These reckonings somewhat depend on the arbitrary concept of nordicity, a measure of so-called "northernness" that other Arctic territories share. Canada is the northernmost country in the Americas (excluding the neighbouring Danish Arctic territory of Greenland which extends slightly further north) and roughly 80% of its 35 million inhabitants are concentrated along its southern border with the United States.
As a social rather than political region, the Canadian north is often subdivided into two distinct regions based on climate, the near north and the far north. The different climates of these two regions result in vastly different vegetation, and therefore very different economies, settlement patterns, and histories.
The "near north" or subarctic is mostly synonymous with the Canadian boreal forest, a large area of evergreen-dominated forests with a subarctic climate. This area has traditionally been home to the Indigenous peoples of the Subarctic, that is the First Nations, who were hunters of moose, freshwater fishers and trappers. This region was heavily involved in the North American fur trade during its peak importance, and is home to many Métis people who originated in that trade. The area was mostly part of Rupert's Land or the North-Western Territory under the nominal control of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) from 1670–1869. The HBC's claim was purchased by the Canadian government in 1869, and shortly thereafter the government made a series of treaties with the local First Nations regarding land title. This opened the region to non-Native settlement, as well as to forestry, mining, and oil and gas drilling. Today several million people live in the near north, around 15% of the Canadian total. Large parts of the near north are not part of Canada's territories, but rather are the northern parts of the provinces, meaning they have very different political histories as minority regions within larger units.
The "far north" is synonymous with the areas north of the tree line: the Barren Grounds and tundra. This area is home to the various sub-groups of the Inuit, a people unrelated to other Aboriginal peoples in Canada. These are people who have traditionally relied mostly on hunting marine mammals and caribou, mainly barren-ground caribou, as well as fish and migratory birds. This area was somewhat involved in the fur trade, but was more influenced by the whaling industry. This area was not part of the early 20th century treaty process and aboriginal title to the land has been acknowledged by the Canadian government with the creation of autonomous territories instead of the Indian reserves of further south. Very few non-Aboriginal people have settled in these areas, and the residents of the far north represent less than 1% of Canada's total population. The far north is also often broken into west and eastern halves. The eastern Arctic which means the self-governing territory of Nunavut (much of which is in the true Arctic, being north of the Arctic Circle), as well as Nunavik, an autonomous part of the province of Quebec, and Nunatsiavut an autonomous part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and perhaps a few parts of the Hudson Bay coast of Ontario and Manitoba. The western Arctic is the northernmost portion of the Northwest Territories (roughly Inuvik Region) and a small part of Yukon, together called the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.
Since 1925, Canada has claimed the portion of the Arctic between 60°W and 141°W longitude, extending all the way north to the North Pole: all islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Herschel, off the Yukon coast, form part of the region, are Canadian territory and the territorial waters claimed by Canada surround these islands. Views of territorial claims in this region are complicated by disagreements on legal principles. Canada and the Soviet Union/Russia have long claimed that their territory extends according to the sector principle to the North Pole. The United States does not accept the sector principle and does not make a sector claim based on its Alaskan Arctic coast. Claims that undersea geographic features are extensions of a country's continental shelf are also used to support claims; for example the Denmark/Greenland claim on territory to the North Pole, some of which is disputed by Canada. Foreign ships, both civilian and military, are allowed the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of a littoral state subject to conditions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The right of innocent passage is not allowed, however, in internal waters, which are enclosed bodies of water or waters landward of a chain of islands. Disagreements about the sector principle or extension of territory to the North Pole and about the definition of internal waters in the Arctic lie behind differences in territorial claims in the Arctic. This claim is recognized by most countries with some exceptions, including the United States; Denmark, Russia, and Norway have made claims similar to those of Canada in the Arctic and are opposed by the European Union and the U.S. This is especially important with the Northwest Passage. Canada asserts control of this passage as part of the Canadian Internal Waters because it is within 20 km (12 mi) of Canadian islands; the U.S. claims that it is in international waters. Today ice and freezing temperatures make this a minor issue, but climate change may make the passage more accessible to shipping, something that concerns the Canadian government and inhabitants of the environmentally sensitive region.