Alaska’s Native Cultures

Alaska History Essay

Natives make up sixteen percent of Alaska’s total population. There are over two hundred native rural villages and small communities spread across Alaska. The Natives of Alaska are separated into five major cultural groupings; the Athabascans, the Yupik and Cup’ik, the Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik, the Aleut and Alutiq, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian.

The Athabascans generally  live in interior Alaska. They traditionally are nomadic and live close to rivers. They often had winter base camps where they stayed put for the season and fishing camps in the summer. They had a social system where the children of a couple belonged to the mother’s clan, not the father’s. The husband was expected to live with his wife’s family for at lease the first year, often the husband and his wife’s brother became hunting partners.

The Yupik and Cup’ik are named after the two main dialects of the Yupik language which they speak. These native Alaskans lived in southwestern Alaska, often along the coast. During the summer they would fish and follow game, whereas during the winter they would live in one location. The men slept in a qasigiq, which also served as the community center. Women and children slept in the ena which was smaller than the qasigiq. Social hierarchy was determined by gender and individual skills.

The Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island natives live in the north and northwestern Alaska. They live on walrus, polar bear, seals, caribou, and whales. Their houses are semi-subterranean and have underground tunnels for entrances.

The Aleut and Alutiiq live in south and southwestern Alaska and were heavily influenced by Russian and American explorers. In these cultures family is the most important thing of all, so their government and everything about their culture is based on family. These particular Alaskan natives are known for their skill at making boats out of animal skin and a wooden frames.

The Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tismshian natives live in the southeastern part of Alaska. They had no organized governments and no groups ever met to make policies for the whole group. Every decision was make at the household or village level.

That is a basic overview of the major cultural groups of Alaskan natives.


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