Alaska Natives

Alaska Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States and include: Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. They are often defined by their language groups. Many Alaska Natives are enrolled in federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entities, who in turn belong to 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, who administer land and financial claims.

Ancestors of Alaska Natives migrated into the area thousands of years ago, in at least two different waves. Some are descendants of a third wave of migration in which people settled across the northern part of North America. They never migrated to southern areas. For this reason, genetic studies show they are not closely related to Native Americans in South America.

Throughout the Arctic and the circumpolar north, the ancestors of Alaska Natives established varying indigenous, complex cultures that have succeeded each other over time. They developed sophisticated ways to deal with the challenging climate and environment, and cultures rooted in the place. Historic groups have been defined by their languages, which belong to several major language families. Today, Alaska Natives comprise over 15% of the population of Alaska.[2]

Alaska Native
Total population
≈106,660 (2006)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States of America ( Alaska)
English, Russian (historically), Haida, Tsimshianic languages, Eskimo–Aleut languages, Chinook Jargon, Na-Dené languages, others
Shamanism (largely ex), Christianity (Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy (American Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), Catholic)
Tikhanov - Aleut in Festival Dress in Alaska (1818)
Aleut islander (19th Century)

List of peoples

Early Indian Languages Alaska
Alaska Native Languages
Aia ak 100
American Indians and Alaska Natives in Alaska.

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native peoples, which are largely defined by their historic languages. Within each culture are many different tribes.


The Alaska Natives Commission estimated that there were about 86,000 Alaska Natives living in Alaska in 1990, with another 17,000 who lived outside Alaska.[3] A 2013 study by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development documented over 120,000 Alaska Native people in Alaska.[4] While the majority of Alaska Natives live in small villages or remote regional hubs such as Nome, Dillingham, and Bethel, the percentage who live in urban areas has been increasing. In 2010, 44% lived in urban areas, compared to 38% in the 2000 census.[4]


The modern history of Alaskan natives begins with the arrival of Europeans. Unusually for North America it was the Russians, coming from Siberia in the eighteenth century, who were the first to make contact. British and American traders generally did not reach the area until the nineteenth century, and in some cases missionaries were not active until the twentieth century.

Russian colonial period

Arriving from Siberia by ship in the mid-eighteenth century, Russians began to trade with Alaska Natives. New settlements around trading posts were started by Russians, including Russian Orthodox missionaries. These were the first to translate Christian scripture into Native languages. In the 21st century, the numerous congregations of Russian Orthodox Christians in Alaska are generally composed mostly of Alaska Natives.

Rather than hunting the marine life, the Russians forced the Aleuts to do the work for them.[5] As word spread of the riches in furs to be had, competition among Russian companies increased and they forced the Aleuts into slavery.[5] Catherine the Great, who became Empress in 1763, proclaimed good will toward the Aleut and urged her subjects to treat them fairly. The growing competition between the trading companies, merging into fewer, larger and more powerful corporations, created conflicts that aggravated the relations with the indigenous populations. Over the years, the situation became catastrophic for the natives.

As the animal populations declined, the Aleuts, already too dependent on the new barter economy created by the Russian fur trade, were increasingly coerced into taking greater risks in the dangerous waters of the North Pacific to hunt for more otter. As the Shelikhov-Golikov Company and later Russian-American Company developed as a monopoly, it used skirmishes and systematic violence as a tool of colonial exploitation of the indigenous people. When the Aleut revolted and won some victories, the Russians retaliated, killing many and destroying their boats and hunting gear, leaving them no means of survival.

The most devastating effects were from disease: during the first two generations (1741/1759-1781/1799 AD) of Russian contact, 80 percent of the Aleut population died from Eurasian infectious diseases. These were then endemic among the Europeans, but the Aleut had no immunity against the new diseases.[6]

Impact of colonization

Woman and child - Nunivak - Edward S. Curtis - restoration1
Yupik mother and child on Nunivak Island

Geopolitical reasons drove the Tsarist government to expand into Indigenous territory in present day Alaska, spreading Russian Orthodoxy and consuming the natural resources of the territory along their way.[7] Their movement into these populated areas of Indigenous communities altered the demographic and natural landscape. Historians have suggested that the Russian-American Company exploited Indigenous peoples as a source of inexpensive labour.[7] The fur trade led the Russian American Company to not only use Indigenous populations for labour, but to also use them as hostages to acquire iasak.[7] Iasak, a form of taxation used by the Russians, was a tribute in the form of otter pelts.[7] It was a taxation method the Russians had previously found useful in their early encounter with Indigenous communities of Siberia during the Siberian fur trade.[7] Beaver pelts were also customary to be given to fur traders upon first contact with various communities.[8]

The Russian American Company used military force on Indigenous families as they were taken hostage and held until the male community members brought forth furs.[7] Otter furs on Kodiak Island and Aleutian Islands enticed the Russians to start these taxations.[7] Robbery and maltreatment in the form of corporal punishment and the withholding of food was also present upon the arrival of fur traders.[9] Catherine the Great dissolved the giving of tribute in 1799, and instead instituted a mandatory conscription of Indigenous men between the ages of 18 to 50 to become seal hunters strictly for the Russian American Company.[7] Mandatory service of Indigenous men gave the Russian American Company grounds for competition with other American and British fur traders.[7] The conscription of mandatory labour separated men from their families and villages, thus altering and breaking down communities.[10] With able-bodied men away on the hunt, villages were left with little protection as only women, children, and the elderly remained behind.[10] In addition to changes that came with conscription, the spread of disease also altered populations of Indigenous communities.[11] Although records kept in the period were scarce, it has been said that 80% of the pre-contact population of the Aleut people were gone by 1800.[11]

Relationships between Indigenous women and fur traders increased as Indigenous men were away from villages. This resulted in marriages and children that would come to be known as Creole peoples, children who were Indigenous and Russian.[10] To reduce hostilities with Aleutian communities, it became policy for fur traders to enter into marriage with Indigenous women which also helped grow a strong Creole population in the territory controlled by the Russian American Company.[10]

The growth of the Russian Orthodox Church was another important tactic in the colonization and conversion of Indigenous populations.[12] Ioann Veniaminov, who later became Saint Innocent of Alaska, was an important missionary who carried out the Orthodox Church's agenda to Christianize Indigenous populations.[12] The church brought up Creole children following Russian Orthodox Christianity, while the Russian American Company provided an education to them.[12] Creole people were considered to have high levels of loyalty towards the Russian crown and Russian American Company.[12] After completing their education, children were often sent to Russia, where they would study skills such as mapmaking, theology, and military intelligence.[12]

ANCSA and since (1971 to present)

Will Yaska of Pueblo, Colorado, a Koyukon (an Alaska Native Athabaskan people), was among the participants at a Colorado Springs Native American Inter-Tribal Powwow and festival in that central LCCN2015633372
A Koyukon in traditional tribal dress

In 1971 the United States Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which settled land and financial claims for lands and resources which the peoples had lost to European Americans. It provided for the establishment of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations to administer those claims. Similar to the separately defined status of the Canadian Inuit and First Nations in Canada, which are recognized as distinct peoples, in the United States, Alaska Natives are in some respects treated separately by the government from other Native Americans in the United States. This is in part related to their interactions with the US government in a different historic period than indigenous peoples in the colonies and early federal period.

Europeans and Americans did not have sustained encounters with the Alaska Natives until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when many were attracted to the region in gold rushes. The Alaska Natives were not allotted individual title in severalty to land under the Dawes Act of 1887 but were instead treated under the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906.

It was repealed in 1971, following ANSCA, at which time reservations were ended. Another characteristic difference is that Alaska Native tribal governments do not have the power to collect taxes for business transacted on tribal land, per the United States Supreme Court decision in Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government (1998). Except for the Tsimshian, Alaska Natives no longer hold reservations but do control some lands. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, Alaska Natives are reserved the right to harvest whales and other marine mammals.


Gathering of subsistence food continues to be an important economic and cultural activity for many Alaska Natives.[13] In Utqiagvik, Alaska in 2005, more than 91 percent of the Iñupiat households which were interviewed still participated in the local subsistence economy, compared with the approximately 33 percent of non-Iñupiat households who used wild resources obtained from hunting, fishing, or gathering.[14]

But, unlike many tribes in the contiguous United States, Alaska Natives do not have treaties with the United States that protect their subsistence rights,[13] except for the right to harvest whales and other marine mammals. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act explicitly extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in the state of Alaska.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development. (2006). "Table 1.8 Alaska Native American Population Alone By Age And Male/Female, July 1, 2006." Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Research & Analysis. Retrieved on 2007-05-23.
  2. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts". 2017.
  3. ^ "Alaska Natives Commission".
  4. ^ a b "The Alaska Native Population Is on an Upward Trend". KOLG Public Radio for Bristol Bay.
  5. ^ a b Taylor, Alan (2001) American Colonies: The Settling of North America Penguin Books, New York p.452
  6. ^ "Aleut History", The Aleut Corporation Archived November 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lightfoot, Ken G (2003). "Russian Colonization: The Implications of Mercantile Colonial Practices in the North Pacific". Historical Archaeology. 37 (4): 14–28. doi:10.1007/BF03376620. JSTOR 25617092.
  8. ^ "Five Journal Reports From 1789-90 Concerning Treatments of Aleuts", |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  9. ^ "Journal of Navigator Potap Zaikov, on Ship, "Alexander Nevski"", |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. ^ a b c d Reedy-Maschen, Katherine (Fall 2018). "Where Did All the Aleut Men Go? Aleut Men Attrition and Related Patterns in Aleutian Historical Demography and Social Organization". Human Biology. 82 (5/6): 583–611. doi:10.3378/027.082.0506. JSTOR 41466705. PMID 21417885.
  11. ^ a b Veltre, Douglas, W (Fall 2018). "Russian Exploitation of Aleuts and Fur Seals: The Archaeology of Eighteenth Century and Early Nineteenth Century Settlements in the Pribilof Island, Alaska". Historial Archaeology. 36 (3): 8–17. doi:10.1007/BF03374356. JSTOR 25617008.
  12. ^ a b c d e Dehass, Media Csoba (Fall 2018). "What is in a Name? The Predicament of Ethnonyms in the Sugpi-aq- Aluitq Region of Alaska". Arctic Archaeology. 49 (1): 3–17. JSTOR 24475834.
  13. ^ a b Elizabeth Barrett Ristroph, "Alaska Tribes' Melting Subsistence Rights," 1 Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy 1, 2010, Available at "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2011-04-14.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ URS CORP., BARROW VILLAGE PROFILE 4.3-6 (2005), available at
  15. ^ 43 U.S.C. § 1603(b) (2006)

Further reading

External links

Administration for Native Americans

The Administration for Native Americans (ANA) is a department of the United States Department of Health and Human Services established in 1974 through the Native American Programs Act (NAPA).

The mission of ANA is to promote economic and social self-sufficiency for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Native Pacific Islanders. ANA provides community-based project funding to improve the lives of native children and families thereby reducing long-term dependency on public assistance. Funding for community-based projects is provided through three competitive discretionary grant programs to eligible tribes and non-profit Native American organizations. Program areas include Social & Economic Development Strategies (SEDS), De-anglicisation of the Native Americans, and Environmental Regulatory Enhancement.

Alaska Federation of Natives

The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) is the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 178 villages (both federally recognized tribes and village corporations), thirteen regional native corporations, and twelve regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and run federal and state programs. AFN is governed by a 37-member board, which is elected by its membership at the annual convention held each October. The mission of AFN is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska native community.

Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is a United States federal law passed on November 12, 1980, by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on December 2 of that year. ANILCA provided varying degrees of special protection to over 157,000,000 acres of land, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, recreational areas, national forests, and conservation areas. It was, and remains to date, the single largest expansion of protected lands in history and more than doubled the size of the National Park System.

The Act provided for 43,585,000 acres of new national parklands in Alaska; the addition of 9.8 million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System; twenty-five wild and scenic rivers, with twelve more to be studied for that designation; establishment of Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island National Monuments in Southeast Alaska; establishment of Steese National Conservation Area and White Mountains National Recreation Area to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management; the addition of 9.1 million acres to the Wilderness Preservation System, and the addition of 3,350,000 acres to Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

Alaska Native Allotment Act

The Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906, 34 Stat. 197, enacted on May 17, 1906, permitted individual Alaska Natives to acquire title to up to 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land in a manner similar to that afforded to Native Americans

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

Outline of United States federal Indian law and policy

Alaska Native Brotherhood/Sisterhood

The Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and its counterpart, the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), are two nonprofit organizations founded in 1912 in Sitka, Alaska to address racism against Alaska Native peoples in Alaska. For the first half of the 20th century, they were the only organizations working for the civil rights of Alaska Natives in the territory and state.

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971, constituting at the time the largest land claims settlement in United States history. ANCSA was intended to resolve long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska.The settlement established Alaska Native claims to the land by transferring titles to twelve Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 local village corporations. A thirteenth regional corporation was later created for Alaska Natives who no longer resided in Alaska. The act is codified as 43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.

Alcohol and Native Americans

Native Americans in the United States have historically had extreme difficulty with the use of alcohol. Problems continue among contemporary Native Americans; 11.7% of the deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related. Use of alcohol varies by age, gender and tribe with women, and older women in particular, being least likely to be regular drinkers. Native Americans, particularly women, are more likely to abstain entirely from alcohol than the general US population. Frequency of use among Native Americans is generally less than the general population, but the quantity consumed when it is consumed is generally greater.

A survey of death certificates over a four-year period showed that deaths among Native Americans due to alcohol are about four times as common as in the general US population and are often due to traffic collisions and liver disease with homicide, suicide, and falls also contributing. Deaths due to alcohol among Native Americans are more common in men and among Northern Plains Indians. Alaska Natives showed the least incidence of death. Alcohol abuse by Native Americans has been shown to be associated with development of disease, including sprains and muscle strains, hearing and vision problems, kidney and bladder problems, head injuries, pneumonia, tuberculosis, dental problems, liver problems, and pancreatitis. In some tribes, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is as high as 1.5 to 2.5 per 1000 live births, more than seven times the national average, while among Alaska Natives, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 5.6 per 1000 live births.Native American youth are far more likely to experiment with alcohol than other youth with 80% alcohol use reported. Low self-esteem is thought to be one cause. Active efforts are underway to build self-esteem among youth and to combat alcoholism among Native Americans.

Aleut Restitution Act of 1988

The Aleut Restitution Act of 1988 (also known as the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Restitution Act) was a reparation settlement passed by the United States Congress in 1988, in response to the internment of Aleut people living in the Aleutian Islands during World War II.

Before the Japanese invasion of Attu and Kiska in 1942, the United States forcibly relocated some 800 Aleuts to camps in Southeast Alaska, where it is estimated that more than 1 in 10 evacuees perished.


The Alutiiq people (pronounced in English; from Promyshlenniki Russian Алеутъ, "Aleut"; plural often "Alutiit"), also called by their ancestral name Sugpiaq ( or ; plural often "Sugpiat"), as well as Pacific Eskimo or Pacific Yupik, are a southern coastal people of Alaska Natives. They are not to be confused with the Aleuts, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands.

Their traditional homelands include Prince William Sound and outer Kenai Peninsula (Chugach Sugpiaq), the Kodiak Archipelago and the Alaska Peninsula (Koniag Alutiiq). In the early 1800s there were more than 60 Alutiiq villages in the Kodiak archipelago, with an estimated population of 13,000 people. Today more than 4,000 Alutiiq people live in Alaska.

American Indian English

American Indian English or Native American English is a diverse collection of English dialects spoken by many American Indians and Alaska Natives, notwithstanding indigenous languages also spoken in the United States, of which only a few are in daily use. For the sake of comparison, this article focuses on similarities across varieties of American Indian English that unite it in contrast to a "typical" English variety with standard grammar and a General American accent.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the U.S. Department of the Interior. It is responsible for the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km2) of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives.

The BIA is one of two bureaus under the jurisdiction of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs: the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, which provides education services to approximately 48,000 Native Americans.

The BIA’s responsibilities originally included providing health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 1954 that function was transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now known as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), and it is now known as the Indian Health Service.

Dentistry in rural Alaska

There is a lack of dental care in rural Alaska because many Alaska Natives live in rural villages, most of which are only accessible by boat or bush plane. There are many programs to help Alaska Natives understand the importance of dental care while helping them to receive the professional care and guidance that is needed. There are many problem issues within the rural Alaska Native population such as tooth disease. To help with these health issues there are dentists, as well as dental therapist aides, who travel to these villages to perform care. These programs are funded by the United States federal government and the Alaska Native Corporations.

I'noGo tied

Among some Alaska Natives, the i'noGo tied ("house of spirits") refers to a luck and protection amulet made from blubber encased in seal fur.

Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is an operating division (OPDIV) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). IHS is responsible for providing direct medical and public health services to members of federally-recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska Native people. IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for Indian people, and its mission is to raise their health status to the highest possible level.The IHS provides health care in 36 states to approximately 2.2 million out of 3.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). As of April 2017, the IHS consisted of 26 hospitals, 59 health centers, and 32 health stations. Thirty-three urban Indian health projects supplement these facilities with a variety of health and referral services. Several tribes are actively involved in IHS program implementation. Many tribes also operate their own health systems independent of IHS.

Innoko Wilderness

Innoko Wilderness is a 1,240,000-acre (500,000 ha) wilderness area in the U.S. state of Alaska. It was designated by the United States Congress in 1980. It lies within the southeastern part of Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. Innoko Wilderness is a transition zone between the boreal forestland of interior Alaska and the open tundra of western Alaska. More than half of the Wilderness is wetlands of muskeg and marsh, lakes, rivers, and streams dotted with islands of black spruce and an understory of mosses, lichens, and shrubs. Along the Yukon and Innoko Rivers are numerous privately owned subsistence camps used periodically for hunting and fishing by Alaska Natives.

List of Native Americans in the United States Congress

This is a list of Native Americans with documented tribal ancestry or affiliation in the U.S. Congress.

All entries on this list are related to Native American tribes based in the contiguous United States. No Alaska Natives have ever served in Congress. There are Native Hawaiians who have served in Congress, but they are not listed here because they are distinct from North American Natives.

Only two Native Americans served in the 115th Congress: Tom Cole (serving since 2003) and Markwayne Mullin (serving since 2013), both of whom are Republican Representatives from Oklahoma. On November 6, 2018, Democrats Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the 116th Congress, which commenced on January 3, 2019, has four Native Americans. Davids and Haaland are the first two Native American women with documented tribal ancestry to serve in Congress.

Native American Church

The Native American Church (NAC), also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote. The religion originated in the U.S. State of Oklahoma in the late nineteenth century after peyote was introduced to the southern Great Plains from Mexico. Today it is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans in the United States (except Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians), Canada (specifically First Nations people in Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Mexico, with an estimated 250,000 adherents as of the late twentieth century.

Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States

Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, 348 U.S. 272 (1955), is a United States Supreme Court case involving a suit by the Tee-Hit-Ton, a subgroup of the Tlingit people. The Tee-Hit-Ton sought compensation from Congress for lumber taken from lands they occupied. The court ruled against the Tee-Hit-Ton.

Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta

The Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta is a river delta located where the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers empty into the Bering Sea on the west coast of the U.S. state of Alaska. At approximately 129,500 square kilometers (50,000 sq mi) in size, it is one of the largest deltas in the world. It is larger than the Mississippi River Delta (which varies between 32,400 and 122,000 square kilometers (12,500 and 47,100 sq mi)), and comparable in size to the entire U.S. state of Louisiana (135,700 square kilometers (52,400 sq mi)). The delta, which consists mostly of tundra, is protected as part of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

The delta has approximately 25,000 residents. 85% of these are Alaska Natives: Yupik Eskimos and Athabaskan Indians. The main population center and service hub is the city of Bethel, with an estimated population of around 6,219 (as of 2011). Bethel is surrounded by 49 smaller villages, with the largest villages consisting of over 1,000 people. Most residents live a traditional subsistence lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and gathering. More than 30 percent have cash incomes well below the federal poverty threshold.

The area has virtually no roads; travel is by Bush plane, or by river boats in summer and snowmachines in winter.

Bethel is the location of the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.

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