Depending on the definition of the boundaries to the region, the Arctic is home to some 4 million inhabitants. Roughly a tenth of this total population are indigenous peoples, spread over numerous communities around the Arctic. The indigenous proportion of different areas varies significantly, from the Inuit comprising 85% of the population of the Nunavut territory in Canada, to the Sámi accounting for 2.5% of the population in the northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula.
Figure 8. Population distribution and indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Note that except for Greenland and Northern Canada, indigenous peoples form a minority, though they can form the majority in local communities. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to increased immigration by non-indigenous people as a result of industrial development, and to increased competition for resources.
Living as herders, hunters, and gatherers, Arctic indigenous peoples have developed their lifestyles through co-evolution with their surroundings, mainly based on reindeer/caribou systems on land and on sea mammals in coastal areas.
Figure 9. Arctic indigenous peoples form a very diverse group with regard to languages, culture and traditions.
Areas show colours according to the original languages of the respective indigenous peoples, even if they do not speak their languages today. Notes: Overlapping populations are not shown. The map does not claim to show exact boundaries between the individual language groups. Typical colonial populations, which are not traditional Arctic populations, are not shown (Danes in Greenland, Russians in the Russian Federation, non-native Americans in North America).
Adopted from map by W.K. Dallmann published in Stefansson Arctic Institute, 2004. Arctic Human Development Report. Data and information compiled by W.K. Dallmann, Norwegian Polar Institute and P. Schweitzer, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Further modified after expert feedback.
Figure 10. Indigenous settlements in the Arctic. As in the past, today’s settlements are usually located in resource-strategic positions, with territoriality and social networks adapted to the movements of reindeer/caribou or the seasonal abundance of sea mammals. Most indigenous settlements are small, consisting of only a handful of people, while others are communities of several thousand people. Notice that many dots simply represent seasonal settlements and camps and not established communities.
Of some 370 settlements in the tundra regions of the circumpolar Arctic, more than 80% are located on the coast. The main exception is Siberia, where many settlements occur along major rivers. Several thousand settlements also exist in the forests, generally in resource locations related to the migration of reindeer and caribou. While many hunters and herders have embraced aspects of modernity, many also retain their close relationship with wild animals and the land. Reindeer/caribou and sea mammals have been and continue to be the most important subsistence resources for Arctic indigenous peoples.