The Arctic is the northern polar region of the Earth, which includes the deep Arctic basin with its shallow marginal seas, islands and adjacent parts of the continental land in North America, Europe and Asia. The Arctic occupies approximately one sixth of the Earth’s surface. The area of this vast region is about 27 million km2, it is almost three times the size of Europe, and 1.5 times larger than Russia.
Despite the severe climatic conditions, the Arctic has always attracted people. According to researchers, early humans began to develop the land 10,000 years ago. Scientists and archaeologists have established that in those times there was a proto-inuit tribe in the Far East North. Hunters and fishermen of the tribe were the first natives of the Arctic region.
The Arctic zone continued to be developed by humans in Greenland and the northern parts of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. These areas were inhabited the latest of all. In the American Arctic, the population mostly migrated from west to east, in Eurasia - mainly from south to north, they migrated along the valleys of major rivers. As a result, one thousand years ago the Arctic territory of the North was fully settled in by the ancestors of the indigenous peoples who live in this region to this day. Before the 15th Century, the northern nations were mainly hunters and gatherers. In these ethnic groups there was no centralization or hierarchy.
Illustration: A tribe of Inuit doing everday tasks
The first wave of European colonization of the North began from the 15th Century onwards, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark expanded to the north. Russia also began to expand its territory through the northern and eastern regions. The Russian priest Stefan of Perm founded the Finno-Ugric Perm, and subsequently established the authority of Muscovy in the North and in Siberia. During this period, Iceland and Denmark also expanded in North America and Greenland.
Later, in the 16th Century, European expansion began in the Americas. The British and French also began to explore the northern regions in search of gold and other riches. The European settlers grew accustomed to the land rather quickly. Their settlements, which were few in number and were mostly strategic forts and trading points, began to appear in the Arctic. European traders exported furs to Europe.
In 1867, after the Russian Empire sold Alaska to America, the US occupied the area following military action. The US government attempted to assimilate the natives of Alaska and Canada, creating a reservation in the US and Canada, as a temporary measure to allow a smooth transition of indigenous peoples from being «primitive» to «civilized». In order to do this, the reservations implemented an education system and boarding schools were created, which were funded by the state and controlled by religious organisations. As a result of these policies, indigenous peoples in both countries were forced from their traditional lands and had to constantly deal with many social problems, especially poverty and disease.
Engraving: Arctic expedition of Willem Barents, 16th Century
The colonization process was the same in the Russian North. At first, after the beginning of the Russian expansion, the indigenous peoples maintained their autonomy, despite the fact that they had become a part of the Russian Empire. Gradually, the native population was displaced to the north and east and began to move as far as possible away from Russian settlers to avoid encounters with them. The only exceptions were for trading. The pouplation of some indigenous peoples in this period fell considerably, however some of them, on the contrary, expanded their territory, surpassing other ethnic groups.
In the first years of the Soviet regime, the government conducted a progressive policy aimed at preserving the languages and cultures of the indigenous peoples. However, the collectivization of reindeer herders, which took place in the 1930s, undermined the traditional lifestyle of indigenous people of the North. Futhermore, at this time the Soviet government began to encourage its citizens to migrate to the Far North. The development of Soviet industry in the region also played an important role, as people began to come to the area to work. The result of all this was that indigenous people became minorities in their autonomous areas, which had been formed to protect their rights. After the war, the Soviet government also conducted a policy of assimilation of indigenous northern peoples, although this was not publicized.
Photo: A modern city in northern Russia - Salekhard
In recent decades the Arctic has changed beyond recognition. At present this vast area is home to about 4 million people, including indigenous peoples of the Far North: Chukchi, Nenets, Komi, Selkup and others. Now, with Russia’s participation, there are more than a dozen international expeditions in the region, as well as polar stations and meteorological centres. The Arctic zone has large and modern cities: Salekhard, Murmansk, Norilsk and Tromso, large industrial enterprises, and there are also sea, air and land transport routes across the region. The Arctic is also considered to be climatic laboratory for the planet and reserve area to allow for the growth of the population.