Arctic Peoples – Lesson Plan
Central question: How has climate shaped the past, present and future of Arctic communities?
- Students will explain how Arctic peoples’ lives have been shaped by climate.
- Students will describe how current changes in climate are impacting Arctic peoples.
- Students will predict how Arctic communities may be impacted by future changes in climate.
Time needed: At least forty-five minutes
Grade Level: Middle School or High School
INTRODUCTION (2 minutes)
Explain to your students that almost four million people live in the Arctic today. Many distinct indigenous (native) groups continue traditional activities in much the same way their people have for thousands of years. Although many Arctic indigenous groups share some similar traits, each region and community has its own variations.
The term Eskimo was once used to name Arctic indigenous people. Now, however, names in native languages are preferred. Inuit, Inupiat, Gwich’in, Yup’ik and Inughuit are names used to refer to Arctic indigenous peoples in Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
For thousands of years these people have survived in one of the harshest environments in the world. Most of them live north of the tree-line, so traditionally the only wood to which they had access was driftwood. In most areas the growing season has been too short to raise any crops. In many areas they endure months of darkness in the winter. In many places temperatures can get very low and the wind can be very strong. This harsh environment shaped the cultures of the Arctic peoples.
ACTIVITY DESCRIPTION (5 minutes)
Explain that the class will be divided into groups of three. One set of three hand-outs will be given to each group. The first hand-out is a excerpt from the book Wise Words of Paul Tiulana: An Inupiat Alaskan’s Life and describes the lives of the Inupiat of Alaska in the late1920s. The second hand-out is an excerpt from the book The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers and describes the Inuit of Baffin Island in the 1930s. The third hand-out is a compilation of observations from native elders and community members about climate change-related impacts to their lives.
Students should take turns reading the first two hand-outs aloud to the rest of the group. After reading the first two hand-outs, the students should compile a list of specific ways the climate and environment shaped the lives, traditions, cultures, and daily realities of the people described. Students should then take turns, within their groups, reading aloud to the rest of the group the third hand-out (observations of Arctic community members). After the group finishes reading the quotes from the elders, they should compile a list of specific ways climate change is impacting the lives and cultures of Arctic indigenous peoples.
Students should then discuss how continued warming in the Arctic might affect people living there. Students should jot brief notes of their group discussion so they can share highlights with the class.
CONDUCT THE ACTIVITY (30 minutes)
- Divide class into groups of three and distribute the sets of hand-outs. (2 minutes)
- Students take turns reading the first two hand-outs aloud, then compile a list of correlations between the environment and the cultures, traditions and daily realities of the people described. (10 minutes)
- Students take turns reading the third hand-out and compile a list of ways that climate change is impacting the lives and cultures of Arctic indigenous peoples. (5-10 minutes)
- Students discuss how continued warming would affect Artic peoples and share their notes from their small group discussions with the rest of the class(10 minutes)
SUMMARIZE AND DEBRIEF
Here are some questions you might choose to ask to further the activity:
- The ways are very obvious that climate and environment have shaped the lives and cultures of native circumpolar peoples. Do you think, however that climate and environment have also shaped the lives and cultures of people in our home region? Why or why not. Why?
- How does our environment influence the food we grow; the houses we build; the clothes we wear, the activities we do; the way we socialize; the way we travel; the words we use; the attitudes we have?
- How might our lives and cultures be impacted if our regional climate changed?
- Many Arctic indigenous people say an important characteristic of their culture is adaptability and resourcefulness. They say these qualities are part of what has allowed them to survive for thousands of years in such a harsh environment. They say these same qualities will help them continue to adapt to a changing climate. How well do you think our culture will be able to adapt to climate change?
- What aspects of our culture and society might be difficult to adapt or change?
- What characteristics does our culture have that could help it adapt?
Notes to Teachers:
- As the students are reading the passages to each other, discussing, and taking notes, circulate between the groups and listen at each group for a few moments to gauge the progress of the groups and to make certain that students are focusing their efforts on the task.
- Before dividing the students into groups, explain the entire activity to them and let them know how much time they will have for each section of the activity.