Alaska Native Cultures

The Native cultures of Alaska are wonderfully rich both in their similarities and diversity. Each group of people interacts with the environment where they settled. The strong influence of Alaska’s varied environments form the ties between the people and their land. Legends, customs, and subsistence lifestyles developed in harmony with the specific area where they settled. To survive in the harsh climates of Alaska, a deep awareness and unity with the living things around them is an absolute necessity. All Native people have great respect for the spirit of each living thing. Respect and cooperation among village members and for all things were the values that guarantee the survival of the people.

The Native people of Alaska have traditionally been hunters and food gatherers. Rivers, lakes and the ocean were major passageways, and all the cultures included variations of water vessels among their transport options. Although most of the groups were not truly nomadic, their subsistence made it necessary to cover great distances. Almost all of the groups lived in permanent villages throughout the winter, but moved to fish camps on the rivers in the summer. Most all of Alaska Native cultures, then and now, depend heavily upon fish and marine life of many varieties for subsistence. Land mammals are also used for food and clothing. In addition, gathered vegetation (e.g. mushrooms, seaweed, etc.) and a myriad of berries supplement the diet.

Language and culture boundaries between Alaska Native groups are distinct (see interactive map here), and are reflective of the nature of the respective culture.

(All photos on Alaska Native Cultures pages are by Patrick Endres)