11/4/12

Alaska's Native People

... a living culture rich in mythology and tradition.



Alaska is the ancestral home of many Native groups, each distinguished by ethnicity, location, language and culture.
The Tlingit and Haida in plank houses and traveled the Inside Passage in dugout canoes. They fished for salmon, halibut, cod, crab and shellfish and hunted deer and moose, while enjoying rich social lives with neighboring groups. Their totemic art was heraldic, much like the royal crests of Europe, and at times memorialized great events, or recorded family lineages, or denoted ownership of places or resources.
The Tshimshian arrived in Alaska only in the late 19th century and currently live in Metlakatla Alaska's only Indian reservation, on Annette Island near Ketchikan.

Eskimo family

The Tlingit of Juneau have a tribal structure based on two equal moieties, or halves, known as Ch'aak' (Eagle) and Yeil (Raven). Moieties are divided into clan groups and houses, each with a representative totemic crest. The history of each clan is contained in the designs and crests represented on totem poles, house posts, screens, hats, blankets and regalia. Designs are considered the property of the clan and house groups, and are an important part of the history that tells who they are and where they came from.
When gold was discovered in the domain of the local Auk and Taku tribes in the 1880s, the two tribes rose in prominence and Juneau became increasingly important as a center of social and political progress for Alaska Natives.
Today the people of Juneau who identify themselves as Native or part-Native, number 5000, making this the largest "Indian village" in Southeast Alaska.

Native Alaska (fish)

The Yup'iks (Eskimo) inhabit the river and coastal waterways of southwestern Alaska.
The Inuptiat (Eskimo)of Saint Lawrence Island inhabit coastal regions above the Arctic Circle. These groups traditionally traveled in sea Kayaks and skin boats called umiaks.
They hunted (and still do) bowhead whale, polar bear, walrus and seal and eat many kinds of fish and wildlife. They also gather roots and berries from the tundra to supplement their diets. Contrary to popular belief, the Eskimos of Alaska did not live in icehouses, but in partially buried driftwood and sod houses.
The Unangan (Aleut) inhabit the Aleutian Islands in south-western Alaska. They are coastal people who rely on the sea to provide their food and were once masters of the baidarka or sea kayak, capable of travelling great distances. The Unangan were the first Alaska Natives to have prolonged contact with outsiders, in their case, Russian fur hunters and explorers.

Native carving totem pole

Athabascans were traditionally nomadic people who followed the food sources along the river ways, mountains, and the open spaces of interior Alaska and Canada. They belong to a language group that includes Navajo and Apache and continue today to live on their traditional foods, including caribou, moose, beaver, muskrat, grouse, duck, geese, fish, berries and roots.

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