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Alaskan Native Photos

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Alaska is one of the youngest states of the Union, but its history and culture is perhaps one of the oldest. With ties to the earliest migrations of Eastern people across the Bering Land Bridge, Alaskan Natives have a unique history. At Alaska Stock Images, you will find a wide variety of Alaska photos including some of the most interesting Alaska Native Photos. To find more pictures of Alaska and its people, visit our search page.

Alaska Native Photos
Yupik Elder filetting salmon
Today, Alaskan Natives represent approximately 16% of Alaska's population. There are nearly 200 villages spread across the state in the rural and remote areas of Alaska. A key element preserving these Native cultures seems to be the preservation of their Native language. According to census figures, approximately 36% of the Native Alaskan population remains predominantly Native speaking. The most traditional Alaska Native groups are found among the Yup'ik speaking areas where 71% remain Native speakers. In second, 54% of Natives in Inupiat areas speak predominately their native language. Athabascan natives come in next at about 21% remaining Native speakers. Among the Native Alaskans living in Anchorage and Fairbanks, only about 17% speak a native language at home. The most endangered languages are found among the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimsian, where only 11% speak a Native language at home.
historical Eskimo home
Entrance to historical Eskimo home

The term "Alaska Native" refers to Alaska's original inhabitants and includes two main groups: the Eskimo and Indian. These original settlers dispersed across the Alaska land mass and occupied distinct regions of climate and geography. Villages were relatively small, but, amazingly, some areas have had continuous or seasonal occupation in excess of 10,000 years such as the fish camp "Mary's Igloo."

As these groups of Native Alaskans grew and spread, they became increasingly separated by distinctions in language, culture, and geography. Today, these variances can be organized into five main groups: Athabascan, Yup'ik, Inupiaq, Aleut and Tlingit (Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak).

The Athabascan originally lived in the Interior of Alaska, which is the location just south of the Brooks Range down to the Kenai Peninsula. The five sustainable river systems used b the Athabascan were the Yukon, Tanana, Susitna, Kuskokwim, and Copper river. Athabascans moved in small groups frequently to hunt, fish and trap. Athabascans used stone, antlers, wood, and bone. Such tools were used to build houses, boats, snowshoes, clothing, and cooking utensils. Trees were used when available for erecting native Alaskan homes. Clan elders were the cornerstone of the group and made all major decisions including marriage, leadership, and trading customs. It was not uncommon for a woman and her brother to be the group's leaders. Interestingly, in this situation, it was custom for the sister's husband to become the life long hunting partner of her brother.

Native Alaskan weaving
Native Alaskan weaving

The Native Alaskans found in he southwest part of Alaska can be sub-divided into two main dialects of the Yup'ik language: Yup'ik and Cup'ik. Many of today's villages were ancient sites that were used as seasonal camps and villages. All males in the Yup'ik/Cup'ik community lived in a "qasgiq," or men's house. Women and girls lived in an "Ena," or woman's house. The social organization of the Yup'ik was much more gender based with the males being in the leadership and provider's roles while women cooked, cleaned, and reared children. Shamans also played an important role in the Yup'ik community to bring ask aid from the spirits in finding animals to hunt and the essentials to live such as driftwood, plants, and good weather.

Native hunting tradition
Native Subsistence

The Innupiaq, also known as the "real people" due to their close ties to the original inhabitants of Alaska, exist still today on their traditional skills as subsistence hunters which revolves around the polar bear, whales, seals, and caribou. The people used a variety of designs and materials, but three key features were common: homes having an underground tunnel entrance below the living level to trap cold air, A semi-subterranean structure, using the ground as insulation, and finally, a seal-oil lamp from soapstone or pottery, for light, heat and cooking. Homes were usually made from sod blocks, sometimes laid over driftwood or whalebone and walrus bone frames, generally dome-shaped. These homes would often flood in the summer as snow and ice thawed, but the people usually would have already picked up camp and move to their summer home. Religious beliefs centered around re-incarnation – for both humans and animals. Names of those who died would be given to the newborns.

The Aleut people mostly reside in the area of the Aleutian Islands and southwest Alaska. They are heavily influenced by the ocean and survival from what the waters can provide. The intense weather that affects
Russian Influence
Russian influence in Native culture
the Aleutian chain also heavily influences the Aleut traditions and activities. Russians have also had a heavy impact on the Aleut cultures. There is a Russian Orthodox Church in nearly every village, language has become intermixed, and even food dishes have Russian influence. Due to the inclement weather of the southwest, the Aleut clothing was often made out of dried sealskin or intestine and sewed with the utmost care in order to provide waterproof protection. The Aleut are also known for their seal skin boats known as "qayaq" which is an obvious early ancestor to today's sport Kayak.

Finally, the Tlingit (also includes the Haida, Eyak, Tsimshian) are located primarily in the southeast regions of Alaska commonly known as the Inside Passage. Due to the high concentration of a large rain forested area, the Tlingit had sturdy homes built of Red Cedar, spruce, and hemlock board planks. Homes were large and housed many families with a central fire pit for cooking and socializing. The bark of the trees could also be woven for baskets, hats, and even clothing. Totem poles, masks, and wooden boats were also made due to the abundance of wood. Tlingit were class conscience about status within the clan. There were three levels: the high-ranking, commoners, and even slaves (obtained from enemies). The "potlatch," a large celebration and ceremony, was expected from a high-ranking family or clan. However, if the lower class was able to save and host a potlatch they could elevate their position.

Tlingit native tradition
Tlingit Totem Pole

Books of Interest

Stories for Future Generations/Qulirat Qanemcit-Llu Kinguvarcimalriit: The Oratory of Yup'Ik Elder Paul John - Tales both authentically Yup?ik and marked by Paul John?s own unique innovations are presented in a bilingual edition, with Yup?ik and English text presented in facing pages. As Paul John says, "In this whole world, whoever we are, if people speak using their own language, they will be presenting their identity and it will be their strength."

Tlingit Art: Totem Poles & Art of the Alaskan Indians - A compelling and informative social, cultural, and aesthetic examination of Tlingit Native American totem poles, carvings, and other artworks.

Qayaq : Kayaks of Alaska and Siberia - this book is a must have for any kayaker.I found it at the library and was amazed by the amount of info about traditional kayak design and techniques.

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