Canada's Northern Arctic Ecozone is among the least populated areas of the world. The total population, scattered in 20 communities, is only about 15 000 people (1991). Iqaluit is the largest centre, with a population numbering 3 552 in 1991.
The Inuit, who have occupied the area for a thousand years or more, form over 80% of the population. They consist of regional groups that share a unique heritage and one language with several dialects.
Arctic communities feature a mixture of traditional and cash economies. Much of the local population depends on subsistence hunting, trapping, and fishing, activities highly valued for their contributions to independence, self-esteem, tradition, and a healthy lifestyle. However, residents are also involved in mining, oil and gas development, construction, services, and government activities. Those Inuit employed full-time as wage earners turn to weekend and part-time hunting to supplement their diet with preferred meats.
The arctic ecozones, representing Canada's last natural resource frontier, are rich in mineral and hydrocarbon reserves. However, since 1989, the value of metallic mineral production has plummeted because of a weak global market. Two mines are currently operating in the Northern Arctic Ecozone: the base metal Polaris mine on Little Cornwallis Island, and the Nanisivik mine on Baffin Island. Despite their locations, they are among the lowest-cost zinc producers in the world.
The arctic ecozones also have 59% of Canada's estimated oil resources and 48% of potential gas resources. Yet there has been no substantial development since the 1980s. This is largely due to external factors, such as low crude oil prices and the global recession. Tourism is also significant to the economy, generating $11.8 million for arctic businesses in 1993.