Alaska Natives

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Alaska Native
Inuit man 1906.jpg
Iñupiaq man
Total population
~106,660 (2006)[1]
Regions with significant populations
American English, Russian (historically), Haida, Tsimshianic languages, Eskimo–Aleut languages, Chinook Jargon, Na-Dené languages, others
Shamanism (largely ex), Christianity (especially Russian Orthodoxy)

Alaska Natives are indigenous peoples of Alaska, United States: Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and a number of Northern Athabaskan cultures. They are often defined by their language groups. Alaskan Natives are enrolled in federally recognized Alaska Native tribal entities, who in turn belong to 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, who administer land and financial claims.


Ancestors of the Alaska Natives are known to have migrated into the area thousands of years ago, in at least two different waves. Some are descendants of a third wave of immigration in which people settled across the northern part of North America. They never migrated to southern areas. For this reason, genetic studies show they are not closely related to Native Americans in South America. Throughout the Arctic and northern areas, they established varying indigenous, complex cultures that have succeeded each other over time.

They developed sophisticated ways to deal with the challenging climate and environment, and cultures rooted in the place. Historic groups have been defined by their languages, which belong to several major language families.

Arriving from Siberia by ship in the mid-eighteenth century, Russians began to trade with Alaska Natives, especially when they learned the quality of their furs. New settlements around trading posts were started by Russians, including Russian Orthodox missionaries. British and American traders generally did not reach the area until the nineteenth century, and in some cases missionaries were not active until the twentieth century. This history is evident in the high number of congregations today of Russian Orthodox among Christians in Alaska, with most of their members being Alaska Natives.

ANSCA and since (1971 to present)[edit]

In 1971 the United States Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA), which settled land and financial claims for lands and resources which they had lost to European Americans. It provided for the establishment of 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations to administer those claims. Similar to the separately defined status of the Canadian Inuit and First Nations in Canada, which are recognized as distinct peoples, in the United States, Alaska Natives are in some respects treated separately by the government from other Native Americans in the United States. This is in part related to their interactions with the US government in a different historic period than indigenous peoples in the colonies and early federal period.

Europeans and Americans did not have sustained encounters with the Alaska Natives until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when many were attracted to the region in gold rushes. The Alaska Natives were not allotted individual title in severalty to land under the Dawes Act of 1887 but were instead treated under the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906. It was repealed in 1971, following ANSCA, at which time reservations were ended. Another characteristic difference is that Alaska Native tribal governments do not have the power to collect taxes for business transacted on tribal land, per the United States Supreme Court decision in Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government (1998). Except for the Tsimshian, Alaska Natives no longer hold reservations but do control some lands. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, Alaska Natives are reserved the right to harvest whales and other marine mammals.


Gathering of subsistence foodstuffs continues to be an important economic and cultural activity for many Alaska Natives.[2] In Barrow, Alaska in 2005, more than 91 percent of the Iñupiat households which were interviewed still participated in the local subsistence economy, compared with the approximately 33 percent of non-Iñupiat households who used wild resources obtained from hunting, fishing, or gathering.[3]

But, unlike many tribes in the contiguous United States, Alaska Natives do not have treaties with the United States that protect their subsistence rights,[2] except for the right to harvest whales and other marine mammals. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act explicitly extinguished aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in the state of Alaska.[4]


Alaska Native Languages
American Indians and Alaska Natives in Alaska.

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures, which are largely defined by their historic languages. Within each culture are many different tribes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development. (2006). "Table 1.8 Alaska Native American Population Alone By Age And Male/Female, July 1, 2006." Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Research & Analysis. Retrieved on 2007-05-23.
  2. ^ a b Elizabeth Barrett Ristroph, "Alaska Tribes' Melting Subsistence Rights," 1 Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy 1, 2010, Available at
  3. ^ URS CORP., BARROW VILLAGE PROFILE 4.3-6 (2005), available at
  4. ^ 43 U.S.C. § 1603(b) (2006)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]