Arctic Ocean - U.S.

Indigenous Alaska Communities

The Arctic has sustained human communities for thousands of years. For many Arctic peoples, the sea remains a focal point of life and culture. Coastal peoples use marine plants and animals for food, clothing and other necessities. Along the coasts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, most communities hunt bowhead whales and view this as a centerpiece of local culture. They prepare for the hunt year-round, celebrate their successes and share food throughout the community. Arctic peoples also use other ocean resources, such as fish, walrus, seals and seabirds, to support their subsistence way of life. For many residents of the Arctic, there is a direct connection between the continued health of the marine environment and the health of their food supply and culture.
Development in the U.S. Arctic creates new opportunities for employment and other benefits. But it can also cause social and economical upheaval in local communities and indigenous cultures. Arctic peoples could experience health and social impacts because of the changes in lifestyle that industrial development can bring, including an influx of outside workers and the infrastructure needed to support them. The natural resources that support indigenous communities’ subsistence economy can also be affected by oil development.

The Pew Charitable Trusts Health Impact Project highlights a case study done on oil development in Alaska’s North Slope. To learn more about the potential social and economic changes for Arctic communities please visit the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment program.
For more information, visit:



ACIA. 2004. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press.

Arctic Council. 2009. Senior Arctic Official (SAO) Report to Ministers, Tromso, Norway.

Kunz, M. L., M. Bever, and C. Adkins. 2003. The Mesa Site: Paleoindians above the Arctic Circle. BLM-Alaska Open File Report 86.

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Christine Fletcher

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