Human Activity in the Tundra

Updated April 17, 2017

Most of the human population of the Arctic tundra are native people. These largely belong to the Inuit, Inupiat, Yupik and Alutiit groups who live primarily in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia. Modern society has brought dramatic changes to their way of life and global warming may bring still more changes.


The diets of northern people traditionally relied heavily on meat. The short warm season might bring some berries and herbs but most of the time plants, including trees for firewood, were scarce. Seal, caribou, whale, walrus and fish made up the core of the northern diet. Some food is now imported from the south but because it is expensive to buy and not always available, the people of the tundra still rely heavily on hunting for food.


Traditionally norther people used blocks of snow to build igloos. Because snow is a good insulator these were fairly warm inside. In the summer months people on the tundra would live in huts made of animal skins stretched over a frame and would travel between winter and summer camps to live close to good hunting grounds. Modern people on the tundra live year round in permanent homes built from imported materials such as wood and brick.

Tools and Clothing

Traditional tools for people living on the tundra were made from bone. Nearly everything the people used including clothing, and transportation equipment such as dog sleds and kayaks were traditionally made from bone, animal skins and furs. Some wood was used also but trees on the tundra are scarce and take a long time to grow. Most modern tools and clothing in the north are imported. Snowmobiles and motor boats have largely replaced dog sleds and kayaks.

Culture and Economy

The culture of northern people placed great emphasis on helping one another and sharing with others. Anything the people could not make themselves they got by trading animal furs. The modern culture of these people has retained its emphasis on helping and sharing which can be essential to survival in such a harsh climate. The fur trade is still an important part of the economy for many people on the tundra, though mining for copper, gold and coal has become increasingly important. As the ice caps and the permafrost melt due to global warming it is also likely that oil will be found.

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About the Author

Justin Beach has been writing for more than a decade, contributing to a variety of online publications. He has a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems and additional education in business, economics, political science, media and the arts.