Monday, January 18, 2010

Alaska Natives

Native traditions are celebrated across Alaska and Anchorage has several visitor attractions and special events aimed at sharing the culture.  Photo: © Kristen Kemmerling, ATMC/ATIA

Alaska Natives make up about 16% of the Alaska's total population, including more than 200 rural communities separated by vast distance and unique geographical regions. Anchorage is often considered the largest of Alaska Native villages.

Alaska Natives: Cultural Profiles

Aleut & Alutiiq
The area stretching from Prince William Sound west along the Gulf of Alaska to the Aleutian Islands is home to the Aleut and Alutiiq peoples. The natural marine environment defines subsistence lifestyles and cultures that date back more than 8,000 years ago. The Aleuts and the Alutiiq differ in language and culture but a commonality was created from the first contact with the Russians in the 18th century that is evident today.

The Alutiiq language, called Sugcestun or Alutiiq, is one of the Yupik branches of the Esk-Aleut language family. The Alutiiq are known for their skill in building and handling kayaks or baidarka, as the Russians called it.

The Aleut, also known as Unangan, are known for being expert boat builders and sailors and well known for their kayaks. The Aleut language, Unangax, also derives from the Esk-Aleut family.

Athabascan (Indian)
Athabascan Indians live in interior Alaska and have the largest land base of any other Alaska Native group. The Athabascan is efficient hunters and fishers and the moose, caribou, salmon and the birch tree are the most important resources. These provide food, clothes and shelter.

In summer, they spend a great deal of time at their fish camps along major river systems - including the Yukon, Tanana, Innoko, Chandelar, Koyokuk and Tolovana rivers. In winter, they hunt caribou, moose and smaller animals. There are 11 different languages spoken by Alaskan Athabascans.

Inupiaq & St. Lawrence Island Yupik (Eskimo)
The Inupiaq & St. Lawrence Island Yupik live in a region that stretches from the St. Lawrence Island to the northern Canadian border and beyond. Their territory also includes most of the Brooks Range.

Today, as in the past the food is determined by the region and season of the year. The hunter/gatherer societies is based largely on an active subsistence hunting and traditional use of foods such as, berries, salmon, moose, whale, walrus, seal, duck, and other marine mammals to provide substantial portions of their diet.

Tlingit, Haida, Eyak and Tsimshian (Indian)
These four Indian groups of southeastern Alaska are considered to be a part of the Pacific Northwest coast culture area. Each group speaks their own language and has their own clan systems.

The four cultures are similar in the use of art and oral traditions, as well as complex legal and social systems based upon matrilineal clans. They share a similar use of art and are known for their totem poles and dramatic carvings.

Yup'ik & Cup’ik (Eskimo)
The Yup'ik & Cup’ik people, named after the two main dialects of the Yup’ik language, live in southwestern Alaska from Bristol Bay along the Bering Sea coast to Norton Sound. The availability of fish, game and plants determined the location of seasonal camps and villages. Yup'ik & Cup’ik are hunters of moose, caribou, whale, walrus, seal and sea lions and harvest salmon and other fish from the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Nushagak rivers. Bird eggs, berries and roots help sustain people throughout the region.

The summer and fall seasons focus on gathering food and hunting while the winter season is for traditional ceremonies and festive events.

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