Logo Top Banner
slogan Alaska Timeline Alaska Kids About
Peer Work
Family & Community
History & Culture
Digital Archives
Land Sea Air

People of the North

Native Peoples

Native Lives and Traditions

Explorers and Adventurers

Heroes and Scoundrels



Community Life



Narrative & Healing
Reading & Writing
Libraries & Booksellers
Teaching & Learning
Contact Us

  Search Litsite Alaska
Find us on Facebook

digital archives

Home  >  Digital Archives  >  People of the North  >  Native Peoples
Alaska's First People
By Tricia Brown Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

Alaska's first people have lived in this land for many thousands of years.

Within written history, Alaska has been populated by 11 separate Native cultures. Language experts have identified 20 different languages among Alaska's people groups. Each culture can claim its own distinct history, stories, dances, songs, spiritual beliefs, and ceremonies. Yet all are united in the concept of sharing as a central, essential part of Native identity and cultural survival.

Long ago, the notion of land ownership was foreign to Alaska's indigenous people; however, they did identify and protect the boundaries around their groups' traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Along borders, neighboring groups traded and warred, and sometimes adopted useful tools or ways from their neighbors.

From ancient days to the present, continuity is evident in Alaska's Native cultures; however, for many, the history of the people is divided by pre-contact and post-contact with the Western world. Contact was initiated in 1741, the year that Vitus Bering's crew first set foot on Kayak Island. Although his ship did not make it back to Russia, another did, as did members of Bering's crew. With them came samples and stories of the lush furs to be found in Alaska. When the fur hunters returned to Alaska, they brought disease, firepower, and a foreign religion. The cultures of people along the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak, and Southeast Alaska especially were ravaged by the outsiders. However, Russian Orthodox linguists working with Natives in the Aleut (Unangan) and Tlingit regions did help with literacy advancements by helping develop a written alphabet and translating portions of Scripture.

Organizations such as the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, and various alliances such as Tanana Chiefs, built political strength in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thanks to Native leaders and lobbyists, passage of laws concerning equal rights to education and Native land claims stand as landmarks in Alaska history.

In uncountable ways, Alaska's Native people have adapted to, or resisted, change in their cultures. The formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1966 seemed to signal a new day. In the 1960s and 70s, a cultural reawakening among Native groups has resulted in stronger bonds culturally, politically, and economically. And the theme of sharing continues.

Listen to Audio
IBM Text to Speech

Gallery of Images
Click for Fullsize
Indian potlatch dancers, Kasaan
Click for Fullsize
"Tananah Indian squaw returning from a hunt"
Click for Fullsize
Cleaning walrus tusks
Click for Fullsize
Azoon River Indians

Next page:   Related Materials Pages:  1 2 

  Contact Us       LitSite Alaska, Copyright © 2000 - 2021. All rights reserved. UAA / University of Alaska Anchorage.
University of Alaska Anchorage