Article

Survival in the Arctic

Theme: How People Have Traditionally Survived the Arctic

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Human beings have lived in the Arctic and Subarctic for thousands of years. Their survival has been possible because there exists among them a profound understanding of the nuances within this extreme environment. Survival is also contingent on the relationship which exists between the human being and the animals, which provide major sources of food and clothing. By understanding the animals'winter modes and behaviors, Arctic communities have traditionally survived through the long, cold winters. The fisherman who knows where to cut an ice hole could find the fish. Caribou migrating south could be caught in quantities to survive through the winter, providing a good supply of meat and fat to a community. Seals need a breathing hole to obtain air and the knowledgeable hunter knows how to identify those critical locations. In the Subarctic forests, moose leave clear tracks, ruffed grouse collect in groups near tree roots and rabbits'winter tracks make them easy to locate. Hunters can provide their families with an excellent diet, in fact, because of the winter.

 

Warmth for Hunters

Caribou-skin or polar bear-skin clothing can provide warmth for a hunter who lies on the ice for hours waiting for his target to appear. The caribou fur, for example, provides very effective insulation especially in the early autumn when the caribou are growing new winter coats. The density of the new hair is amazing: each follicle of hair is hollow, providing a "cushion of air." Skilled at preparing hides and sewing seams, the women design very well-insulated clothing. Dressed in two layers of caribou hide with the inner fur against the skin and the outer toward the air, a hunter can stay warm even in the most extreme conditions.

 

Housing

Finally, the most famous traditional example of housing is the snow house or "igluviga." "Iglu" is an Inuit word for interior or any form of dwelling. Made from blocks of wind-packed, dry snow, an igluviga can be erected in as little as half an hour. The snow, like the hair of the caribou, traps the air within. Inside, a seal-oil lamp can provide enough warmth for people to sit comfortably in a single layer of clothing. In fact, only a small minority of Arctic people made use of snow houses. Many Inuit have built "karmat," stone, whalebone and sod huts, as winter village sites. These are made warm by reinforcing the base with blocks of snow.

Like many native cultures, the traditional northern peoples of the Arctic have survived in the most challenging of circumstances because of their deep understanding of the surrounding environment.

Additional Resources:

The Simcoe County Board of Education is constantly updating their home page available on the World Wide Web. They have archived the polar maps so that classes can see the changes in the weather patterns the team is traveling through. The address is: http://merlin.bethune.yorku.ca/trek/uvmaps.htm.

Drawing from his own experiences, explorer Peter Freuchen's famous Book of the Eskimos, published in 1961 by Ballantine Books, is a fascinating look at the northern life.

We all know Canadian author Farley Mowat wrote the trilogy The Top of the World, which includes, Ordeal by Ice, The Polar Passion, and Tundra, published in 1973 by Peregrine Smith Books.

Special Note: Many people have asked about additional educational items or IAP souvenirs. To find out more about what is available, contact us at screen name: arcproject.

  • Subjects:
    Arctic Animals, Basic Needs of Living Things, Communities and Ways of Life, Tundra, Culture and Diversity, Antarctica and Arctic Regions, Survival
  • Skills:
    Social Studies
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