked by the enslavement of Native men, who were forced to hunt sea otters for the Russians. The absence of these men from their communities caused great hardships, as they were not there to provide food and shelter when needed. The Russian Orthodox church halted many of the atrocities as the clergy complained to the Tsar (ruler of Russia) of the mistreatment of the Native peoples at the hands of the Russian American Company personnel. The Natives then became employees of the Russians and began adapting to Russian culture. Even today, Russian influence is evident in Aleut and Alutiiq villages as many people have Russian surnames, prepare Russian food dishes (thought of as Native food), and maintain the Russian Orthodox Church as the center of village social life.

Americans move into Alaska

By the mid-nineteenth century hundreds of American whaling ships were operating off the Arctic coasts, severely depleting the population of walruses and bowhead whales, which affected the Native residents considerably. In addition to supplying food, the bowhead is crucial to Inupiat culture and identity. The Yankee whalers also brought new diseases and alcohol. In 1867 the Treaty of Cession transferred control of Alaska from Russia to the United States. Before the end of the century, American Christian missionaries had established themselves in all corners of Alaska, including the Arctic—a region which, for the most part, had been left alone by the Russians. While most Alaska Natives are now members of Christian churches, mixed feelings remain for many. “Christianity saved our souls but indeed left deep psychological scars in our hearts,” Yup’ik Caleb Pungowiyi lamented.

With the firm establishment of the U.S. government in Alaska came the American education system. Under this system, children were often required to leave their villages to attend boarding schools where they were punished if they spoke in their Native language. One result has been the severe eroding of indigenous languages. The state of language preservation varies greatly throughout Alaska; some villages still speak their language on a daily basis, while in others only a few Native-speaking elders remain. A cultural revitalization movement has been taking place in Alaska for the past decade or two in which the restoration and protection of languages is a high priority.

The American government unwittingly caused new and severe problems in the North. While attempting to provide services to Alaska Natives in every aspect of their lives, they created a “culture of dependency.” This system replaced proud Native identities with an epidemic of self-destructive behavior. “For many Natives, the sense of personal, familial and cultural identity that is a prerequisite to healthy and productive life is being lost in a haze of alcohol-induced despair that not infrequently results in violence perpetrated upon self and family,” the Alaska Federation of Natives stated in its 1989 report called The AFN Report on the Status of Alaska Natives: A Call for Action. This report revealed such grim statistics as the fact that Alaska Native males between the ages of 20 and 24 were committing suicide at 14 times the national average and that the homicide rate among Alaska Natives was four times the national average. Conditions worsened even as the federal and state governments spent millions of dollars on Native services. “Rather than feeling comfort in government-built homes and contentment in government-funded food supplies, Alaska Natives felt instead, emptiness and an overwhelming sense of loss,” concluded the final report of the Alaska Natives Commission, published in 1994, adding that “the spiritually and psychologically debilitating intervention of government services … has created a culture of dependency.” Considerable effort and funding has gone into improving the conditions described in the AFN report. Despite an intensive effort these conditions have persisted into the twenty-first century. According to a 2004 report by the First Alaskans Institute, some progress has been made but the statistics remain grim.

Canadian government and the Inuit

In Canada the situation of indigenous peoples became similar to the one in Alaska. Jack Hicks, the director of research for the Nunavut Implementation Commission found that “European and Canadian explorers, traders, missionaries, police, soldiers and administrators brought many things with them to Nunavut—some good and some not so good. Suffice it to say that, as late as the early 1970s, the Inuit of Canada were a thoroughly colonized and economically dependent people.”


If one is to begin in Alaska and trace the geographical areas of the various cultures in the North, a logical place to begin would be Prince William Sound, the westernmost home of the Alutiit (plural for Alutiiq) people. The Alutiit also live on the lower Kenai Peninsula, the Kodiak Island archipelago, and the lower Alaska Peninsula. The traditional name for Alutiiq is Sugpiaq, meaning “a real human being.” The plural is Sugpiat, meaning “the real people.” The Alutiit are classified as Pacific Eskimo by anthropologists, but most strenuously object to that label. They are, however, closely related linguistically (by the language they speak) to all the Inuit peoples of the Arctic.

Beginning at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula and stretching out the Aleutian Island Chain and into Russia are the Aleut, or as they call themselves, Unangan. The name Aleut was applied to them by the Russian explorers and fur traders of the eighteenth century. The name was also used by the Russians to identify the Sugpiat, thus the name Alutiiq, which is simply the word Aleut in the language of the Sugpiat.

Beginning at the northern edge of the Alaska peninsula and continuing through Bristol Bay, through the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta, and north to the village of Unalakleet are the Central Yup’ik, or Yupiaq, people. The words Yup’ik and Yupiaq translate to “a real person.” The plural is Yupiit, meaning “the real people.” The Central Yup’ik language is very close to Alutiiq, such that speakers of the two languages can usually carry on a conversation. Both differ substantially from the Aleut language, however. Another Yup’ik language is Siberian Yup’ik, spoken on St. Lawrence Island and the Chukchi Peninsula of Siberia. The relationship of what are usually referred to as Eskimo languages is quite apparent when one compares a single word, such as the one for “person.” The Alutiit say suk, the Yupiit say yuk, or in some areas, cuk. The Inupiat of Arctic Alaska, the Inuvialuk of Northwest Canada, and the Iglulik of Eastern Canada all use the term inuk for “person.” Another major indigenous group of the Arctic is the Athabascan Indians. The Athabascans, who call themselves Den’a (Dene), live in vast areas of the interior of Alaska and Northern Canada. They are made up of numerous subgroups who speak eleven different languages.


“Subsistence is a word that means <3dots> my way of life,” Moses Toyukuk of Manokotak, Alaska, told the Alaska Native Review Commission in 1985. “Our subsistence way of life is especially important to us. Among other needs it is our greatest. We are desperate to keep it,” Paul John of Tununak, Alaska, told the same commission. In the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), all aboriginal hunting and fishing rights were abolished, which created a dilemma for remote Alaska Native villages dependent on such resources for their livelihood. Efforts made to restore these rights met with moderate success. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 enables coastal Alaska Natives to take marine mammals for food and for use in arts and crafts. In 1980 the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) provided a subsistence preference for rural residents. As the majority of rural residents in Alaska are Natives, this essentially restored Alaska Natives’ right to hunt and fish for subsistence. After the state’s implementation of the ANILCA subsistence provision was thrown out by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1985, the Alaska state legislature, in 1986, passed its own law, which is consistent with federal law. In 1989, however, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state law confirming a preference for rural residents to hunt and fish for subsistence is unconstitutional because it discriminates against urban residents. This action resulted in the U.S. government takeover of the regulation of fish and game on federal lands in Alaska in 1990 in order to guarantee subsistence rights to rural residents. Dr. Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, a Yupiaq educator, has summed up the meaning of subsistence for most Alaska Native people: “Alaska Native peoples have traditionally tried to live in harmony with the world around them. This has required the construction of an intricate subsistence-based worldview, a complex way of life with specific cultural mandates regarding the ways in which the human being is to relate to other human relatives and the natural and spiritual worlds.”

Current tribal issues

In 1971 the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), starting a controversy that continues today. ANCSA resulted from a drive for settlement from a variety of interests: business and government interests in the oil source, the state of Alaska’s desire to develop land, the conservationists’ desire to preserve wilderness areas, and the Alaska Natives’ wish for their land. Twelve regional profit-making corporations were established that were responsible for distributing money to village corporations and individuals, controlling the subsurface resources, promoting economic development in the region, and supporting the village corporations within the region. Where past agreements had been made only between the federal government and individual tribes, ANCSA was an agreement made with these newly created Alaska Native regional associations, which were charged with the responsibility of establishing for-profit business corporations to receive a cash settlement and perhaps more importantly, legal title to the land. Under ANCSA, the corporations received title to 44 million acres of land and a cash settlement of $962.5 million for land lost. This amounted to about three dollars an acre. As discontent mounted in many areas of Alaska with ANCSA, a number of studies were carried out to assess its effectiveness and its legality.

A 1984–85 study conducted by the Alaska Native Review Commission, under the auspices of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC)—an international organization founded in 1977 to represent the Inuit or Eskimo peoples of the United States, Canada, Greenland, and Russia—recommended that title to land owned by Alaska Native corporations be transferred to village tribal governments. “A corporation cannot take from the rich and give to the poor without facing a shareholders’ suit,” claimed Thomas Berger, a former Supreme Court justice of Canada who headed the study. “A tribal government can implement measures designed to achieve social justice.” Berger also recommended that Alaska Native villages assert their sovereignty (self-rule) as tribal governments, concluding “Tribal governments established in all of Alaska’s Native villages should assert their Native sovereignty.”

Many legal scholars believed that under the American legal system, land owned and controlled by Alaska Native village tribal governments would take on the legal status of “Indian Country.” According to federal law and the terms of over four hundred treaties, Native American tribes have sovereign power—the power to act as independent nations. Although most Native governments are based on reservations, sovereignty can extend beyond reservation boundaries by the terms of the definition of “Indian Country,” which includes reservations, scattered Native American home sites, and sometimes areas near reservations as well. By law, tribal governments in Indian Country have the authority to make and enforce their own laws and to enter into agreements with the United States, just as foreign governments can. The legal debate over whether village-owned land in Alaska was indeed Indian Country, as it would be if located in the 48 contiguous states, raged for well over a decade. Then, in 1996, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there is Indian Country in Alaska, a ruling strongly opposed by the state of Alaska, which appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1998 the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals in what is known as the “Venetie Decision,” ruling that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act abolished Indian Country status.

Another political issue that has become very emotional, both within Alaska Native communities and within the general Alaska population, has to do with the potential opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. U.S. law currently prohibits oil development within a federal wildlife refuge unless Congress votes to open it and the president concurs by signing the legislation. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, as it is usually referred to in Alaska, covers about 19 million acres of remote northeast Alaska. Geologists believe that ANWR contains vast deposits of oil and the state of Alaska has unsuccessfully pursued opening the area to oil development for nearly two decades. ANWR is also the spring calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd that resides in the Canadian Arctic during the winter months. The Gwich’in Athabascan Indians of both Alaska and Canada depend heavily on the Porcupine caribou herd for subsistence and cultural identity and strongly oppose ANWR oil development. At the same time, many Inupiat of the North Slope are in favor of opening ANWR for oil development.

The indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic have pursued a different, but similar, path to that of Alaska Natives in terms of their aboriginal land claims. In 1975 a negotiated agreement was reached between the Inuit and Cree Indians of northern Quebec and the Canadian government after the James Bay Hydroelectric Project nearly flooded a large area of traditional hunting lands. The agreement, called the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, conveyed title to 5,250 acres of hunting grounds, confirmed exclusive hunting and fishing rights on another 60,000 square miles (96,560 kilometers), provided for local administrative control, established autonomy in education decisions for villages, verified control of local justice systems, and supplied a $90 million monetary settlement. In return, the indigenous peoples were required to give up any further aboriginal rights. The settlement was not embraced by all aboriginal people involved, and considerable dissent was voiced. However, in 1984, the Inuvialuit of the northwesternmost portion of the Northwest Territories entered into a similar agreement.

The Inuit Tapirisat, an indigenous Canadian political organization formed in the 1960s, actively pursued a land settlement with the Canadian government. The Nunavut, or “Our Land” movement, began in 1974 and ended in 1992 with the signing of Nunavut Land Claim Agreement. The Nunavut agreement involved 18,000 Inuit living in the northeastern portion of the Northwest Territories. Under the agreement, the Inuit gained legal title to the surface of 353,610 square kilometers of land, or about 18 percent of the settlement area, in addition to priority hunting and fishing rights throughout the Nunavut settlement area. They also received subsurface rights to oil, gas, and minerals on 36,257 square kilometers, or about 10 percent of the settlement area, as well as a cash settlement of $1.148 billion (Canadian) to be paid by the Canadian government to the Inuit over a period of 14 years. In addition, the Canadian government must pay the Inuit 50 percent of the first $2 million of royalties from oil, gas, or mineral development. The Inuit were required to give up all rights and claims to land and waters elsewhere in Canada, but will keep all other constitutional rights, including continued recognition as aboriginal people by the Canadian government. An especially important part of the agreement called for the government of Canada to establish a Nunavut Territory by the year 2000. This thirteenth Canadian province was established in 1999, granting the Inuit, who make up about 85 percent of the population, self-government in their homelands.

Of huge concern to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic is that of climate change or “global warming.” Indigenous people throughout the Arctic have noted the melting of glaciers, the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, and the changes in animal behavior. Many are alarmed at the possibility of losing their subsistence food sources because of climate changes. Jose A. Kusugak, President of the Inuit Tapiritt Kanatami in Canada, sums the climate change as, “What it all comes down to was respect for the Earth and doing your part in keeping the world as in its original state. Inuit see themselves as part of the ecosystem and want to be included: not as victims, but as a people who can help.”

Perhaps the largest issue facing the indigenous people of the Arctic is one of self-determination. They want to control their own affairs and chart their own destinies. They want meaningful input into decisions being made by the governments of the United States and Canada on issues that will impact their ways of life. Over recent decades they have become more vocal in pursuing these rights. The United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly summarizes their pursuits: “Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Alaska Native Policy Center, First Alaskans Institute. Our Choices, Our Future: Analysis of the Status of Alaska Natives Report 2004. 2004.

Berger, Thomas R. Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission. New York: Wang and Hill, 1985.

Brooks, Sheldon. Life in the Arctic. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.

Burger, Julian. The GAIA Atlas of First Peoples: A Future for the Indigenous World. New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

Chaussonnet, Valerie, ed. Crossroads Alaska: Native Cultures of Alaska and Siberia. Washington, DC: Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 1995.

Cone, Marla. Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic. New York: Grove Press, 2005.

Damas, David, ed. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5: Arctic. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1984.

Doherty, Craig A. Arctic Peoples. New York, Philadephia: Chelsea House Publications, 2007.

Fitzhugh, William W., and Aron Crowell, eds. Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1988.

Guigon, Catherine, Francis Latreille, and Fredric Malenfer. The Arctic. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Kawagley, A. Oscar. A Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1995.

Krupnik, Igor, and Dyanna Jolly, eds. The Earth is Faster Now: Indigenous Observations of Arctic Environmental Change. Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. 2002.

McGhee, Robert. The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2007.

Miller, Debbie, Debbie S. Miller, and Jon Van Dyle. Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Wallace, Mary. The Inuksuk Book. Toronto, Ontario: Maple Tree Press, 2004.

Wohlforth, Charles. The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change. New York: North Point Press, 2004.

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Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska

Laurie Edwards


views updated May 09 2018


ARCTIC. The Arctic lies north of 70° latitude, marked by the tree line of the Subarctic. Few cultural groups occupy the Arctic: the Inuit live across the circumpolar region from northern Siberia throughout Greenland; the Aleuts and Yu'pik live on the coast and islands of southwestern Alaska; and six major Saami groups live in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and western Russia. Arctic diets are unique because animal products are staples and plants are seasonal supplements. Inuit diets traditionally are composed of marine mammals, fish, caribou, small game, birds, and plants, while Saami depend on herded reindeer for milk and meat, fishing, gathering plants, and hunting small game and birds. The diets of Aleuts and Yu'pik are similar to that of the Inuit.

Inuit Food Lists and Categories

Inuit are famous for eating marine mammals, mostly seal (natsiq ). Bearded seal (oodguk ), walrus, polar bear (nanuk ), narwhal (tuugalik ), beluga (qilalugaq ), and the large plankton-eating whales are preferred foods. Seabird, goose, and duck eggs (maniq ), ptarmigan, ducks, and geese are also eaten. Arctic char (iqaluk ), an anadromous fish, is preferred above sculpin (kanuyak ) and cod (oogak ). Shellfish are consumed, but are not a major food resource. Land mammals, caribou (tuktu, or reindeer), and Arctic hare are eaten to achieve a culturally desirable balance in the diet. Commonly eaten plants include kelp, sorrel, willow, blueberry, crowberry, soapberry, winter-green, lichens, Eskimo carrots, and Eskimo peanuts. The vegetable matter from herbivore's stomachs is also consumed.

Animal foods are divided into those associated with the sea or ice and those associated with the land. Inuit are subsistence hunters and divide themselves into two categories, Sikumiut are "people of the ice" and Taramiut are "people of the land." These categories relate as well to hunting on the sea and on the land. For a community to maintain an ecological balance in the animals, subsistence rules are practiced. One rule is that, whenever possible, hunters seek to provide a mixed diet with animals of the sea and animals of the land. If this balance is not maintained in hunting, it is believed that the animals may disappear. Some years the seal are more prolific and available, so more seal is eaten. Other years more caribou or char will be abundant and consumed. The diet reflects this balance among land and sea animals. Hunters carefully respect the animals by maintaining the balance and thus ensure their future harvests. Plants are considered separately in the diet as treats that complement the standard animal fare when they are available. The most culturally desirable diet of the Inuit varies by mixing sea mammals, caribou, and Arctic char. The relative proportion of these three staples in the diet depends on the geographic location and local foraging practices of the group.

During the contact periods, European dry and canned staples were introduced as trade items across the Arctic. These new foods were slowly adopted into the Inuit diet. Foods became divided into two categories, "country" or foraged food produced by Inuit themselves, and store-bought or imported foods, obtained by trading furs or for cash. Common store-bought foods include tea, sugar, flour, biscuits, and breads. Other imported foods include canned fruit and jam, meats, fish, and vegetables. Store foods are considered inferior and incapable of sustaining health for anyone raised eating country food.

Meal customs and food distribution. Hunting and food sharing form the core of Inuit society. When hunters return with fresh game or fish, it is distributed for consumption according to social rules. This occurs at least several times a week. Meals are communal and all animal foods are shared, distributed first within the community and then within the household. During the distribution, fresh, or uncooked, meats are eaten by anyone who is hungry. The remaining portions are distributed according to the kinship or friendship relationship of the receiver to the hunter. The hunter, his wife, father, mother, or a related elder conducts this process. While this food remains in the household, family members eat it communally at least once a day.

The typical traditional meal includes fresh, boiled, fried, or grilled meats, organs, and soft bones. The food is served on the ground outdoors or on the floor of the shelter. The animal food is cut away from the butchered carcass with the personal knife of the individual and eaten without any other utensils. If the animal food is boiled, its broth is drunk after eating the meat. Everyone is expected to eat until hunger subsides. All visitors to a home are expected to partake of whatever game is available. Hoarding or overeating food is not acceptable. Birds, eggs, plants, and small fish or shellfish are usually eaten by individuals, but are shared on demand with anyone who is hungry.

As a result of contact with Europeans, drinking heavily sugared tea and eating bannock or some form of bread has come to follow the consumption of animal food. The bannock is made from flour, water or milk, and fat (lard, vegetable shortening, or caribou or seal fat) and baked on a rock or in a frying pan over a fire. Tobacco is then shared. Before black tea was introduced, herbs were collected for making teas.

Meal patterns are guided by hunger and age. Young children and babies are fed frequently on demand until they reach five or six. The adult demand for food varies, but fewer meals are eaten in winter than in spring, summer, and fall. On average, one full meal and two or three tea breaks are taken between sleeping. Elders eat less as they grow older, but drink sweetened tea more often. Immature seal, cached meat, and fish are favored by the very old individuals.

Men, women, and children eat together. The men eat with long knives (sevik ) as they squat near the animal food, and women use the ulu, the traditional curved knife of Inuit women. Children use smaller versions of adult knives as soon as they can control them. Older infants and toddlers eat premasticated foods from their mothers, but are typically breast-fed until they are four or five. Orphaned or adopted babies are fed seal broth.

Food preparation. Food preparation varies by season and environment. At camp, Inuit share the communal feast daily. "Fresh" (uncooked) seal (mikiayak ) or other marine mammals are prepared within a short time after the animal is captured. Camp dwellers are called by children to the feast. The hunter or a designated relative, typically his wife, opens the animal after the body has had time to "cool." Those who are feeling cold would eat first, as the rich blood (auok ) and warm chunks of exposed liver (tingook ) warm the individuals' bodies and restore health and well-being. The blood not consumed is drained and the animal gutted. Organ meats, especially kidney (taktu ), are eaten or fed to dogs along with the fat scraped from the skin and other waste. Intestines are saved, and the outer covering chewed. A delicacy among the North Baffin Inuit is chopped fat and brains mixed with the animal's blood (allupiauoq ) in the body cavity before the meat is eaten. Eyeballs are sucked but not swallowed. The skin is saved for household and clothing use. During hungry periods, when animals are scarce, the skin, scraped on both sides, can also be eaten. Seal "hips" are preferred by men in the Eastern Arctic, while women enjoy the tenderloin along the spine, the backbone, and the ribs. Shoulders, flippers, and forelimbs are eaten by both men and women.

Marine mammals can also be eaten frozen (quok ), sliced thin as the individual eats from the carcass, or the meat can be aged. To prepare aged seal, for example, seal is packed in its skin and stored a few days or as long as three weeks. Rotted seal is cached in the fall for consumption the next spring or summer. Ooyuk is soup made by boiling meat in fresh water, and seasoned with kelp. Salt or dry soup mix often replaces kelp. Chunks of meat are eaten out of the pot, which is usually set over a seal oil lamp or an open hearth. Cupfuls of rich broth (kiyuk ) are drunk. Seal is deep-fat fried in the summer or grilled on flat rocks over heather fires. Seal oil is produced by pounding the fat. This rendered oil is then stored in a seal bladder to be eaten with plants or raw or dried fish. In spring and summer, foods are cooked on heather fires, which gives them a wonderful herbal taste. Polar bear and walrus were once consumed fresh, or raw, but they are only eaten cooked, due to concern about Arctic trichinosis. Narwhal and beluga whale are prized for their sweet skin (muqtuq ). The meats of these animals and other whales can also be eaten prepared as other meats are. Polar bear organ meats are never eaten.

While seal typically dominates the diet, caribou (tuqtu ) is also widely consumed, prepared in ways similar to the seal. Caribou meat is also cut into pieces and hung to air-dry for storage. Birds are captured, their feathers plucked, and then eaten uncooked. Eggs are sucked. Arctic hare is boiled as ooyuk, never eaten uncooked. Arctic char are eaten fresh, filleted into three boneless pieces hung from the head, or partially air-dried (serata ) or freeze-dried (pisi ). The fish can be boiled as ooyuk or fried (satoya ), or grilled as well. Shellfish are eaten raw or boiled, but are rare in the Eastern Arctic.

Seasonal variation. Seal, walrus, and polar bear typically dominate winter foods. Ooyuk is popular in winter, as are frozen foods. As the sun returns daylight to the land, spring begins and groups of related Inuit begin to congregate for camping and hunting seal. Short hunting trips include fresh seal picnics. Easter is marked by the spring caribou hunt and feast. Once the ice begins to break up, Inuit cannot travel safely. Whatever foods can be captured near land-based camps are eaten. When dried caribou, fish, and cached marine mammals are exhausted, the diet is aged seal oil with plants and, perhaps, fresh fish. Summer continues with full daylight, marked by open-water sealing and whale hunts, and muqtuq is prepared and consumed. Summer fish camps produce large numbers of char to eat fresh, frozen, or dried. Plants are gathered during long walks, mostly by women and children. Seal and caribou are fried and grilled. In August, the sun begins to leave the northern sky and early fall begins. A fall caribou hunt culls the migrating herds. Bulls are especially desired because of their rich fat. The quiet winter season returns and the annual cycle begins again.

Foods of the Saami

Saami occupy the Arctic and Subarctic. These people were colonized in the thirteenth century and little is known about their indigenous foodways prior to colonization.

Saami lived traditionally by following the herds of reindeer seasonally as the animals fed on lowland lichens and mushrooms in early spring and winter and highland grasses in summer. The bulls were culled from the herds in October, December, and January to provide meat for fall and winter feasting and storage by smoking and drying.

Saami, like Inuit, eat caribou, or reindeer, using all the edible parts of the animal. Like the Inuit, they eat their foods cooked, boiled, smoked, and roasted. Reindeer meat is boiled in a thick soup that resembles Inuit ooyuk. Meat is eaten out of hand from the pot and the gravy scooped up in a cup to be drunk. Saami drink reindeer milk and use it to make cheese, which is often smoked, something Inuit do not do. While some Saami are known for reindeer herding, other groups and frequently eat fish. Both Saami groups, however, consume fish, land mammals, plants, and birds. Saami diets have been greatly influenced by northern European cooking patterns and foods for the past seven hundred years.

See also Canada: Native Peoples ; Fish ; Fishing ; Inuit ; Lapps ; Mammals, Sea ; Siberia .


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Kristen Borré


views updated May 14 2018

Arctic Vast region of icy seas and cold lands around the North Pole, often defined as extending from the Pole to the Arctic Circle. In areas n of latitude 66° 30'N, the sun does not set during the height of summer, nor rise during the depths of winter. Many place the s limit of the Arctic proper at the northern boundary of forest growth, others make the limit the summer isotherm of 18°C (50°F). The more southerly areas are frequently referred to as the subarctic. At the centre of the Arctic is the Arctic Ocean, with its many seas and inlets. In the region around the North Pole, the waters of the Arctic are permanently covered with sheet ice or a floating mass of ice debris called the ice pack, but some parts of the ocean are frozen only in winter. When the ice starts to melt in spring, it disintegrates into floes and drifting pack ice. Icebergs have their origins in freshwater glaciers flowing into the ocean from the surrounding lands.

Lands and climate

Bordering the Arctic Ocean are the most northerly lands of Asia, Europe, and North America. by far the greater part of the huge frozen island of Greenland lies n of the Arctic Circle. Five-sixths of Greenland's surface is always hidden by a thick ice-cap. Arctic lands generally have a summer free from ice and snow. Most of the Arctic tundra is flat and marshy in summer but the subsoil is permafrost. For most of the year Arctic temperatures are below freezing point. In spring the sun appears, and some Arctic lands have sunshine every day from March to September.


Despite the severity of the climate and the restricted food resources, many peoples live in the Arctic. The most scattered are the c.60,000 Eskimos spread across polar North America, Greenland, and ne Siberia. Several culturally separate groups of people live in n Siberia. In the European part of Russia there are the numerous Zyryans, and in Lapland the Lapps. Most of these peoples follow ancient, traditional patterns of life, but the discovery of great mineral wealth, especially in Alaska and Russia, brought huge change to their homelands.


The region was first explored by Norsemen as early as the 9th century. The search for the Northwest Passage gave impetus to further explorations in the 16th and 17th centuries, though a route was not found until the early 1900s. In 1909 the US explorer Robert Peary reached the North Pole, and the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean under the polar ice-cap was completed in 1959.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Arc·tic / ˈärktik; ˈärtik/ • adj. 1. of or relating to the regions around the North Pole. ∎  (of animals or plants) living or growing in such regions. ∎  designed for use in such regions. 2. (arctic) inf. (of weather conditions) very cold.• n. 1. (the Arctic) the regions around the North Pole. 2. (arctics) thick waterproof overshoes. ORIGIN: late Middle English: ultimately from Greek arktikos, from arktos ‘bear, North Star.’


views updated Jun 11 2018

Arctic XIV. ME. artik — OF. artique (mod. arctique) — L. arcticus — Gr. arktikós, f. árktos bear, the Great Bear, north; see -IC.

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