Long strips of salmon hang in a smokehouse
Salmon is a major food source throughout the year (NPS Photo)
  • Long strips of salmon hang in a smokehouse

    Salmon is a major food source throughout the year for subsistence families. (NPS Photo)

  • Moose hide being stretched and dried

    Each part of the animal is used; this moose provided food, and the hide will be made into clothing, artwork, and other necessities for living in rural Alaska. (NPS Photo)

  • A bucket full of blueberries

    Collecting blueberries is an important summer and fall activity for subsistence families. (NPS Photo)

  • A wooden contraption much like a water wheel with a net sits in the water

    Fishwheels, like this one from a river in interior Alaska, are used to harvest fish. (NPS Photo)


Today, as in the past, many Alaskans live off the land, relying on fish, wildlife and other wild resources. Alaska Native people have used these subsistence resources for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, handicrafts and trade for thousands of years. Subsistence, and all it entails, is critical to sustaining both the physical and spiritual culture of Alaska Native peoples. It is an important tradition for many non-Native people as well.

When the first Europeans visited Alaska’s shores during the 1740s, all the local residents they met were engaged in a subsistence way of life. As the population grew through the territorial days, many new and conflicting demands were made on Alaska’s natural and cultural resources. Development in various forms, such as harvesting marine and inland furbearers, commercial fisheries, mining operations, agriculture, development of military bases, along with establishment of cities and towns often impacted local resources and subsistence activities. By the time Alaska gained statehood in 1959, subsistence patterns in some of Alaska’s more populated areas had been greatly affected.

To learn more about the history and culture of subsistence in Alaska’s National Parks download the NPS publication Promises to Keep.

Last Updated: January 18, 2017