This photo was taken in November 2006 near a town called Nes in the Nenets Autonomous District in Northwest Russia. The Nenets people are indigenous people in Russia that live in the Arctic region. Think of what it would be like to open your door to spy a reindeer in the morning!
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of Julia Vishnevets

Arctic Cultures

There are people of different cultures and backgrounds who live in the Arctic region. Read on to learn more about two of these cultures.


The Inuit are the native cultures that continue to live on coastal areas of Arctic tundra in Canada, Alaska (USA), Siberia (Russia), and Greenland. Over this broad area there are many different groups of people. Some share common ancestors, others probably do not, but most have similar ways of living in the Arctic. Inuit traditionally hunted for seals, whales, polar bears, caribou, birds and other animals from the ocean and the tundra. Inuit people invented the kayak and used these small boats to hunt for Arctic marine animals. Because of a great respect for these animals, Inuit have traditional customs that must be followed during a hunt. Inuit myths were inspired by the environment that they lived within including the magical appearance of the aurora in the night sky, the long dark winters, and the icy Arctic Ocean. Explore more about Inuit culture by visiting the links below.


Norse people were originally from Scandinavian countries. During the Middle Ages, between approximately 850 and 1066 AD, groups of Norse explorers and warriors called Vikings raided and colonized other regions within and near the Arctic such as Greenland, Iceland, and northern Russia (as well as warmer, lower latitude locations too). Today, many people living in these countries are descendants of the Norse people.

The Norse were excellent boat builders, crafting vessels out of wood called longships, which could travel across large expanses of ocean. There were many oars along the sides of the boat and often one square sail. Vikings would row the oars and wind would fill the sail, propelling the boat. The Norse people, including the Vikings, were known to be excellent storytellers. Explore some of the myths from the Norse people in the links below.

Norse Myths

The Earth: Midgard
The Sea: Aegir
The winds: Njord
The Thunder: Thor
The sky: Tyr
The Sky: Odin
The Aurora: Freya
The Northern Lights: The Valkiries
The Sun: Freyr
The Planet Venus: Sif
The Milky Way: Bifrost
The Norse Family Tree

Inuit Myths

The Sun: Malina
The Moon: Anningan
The Sea: Sedna

Last modified June 18, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

You might also be interested in:

Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms

What types of instructional experiences help K-8 students learn science with understanding? What do science educators teachers, teacher leaders, science specialists, professional development staff, curriculum designers, school administrators need to know to create and support such experiences?...more

The Aurora

The aurora is formed when protons and electrons from the Sun travel along the Earth's magnetic field lines. These particles from the Sun are very energetic. We are talking major-league energy, much more...more


Midgard is the realm where humans live, the Earth. It was created when the god Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve slayed the giant Ymir. In Norse mythology, the world was seen as a gigantic tree, called...more


Njord was the god of the sea and winds in Norse mythology. He is the father of Freyr and Freya and the leader of the Vanir. Njord was married to the giantessSkadi. Skadi's father was slain by the gods....more


Tyr was the sky god in Norse mythology. He sacrificed one of his hands for the good of the gods. In Asgard, the land of the gods, there was a demonic wolf called Fenrir. He was so huge and fierce that...more


Norse mythology associates the aurora with the beautiful goddess, Freya, daughter of Njord and the giantess Skadi. Freya was the goddess of beauty and love as well as battle and death. Friday was named...more


It has been suggested that the northern lights, the aurora, represented the reflections of the shields of the Valkiries in Norse mythology. The Valkiries, whose name means "Chooser of the Fallen" were...more


In Norse mythology, Sif was the wife of Thor, the mighty god of thunder. Sif was a very loyal wife. She was considered the symbol of fidelity. Once the malicious god Loki cut the long blond tresses of...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA