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Athabaskan

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The Athabaskan have traditionally settled in the drainage basins of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and as far north as the Brooks Range. Salmon is a very important food staple, as well as moose, caribou and berries. There are nine different Athabaskan language dialects in Alaska alone, and many more throughout Canada and the continental United States. Spirituality is important to the cultural Athabaskan structure. One such important event is the potlatch.

Memorial potlatches are held by family members of a deceased person one year after the death. It is a mourning opportunity as well as one to honor the deceased. Other potlatches were held to demonstrate the wealth, prosperity or luck of a person: the more potlatches, the greater the wealth.

Another spiritual event is known as the Stickdance. Originating from the Holy Cross/Shageluk area, the Stickdance is a week-long celebration of potlatches, singing and dancing. At the end of the celebration is held the actual Stickdance, where relatives of the recently deceased are dressed with clothes given to them by friends.

Finally, there is Nuchalawoyya, used to celebrate the return of spring and is celebrated in early June. Nuchalawoyya means “where the two rivers meet” in Koyukon Athabaskan, and is held in Tanana, a village on the Yukon River. People would canoe down the Yukon and Tanana Rivers, which others would join as they passed and arrive in Tanana as one large group. Upon their arrival, many different kinds of races are held, as well as a potlatch.

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