Arctic Indigenous Peoples

The Arctic Indigenous peoples consist of over 40 different ethnic groups representing 10% of the total population living in the Arctic. All Arctic countries except Iceland have indigenous peoples living within their Arctic territory. Arctic indigenous peoples include for example Saami in circumpolar areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Northwest Russia, Nenets, Khanty, Evenk and Chukchi in Russia, Aleut, Yupik and Inuit (Iñupiat) in Alaska, Inuit (Inuvialuit) in Canada and Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland (see Map). 

These are the six Arctic Indigenous organizations that hold Permanent Participant status in the Arctic Council: 

  • Aleut International Association 
  • Arctic Athabaskan Council 
  • Gwich'in International Council 
  • Inuit Circumpolar Council 
  • Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North 
  • the Saami Council 


The Sámi are the indigenous peoples of the northern part of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia (the Kola Peninsula). The Sámi population is estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 people. 

The Sámi have their history, language, culture, traditional livelihoods, and identity. From time immemorial they have lived in the Sámi homeland (called Sápmi) extending across four countries from Central Norway and Sweden through the northernmost part of Finland and into Russian parts of the Kola Peninsula (see Map 2). The original Sami area of settlement was even larger, but it has gradually contracted. The 

treaty Lapp Codicil of 1751 (often called the Sami Magna Carta) allowed the Sámi to cross the border with their reindeer in spring and autumn as before and to use the land and the shore for themselves and their reindeer, regardless of national boundaries. When the borders of the Arctic nation-states were created, the Sámi had to abide by national and international treaty rules governing the movement of their reindeer across the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish borders in the region. Several Reindeer Grazing conventions in 1919, 1972, 2009 were negotiated between Sweden and Norway, but due to legal disputes, the status of reindeer herders in the cross-border area of Norway and Sweden is unclear. 

I am a Sami among Swedes, but I do not feel the same sense of a common identity with them as I do together with other Sami among Norwegians or among Finns. National boundaries criss- cross our Sápmi, but what do we care, they’re not on our “maps”. Johannes Marainen, headteacher and chairman of the Gothenburg Sami Association 

Reindeer husbandry is the main Sámi occupation, but nowadays more and more Sámi are involved in tourism, food production and other sectors. Sámi are actively using modern technology for reindeer herding. Among these technologies are drones, snowmobiles, GPS and the Internet of Things (IoT). These allow reindeer owners to receive alerts on their smartphones warning them that their animals may be in danger. 

The Sámi people are represented by three Sámi parliaments, one in Sweden, one in Norway and one in Finland, while on the Russian side they are organized into NGOs. In 2000, the three Sámi parliaments established a joint council of representatives called the Sámi Parliamentary Council. In 2019, The Sámi Arctic Strategy: Securing enduring influence for the Sámi people in the Arctic through partnerships, education and advocacy was released. The strategy argues for human-centred, sustainable Arctic development which is respectful of environment. 


Arctic indigenous peoples have a rich food culture and strong traditions associated with food. All food resources are fully utilized without producing any waste, a tradition deeply ingrained. 

The EALLU project initiated by the Arctic Council in 2015 investigates reindeer herders’ food culture through the lens of traditional knowledge, adaptation to climate change and youth combining academic work, education, seminars, food culture across Eurasia. The results of the project demonstrate that reindeer herders have indigenous knowledge in food systems. This knowledge is developed over generations by observing and monitoring food, from the choice of resource through processing, preservation and food preparation in a sustainable way. The ability to engage in reindeer herding and yet to continue eating traditional dishes and products helps preserve the unique diversity of indigenous languages. For instance, the Yup’ik and coastal Chukchi have a very rich knowledge of the value of the plants in their food culture which maintain health and well-being. 

The EALLU Cookbook[199] documenting food practices and the recipes of Arctic indigenous peoples won Best Food Book of the World, across all categories, at the Gourmand Awards,[200]  the major Food Culture event in the world. 

In Greenland, traditional Inuit foods include arctic char, seal, polar bear and caribou — often consumed raw, frozen, or dried. These foods,native to the region, are rich in the vitamins and nutrients people need to stay nourished in the harsh winter conditions. The parts of the animal that aren't edible, like the fur and skins, are used to create clothes and other products that hunters can then sell for cash. 

What's already working in the North is Inuit culture — harvesting, sewing, making art. So it's not reinventing the wheel but working with the wheel that's already there.” Leesee Papatsie 

The best way to show people's connection to the land is through the hunting practices because the land is the food source that sustains people.” Acacia Johnson, an Alaskan photographer 

The people in Greenland have survived on a diet of little fruit and vegetables but lots of meat. Therefore, replacing Greenlanders’ traditional game and fish-based diet with imported agricultural products is neither sustainable nor healthier, argues microbiologist Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann. 

A generation of new companies is starting to produce Arctic foods, using unique knowledge and traditions. They are considered gifts from Nature which are received graciously as they respect the local community which shares an identity with the same resources. 

Arctic Warriors is a superfood producing firm which uses unique herbs, berries, and plants from Lapland that are sourced from a network of local pickers. According to Tuija Kauppinen, sales and marketing manager, Arctic Warriors are proud to be based in Lapland and to support local communities. The company’s project manager Katja comes from a family in which herbs have been a natural part of everyday life for centuries, and the knowledge has been passed down from one generation to another. 

Furthermore, as part of the EALLU project, a training workshop will be organized for Arctic indigenous youth focusing on ́Food innovation leadership ́. These are some practical steps supporting Arctic indigenous youth who wish to be food entrepreneurs and food innovators.