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on the Land
Overview of Alaskan Native Cultures
of the people that crossed Beringia moved and followed large land
mammals into North America, some traveled as far as South America.
As time went on, the weather started getting warmer. Glaciers melted
and the sea level rose. About 10,000 years ago, the sea flooded
Beringia, separating Siberia and Alaska. Scientists have found evidence
that ancient settlements were established about that time around
the state. Today's descendants of these early travelers still live
in areas inhabited thousands of years ago. These early travelers
are Alaska's indigenous people or Alaskan Natives. Alaskan Natives
can be placed into five major groups, based on their location in
the state. They are the Inupiat,
the Siberian and Central
Yupik, the Athabascan,
the Aleut, the Alutiiq,
and the Tlingit and Haida.
There are many similarities
among the Native groups present in Alaska. They have all depended
upon subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering for their survival.
Their food consists of the animals and plants found in the area
they live in. They gather food at certain times of the year. They
try to use their resources conservatively and respectfully. When
an animal is harvested, almost every part of it is utilized.
Before western contact,
many Alaskan Natives lived in dugout houses with roofs made of sod
or grass. In areas where wood was present, they used wooden beams
for support. In arctic areas like northwestern Alaska, they used
whale bones and other animal remains that were available. In the
Interior and in Southeast Alaska where trees are available, Natives
built houses entirely of wooded.
occupy interior Alaska . Traditionally they were nomadic hunters
and fishermen. They subsist mostly on salmon, moose and caribou.
Before western contact they lived in dugout log or wood framed houses
which had above ground entries. They developed the "cache"
to store and keep food away from wild animals.
Tlingit and Haida
live on the islands and mainland of Southeast Alaska. They are members
of the Northwest Coast Culture which is recognized for totem poles
and other carvings. They subsist mainly on a variety of different
foods from the sea, including shellfish, eulachon (a small, oily
fish), halibut, and salmon. Although the villages are located on
the coast, they rarely hunt for whales. They are very effective
salmon gatherers. They continue to use traditional methods like
weirs and traps to harvest fish. Depending on the location, Tlingits
and Haidas hunted land animals as well, such as deer, mountain goat,
and moose. The Tlingit an Haida had access to wood and traditionally
lived in large wooden houses shared with large extended families.
Aleuts live on
the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula of western Alaska.
Their settlements include villages and seasonal camps strategically
placed on the islands and on the mainland. The Aleuts were the first
people to be colonized by the Russians, and their population was
decimated by hardship and disease under Russian rule. The Aleuts
subsist mostly on fish, intertidal resources, and marine mammals,
such as Stellar sea lions, seals, sea otters and whales. Traditionally,
the Aleuts used kayaks or baidarkas for hunting and travel. Before
western contact, Aleuts lived in pit houses or semisubterranean
(partially underground) houses with wood or whale bones for beams
that were covered with grass or sod. Aleuts are known for their
very-finely woven grass baskets.
Central and Siberian Yupik
These Eskimos live
in a wide area around the coast from St. Lawrence Island in the
central Bering Sea all the way to Prince William-Sound. Their diets
are different and depend on the local food sources available. The
Siberian Yup'ik, mainly people from St. Lawrence Island, subsist
on large marine mammals like bowhead whales, seals, and walrus.
Central Yupik populations subsist on salmon, sea lions, sea otters,
beluga whales and shellfish. Siberian Yupik still use skin boats
or umiaks to hunt. Traditionally, the central Yupik peoples used
kayaks or baidarkas. Before western contact, Yupik people lived
in pit houses or semi-subterranean houses with wood or whale bones
for beams that were covered with grass or sod.
The Alutiiq people live
in the coastal regions of south-central Alaska, from Prince William
Sound in the east to the north Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island
to the west. The land is a rugged combination of sea, fjord, mountain
and tundra, and weather that is often extreme. On the sea, Alutiit
fish and hunt seals, sea lions and otters. They gather berries and
fish for salmon in the streams. They are less dependent upon land
mammals, but in different locations they hunt caribou, black bear,
and brown bear. Traditionally, the Alutiit live in large villages,
but their populations were depleted due to war and disease when
Russians came in the late 18th century. Many aspects of Russian
culture (food, customs and religion) have been incorporated into
the Alutiiq culture today.
The Inupiat population
covers a large portion of the coast of northern Alaska. Formerly,
many Inupiat also lived inland, but Anaktuvuk Pass is the one village
that remains of the Nunamiut, or people of the land. They subsist
on marine mammals like whale and walrus and also fish and hunt for
water fowl. Inland Inupiat hunt land mammals, especially caribou.
Traditionally, the Inupiat traveled in the umiak, a large skin boat,
and sometimes by kayak, a smaller boat. They lived in pit houses,
or semi-subterranean houses.