Arctic As A Homeland
Introduction To Native Groups
Komi herders with their herd.
The girl is a dancer in a local dance troupe.
|It would be a mistake
to divide the history of the Arctic simply into two periods, before
and after the arrival of the Europeans. The Europeans came gradually
and have affected different areas in different ways at different
periods. The traditions of the peoples themselves, as well as the
findings of archaeologists, show that the populations which are
now called indigenous had already migrated extensively themselves
during the previous few thousand years. Some Inuit reached Greenland
from Canada about 1,000 years ago, not long before the Vikings reached
there from Europe. The Vikings brought with them a culture based
on farming. Their society persisted for nearly 500 years but probably
died out due to a combination of climate change, subsistence failure
and lack of culture contact. The Arctic hunters did adapt to colder
climate and became the ancestors of the modern Greenlandic population.
In the Asian North, to take another example, the largest northern
people are the Sakha, who number 382,000. They speak a language
related to Turkish and migrated from central Asia into the Lena
valley only in the middle ages. When they arrived, they found the
valley already occupied by the Eveny and pushed them out of this
valley and up into the mountains where they now herd reindeer. But
even the Eveny too were not originally residents of the North and
had earlier migrated from northern China. There, they are related
to the Manchu who until the beginning of the twentieth century were
the rulers of the Chinese empire.
|Because of the growing
demand for local self-government the trend in modern politics is
to draw a sharp line between people of European origin and any groups
who were in the region earlier and can therefore claim to be indigenous.
The outsiders are themselves divided into Russians, Americans, Norwegians,
Danes and many others (for example, Alaska contains many people
of Japanese, Korean, Philippino and Mexican origin), and they can
be seen as just the latest wave of peoples to have moved to the
North. And it should be remembered that in earlier times, as today,
there were also many mixed marriages between different Native groups
and between local people and outsiders.
Young Nivkh girl with a fresh salmon catch.
Even reindeer herders trying to make radio contact with the village.
Making bead jewellery based on traditional patterns.
|However, there is an important
difference between the outsiders and all the other groups taken
together. Outsiders do not for the most part depend on the land
for their living, but come as representatives of a global industrial
culture which continues to feed them by airlifted supplies.
|Of course, we do also
have groups of non-indigenous resource users, such as small-scale
fishers and farmers in Iceland and other Arctic countries, which
this does not apply to. For humans to survive and thrive on this
landscape as the indigenous peoples have done, requires extraordinary
adaptation. This adaptation is not just the physical one to the
change of climate, which every newcomer has to make. It is also
a cultural adaptation, which has evolved over thousands of years.
This culture is based on a particular view of how nature works in
this environment and of how humans fit into it.
|For all their other differences,
northern peoples are very similar in the way they have adapted local
materials to make their life possible. This applies not simply to
their hunting techniques.
|Throughout the region,
animal skins are the only local material which can be spread out
and are used for clothing and footwear, as well as for the coverings
of tents and boats.
|All peoples have developed
some kind of ski, sledge, toboggan or snowshoe. Many have domesticated
dogs or reindeer and trained them to carry baggage or pull sledges.
|In Siberia, reindeer are
also used for riding. And of course, all northern peoples have worked
out ways of catching and controlling the animals which would otherwise
roam across the landscape out of their reach: traps, corrals, bows
and arrows, and weirs and nets for fish.
|Bones and antlers are
used everywhere as a hard material, as well as wood wherever it
is available. Northern peoples have always survived by being adaptable
and taking advantage of any technology which becomes available.
So now they combine skinboats with outboard motors and guns, since
all of these are useful and practical.
Little Beringia dog-sled race.
The winners of the Little Beringia race.
Even dance troupe performing at the opening of the Little Beringia
|Within these similarities,
different groups have adapted very specifically to their surroundings.The
Inuit and their relative, such as the Yuit and Inupiat in Alaska
and the Kalaalit in Greenland, live along much of the Arctic coastline.
Here, the land is unproductive and they live from the sea by fishing
and by hunting seals and whales. With this way of life, the sea
links islands rather than divides them. Inuit travel by kayak and
other forms of boat in summer while in winter they can move very
quickly by dogsledge or snow-scooter over the frozen surface of
|The numerous other groups
live mostly south of the treeline, by catching freshwater fish and
hunting land animals. In addition, most groups in Europe and Asia
also herd reindeer. These inland groups include those called 'Indians'
in North America and many different peoples in Russia's Siberia.
|The American Indians are
the northernmost representatives of the large and varied range of
Native groups who already inhabited North America before the coming
of the Europeans. Members of the Athabaskan language family who
live in Alaska and Canada's Yukon Territory include the Tanaina,
the Kuchin and the Copper River bands. Traditionally, many of these
lived extensively on salmon and other river fish. Central and eastern
Canada are the home of the many Cree groups, who form part of the
Algonquian language family which also extends far to the south,
to the Blackfoot and Cheyenne in the USA. One of the main northern
Cree groups are the Naskapi of Quebec, who traditionally followed
the huge herds of wild caribou.
In front of herders tent.
Reindeer herders camp, summer.
Even family with a race dog.
|The Russian North contains
three peoples of several hundred thousands each, the Komi, the Karelians
and the Sakha. Each of these has an administrative territory of
their own, though in fact they are generally outnumbered there by
Russians and other European settlers, such as Ukrainians. Then there
are 26 smaller groups who belong to several language families and
are spread right across Siberia. These peoples number from a few
hundred to a few thousand each, totalling some 186,000 in all. The
Khanty are one of these people. They live along the River Ob in
western Siberia. Their traditional economy was based on fishing
in the wooded streams and river meadows, but this has been very
badly disrupted by the pollution from oil wells nearby. Further
to the north, around the mouth of the Ob, live the Nenets who herd
the reindeer in the region where the forest meets the tundra. The
Eveny, who also live mainly by herding reindeer, live much further
east towards the Pacific.
|A distinctive and unusual
group, the Saami, live in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and
Russia. They number around 35,000 and have probably lived there
for 4,000 years. The Saami on the coast were sea fishermen while
those in the interior were reindeer herders or freshwater fishermen.
The Saami have a long history of close contacts with the Scandinavian
population and only about 10% are now involved in reindeer herding.