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Early Indian Languages Alaska.jpg
Denaʼina (Tanaina) language area:
Iliamna, Tyonek, Susitna
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Alaska)
English, Denaʼina, Russian
Orthodox Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Ahtna, Deg Hitʼan, other northern Athabaskan peoples

The Denaʼina (/dɪˈnnə/ ; own name: in the Inland dialect [dənʌʔɪnʌ], in the Upper Inlet dialect [dənʌ͡ɪnʌ]; Russian: денаʼина), or formerly Tanaina (Russian: Танаина; кенайтце), are an Alaska Native Athabaskan people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group. They are the original inhabitants of the south central Alaska region ranging from Seldovia in the south to Chickaloon in the northeast, Talkeetna in the north, Lime Village in the Northwest and Pedro Bay in the Southwest. The Denaʼina homeland (Denaʼina Ełnena) is more than 41,000 square miles in area.[2] They arrived in the Southcentral Alaska sometime between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago. They were the only Alaskan Athabaskan group to live on the coast. Denaʼina culture is a hunter-gatherer culture and have a matrilineal system. The Iditarod Trail's antecedents were the native trails of the Denaʼina and Deg Hitʼan Athabaskan tribes and the Inupiaq people.[3]

Their neighbors are other Athabaskan-speaking and Yupik peoples: Deg Hitʼan (northwest), Upper Kuskokwim (central north), Koyukon (northeast), Lower Tanana (a little part of northeast), Ahtna (east), Alutiiq (Pacific Yupik) (Denaʼina name: Ułchena / Ultsehaga - "slaves") (from Kenai Peninsula to Prince William Sound the Chugach Sugpiaq / Alutiiq, south-southeast) and (on Kodiak Archipelago and the Alaska Peninsula the Koniag Alutiiq, south), and Yup'ik / Yupiaq (Central Yupik) (Denaʼina name: Dudna - [down river] people", west and southwest).[4]


The name "Dena’ina" comes from two parts: dena meaning "person" and ina, the human plural marker in Dena’ina language means "the people", and is related to the autonym for the Southern Athabaskan Navajo people "Diné." The Denaʼina name for Cook Inlet is Tikahtnu meaning "Big Water River", "Ocean River" or Nuti meaning "Saltwater."


The Denaʼina are the only Northern Athabascan group to live on saltwater and this allowed them to have the most sedentary lifestyle of all Northern Athabascans. The Denaʼina were organized in regional bands or Ht’ana ("people of [a place or area]"), which were composed of local bands. The regional bands had several villages or qayeh, each containing multi-family dwellings called Nichił. Each Nichił was led by a qeshqa ("rich man" or "leader") who Russia and American traders and religious referred to as "Chiefs." Men and women in villages belong to their mother's clan. The clans were grouped into two sides or "moieties." Villagers could only marry outside of their own clan and moiety, maintaining diversity in the gene pool and strength in the village lineage.[5] Archaeological work suggests that the Dena'ina have occupied the Upper and Outer Cook Inlet areas for the last 1,000 years, migrating from the Mulchatna and Stony River areas, where they had lived for thousands of years prior.[6]

Language and bands[edit]

Their traditional language, Denaʼina (Dena’ina Qenaga), currently has about 70-75 fluent speakers out of a total population of about 1,400. Denaʼina is one of eleven Alaska Athabascan languages. There are four primary dialects of Denaʼina (grouped with regional bands, local groups and today's tribal names):[7]

  • Inland / Lake Clark Denaʼina: (Qizhjeh Vena (Lake Clark), Qeghnilen ("Canyon" Village on Stony River), K’qizaghtetnu / K'qizaghetnu Hdakaq' (Stony River Village), Htsit (Tishimna Lake Village), Nunvendaltin (Nondalton on/or Sixmile Lake), Dilah Vena (Telaquana Lake), Hek'dichen Hdakaq' (Lime Village), Tanilen/Tanalian Point (near Port Alsworth), Qizhjeh (Kijik at Lake Clark), Vałts'anaq' (Mulchatna River villages), Vandaztunhtnu (Upper Mulchatna River), Łiq'a Qilanhtnu (Tlikakila River))[8] - today: Lime Village, Village of Stony River, and Nondalton Village
    • Nondalton Dena'ina or Nundaltinht’ana/Nuvendaltin Quht’ana ("People at Sixmile Lake/Nundalton Village") - today: Nondalton Village
  • Iliamna Denaʼina: (Verna Kolyaha (Pedro Bay),[9] Tsayehtnu Hdakaq' (Pile Bay Village), Ch'ak'dalitnu/Nuch'ak'dalitnu (Old Iliamna), Nilavena (Lake Iliamna), Nughilen (aka Nughiltnu Kaq' / Nughil Kaq', today Newhalen), Chix Kaq' (Chekok), Vighutiztin Hkayitaghi'u (Lonesome Bay Village))
    • Iliamna Denaʼina or Nilavena/Nilan Vena Ht’ana ("People at islands lake, i.e. Lake Iliamna") - today: Village of Iliamna, Newhalen Village, and Pedro Bay Village Council
  • Upper Inlet Denaʼina: (Idlughet/Eydlughet (Eklutna), Niteh (Old Knik, Matanuska), Nughay Bena (New) Knik), Qiduk'ggat (Montana Creek), Tsat'ukegh/Susitnu Qayeh (Susitna Station), Tubughnenq' ((Old)Tyonek), Ch'aghałnikt (Point Possession Village), Tuqen Kaq'Qayeh (Alexander Creek Village), Tsuk Qayeh (Lower Yentna River Village), Benteh/Bentalit (Fish Lake Village sites), Dashq'e (Kroto Creek Village), Ch'aniltnu Hdakaq' (Chunilna Creek Village), Tatik'niłtun Bena (Stephan Lake Village), Tudli Bena (Nancy Lake Village), K'enakatnu (Fish Creek Village), Łajat (Cottonwood Creek Village), Nik'udatl'ech'a (Dinkle Lake Village), Nuk'din'itnu (Chickaloon), Skintuk'ełaha (Swan Lake Village), Tak'at/Tak'at Qenuch'en ("[Across from] Dip Net Platform", Cairn Point Village), Nuch'ishtunt ("Place Protected from Wind", Point Woronzof Village), Nen Ghiłgedi ("Rotten Land", near Point Woronzof), K'dalkitnu (Talkeetna River, Talkeetna townsite), Dgheyaytnu (Stickleback Creek (Ship Creek), original Anchorage townsite), Dgheyey Kaq' ("Mouth of Stickleback Creek", Anchorage), Chanshtnu ("Grass Creek, i.e. Chester Creek", original Anchorage townsite), Qin Cheghitnu ("Crying Ridge Creek", i.e. Campbell Creek)[10]
    • Tyonek (Tubughnenq’) / Cook Inlet (Tikahtnu) Denaʼina or Tebughna/Tubughna ("Beach People") - today: Native Village of Tyonek[11]
    • Susitna (River) Dena'ina or Susitnu Ht’ana ("Sandy River, i.e. Susitna River People") (Ahtna term: Dustnay - "People out in front", partly Western Ahtna band)
      • Alexander Creek Village Denaʼina or Tuqen Kaq'Qayeh Ht’ana ("Clear water mouth village People") - today: Alexander Creek Native Village
      • Susitna Station Denaʼina or Susitnu Qayeh Ht’ana ("Sand River Village People") / Yusdishla Qayeh Ht’ana ("Little Point Village People") - today: Native Village of Tyonek
    • Rainy Pass Dena'ina or Shandala Nununk'dnilghuyna ("People who holler to make migrating birds fall down")
    • Yentna River Dena'ina or Yentnu Ht’ana ("Backbone River, i.e. Yentna River People")
      • Lower Yentna Old Village Denaʼina or Tsuk Qayeh Qayeh Ht’ana ("Old Village Village People")
    • Middle Susitna River Denaʼina or Dunʼena ("Near Upriver People")
      • Kroto Creek Denaʼina or Dashq'e Ht’ana ("On the shoal People" or "On the shallows People")
      • Montana Creek Village Denaʼina or Qiduk'ggat Ht’ana ("Frozen Overflow People")
    • Talkeetna Mountains Ahtna-Denaʼina or Dghelay Teht’ana/Dzelyi Ht’ana ("(Talkeetna) Mountains People", mixed Western Ahtna-Denaʼina band)
    • Knik (Arm area) (K’enakatnu) Dena'ina or K’enah Ht’ana ("Vision People?") - today: Knik Tribal Council
      • Eklutna (Idlughet) Village Dena'ina or Idlughet/Eydlughe Ht’ana/Idluytnu Qayeh Ht’ana ("at the plural objects People") - today: Native Village of Eklutna
      • Matanuska (Old Knik) Village Dena'ina or Niteh Ht’ana ("Among the islands People") - today: Knik Tribal Council
    • Turnagain Arm Dena'ina or Tutl'uht'ana ("Headwaters People") - today: Knik Tribal Council and Native Village of Eklutna
      • Point Possession Dena'ina or Tuzqunt Ht’ana/Tuyqunt Ht’ana ("Stillwater People, i.e. Point Possession People")
    • Western Ahtna-Dena'ina or Htsay Ht’ana (Dena'ina name) / Hwtsaay Hwt’aene (Ahtna name) ("Small Timber People")
      • Chickaloon Dena'ina or Nuk'din'itnu Ht’ana (Dena'ina name - "Bridge goes across-stream People") or Nay’dini’aa Na’ Hwt’aene (Ahtna name - "The river with the two logs across it People") - today: Chickaloon Village Traditional Council
      • Wasilla area Dena'ina[12] or Benteh Ht’ana ("Among the Lakes People") - today: Knik Tribal Council
      • Fish Creek-Knik Village Dena'ina or K'enakatnu Ht’ana ("'?-stream People") - today: Knik Tribal Council
  • Outer Inlet / Kenai (Kahtnu) Denaʼina (Kahtnuht’ana Qenaga): (Shk'ituk't/Ch'k'ituk't (Old Kenai Village Site), Kahtnu Qayah (Kenai), Sqilant (Kenai Lake Village), Qezdeghnen (Kustatan sites), Ts'eslahtnu (Old Seldovia), Angidahtnu (Seldovia), Unhghenesditnu (Kalifornsky Village), Tałin Ch'iłtant (Polly Creek), Nihnalchint (Ninilchik), Tsayehq'at (China Poot Bay Village), K'kaq' (Anchor Point Village), K'echan Dałkizt (Humpy Point Village), Ggasilat (Kasilof Village), Quqegh Nik'eteleht (Libby Creek (Seven Egg Creek) Village), Tiduqilts'ett (Titukilsk Village), Ken Dech'etl't (Salamatof), Ch'anilnat (Chinila Village), Chunuk'tnu (Russian River), Tikahtnu (Cook Inlet), Yaghenen ("Good Land, i.e. Kenai Peninsula"))
    • Kenai (River) Dena'ina or Kahtnuht’ana/Nkahtnuht’ana ("Kahtnu (Kenai River) People", lit. "River mouth river People") - today: Kenaitze Indian Tribe
    • Skilak Lake Dena'ina or Q’es Dudilent Ht’ana ("Skilak Lake People", lit. "Flows Into Outlet Place (at Skilak Lake) People") - today: Kenaitze Indian Tribe
    • Kenai Lake Dena'ina or Sqilan Bena Ht’ana ("Kenai Lake People", lit. "Ridge Place Lake People") / Sqilant Ht’ana ("Ridge Place Village People")
    • Kenai Mountains Dena'ina or Tsaht’ana ("(Kenai) Mountains People", mixed Denaʼina-Western Ahtna band) - today: Seldovia Village Tribe
    • Kanai Peninsula / Swanson River Dena'ina or Yaghanen Ht’ana/Yaht’ana/Yaghedna ("Good Land, i.e. Kenai Peninsula People") - today: Seldovia Village Tribe and Ninilchik Traditional Council
      • Nikiski area Dena'ina or Qeghnen Ht’ana ("Adjacent Land People") - today: Village of Salamatof
    • Kustatan and West-Lower Cook Denaʼina or Qezdeghtna/Qeydaghetna (anglicised "Kustatan" - "Peninsula People, lit. Point of Land People") - today: Ninilchik Traditional Council
    • Kasilof River Denaʼina or Ggasilahtnu Denaʼina - today: Ninilchik Traditional Council

Dena’ina Alaska Native Regional Corporations/Alaska Native village corporations[edit]

Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CIRI)[13] ("Upper Inlet" and "Outer Inlet / Kenai Denaʼina"-speaking bands)

  • Chickaloon Village Traditional Council[14] (Ahtna name: Nay'dini'aa Na' - "the river with the two logs across it", Dena’ina name: Nuk'din'itnu - "bridge goes across-stream") (Western Ahtna and Dena’ina peoples)
  • Native Village of Eklutna[15] (Idlughet Qayeht’ana - "at the plural objects People" and Tutl'uht'ana - "Headwaters People")
  • Kenaitze Indian Tribe[16] (Kahtnuht’ana - "Kahtnu (Kenai River) People", and Q’es Dudilent Ht’ana - "Skilak Lake People")
  • Knik Tribal Council[17] (K′enah Ht’ana - "Vision People?", other groups are Niteh Ht’ana - "Among the islands People", Benteh Ht’ana - "Among the Lakes People", Tutl'uht'ana - "Headwaters People", and K'enakatnu Ht’ana - "'?-stream People") (Dena’ina and Western Ahtna peoples)
  • Ninilchik Traditional Council[18] (Niqnalchint Qayeh Kenu - "Ninilchik Village Tribe" or Niqnalchint - "A place were a lodge is built", historic Yaghanen Ht’ana/Yaht’ana/Yaghedna - "Good Land People, i.e. Kenai Peninsula People", Qezdeghtna/Qeydaghetna - "Peninsula People" and Ggasilahtnu Ht’ana - "Kasilof River People") (Dena’ina, Chugach Sugpiaq (Alutiiq), Western Ahtna, and Central Alaskan Yup'ik peoples)
  • Salamatof Tribal Council[19] (Ken Dech’etl’t - "scrub timber flat lake, i.e.Salamatof Lake")
  • Seldovia Village Tribe[20] (historic Dena’ina bands: Yaghanen Ht’ana/Yaht’ana/Yaghedna - "Good Land People, i.e. Kenai Peninsula People", Tsaht’ana - "Mountain People") (Unangax (Aleut), Yupik, Chugach Sugpiaq (Alutiiq), Dena’ina, and Western Ahtna peoples)
  • Native Village of Tyonek[21] (Tebughna/Tubughna - "Beach People", and Susitnu Qayeh Ht’ana - "Sand River Village People")

Alexander Creek, Incorporated ("Upper Inlet Denaʼina"-speaking bands)

Calista Corporation[22] ("Inland / Lake Clark Denaʼina"-speaking bands)

  • Lime Village (Hek'dichen Hdakaq - "lack of abundance mouth", therefore formerly known as Hungry Village) (Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Denaʼina and Alaska Athabascan)

Bristol Bay Native Association[23] ("Inland / Lake Clark Denaʼina" and "Iliamna Denaʼina"-speaking bands)

  • Iliamna Village Council (Nilavena/Nilan Vena Ht’ana - "People at islands lake, i.e. Lake Iliamna") (General Central Yup'ik, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina peoples)
  • Newhalen Tribal Council (Dena’Ina name: Nughilen - "Newhalen River Village" or Nughiltnu - "flows-down river, i.e. Newhalen River", Central Alaskan Yup'ik name: Nuuriileng, historic bands: Nilavena/Nilan Vena Ht’ana - "People at islands lake, i.e. Lake Iliamna"), as Newhalen Village also part of the Alaska Peninsula Corporation[24](Yup’ik, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina peoples)
  • Nondalton Tribal Council or Nondalton Village (Nundaltinht’an - "Sixmile Lake/Nundalton Village" or Nuvendaltin Quht’ana - "People at Sixmile Lake/Nundalton Village")

Pedro Bay Corporation[25] ("Iliamna Denaʼina"-speaking bands)

  • Pedro Bay Village Council (Verna Kolyaha, historic Nilavena/Nilan Vena Ht’ana - "People at islands lake, i.e. Lake Iliamna") - also part of the Bristol Bay Native Association

Kuskokwim Corporation[26] ("Inland / Lake Clark Denaʼina"-speaking bands)


The city of Anchorage chose to honor the Denaʼina by naming the city's new convention center the Denaʼina Civic and Convention Center.

Notable Denaʼina people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alaska Native Language Center : Alaska Native Languages / Population and Speaker Statistics". Archived from the original on 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  2. ^ Patricia H. Partnow 2013. Denaʼinaqʼ Huchʼulyeshi: The Denaʼina Way of Living Archived 2014-03-20 at the Wayback Machine. Anchorage Museum.
  3. ^ The Iditarod National Historic Trail Seward to Nome Route: A Comprehensive Management Plan, March 1986. Prepared by Bureau of Land Management, Anchorage District Office, Anchorage, Alaska.
  4. ^ "The Map of Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska". Archived from the original on 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2014-03-20.
  5. ^ Dena’ina, Bands, Clans, & Moieties
  6. ^ Smith, Gerad (2020). Ethnoarchaeology of the Middle Tanana Valley, Alaska.
  7. ^ James Kari, James A. Fall, Shem Pete, Mike Alex: Shem Pete's Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena'ina, University of Alaska Press, page 28, ISBN 1889963577
  8. ^ National Park Service – U.S. Department of the Interior Lake Clark National Park and Preserve - NANUTSET ch’u Q’udi Gu BEFORE OUR TIME AND NOW AN ETHNOHISTORY OF LAKE CLARK NATIONAL PARK & PRESERVE
  9. ^ Denaʼina Ełnena
  10. ^ Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living - The Dena’ina cultural landscape of Anchorage
  11. ^ The Ch’u’itnu Traditional Cultural Landscape: A District Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places
  12. ^ "Wasilla" was named after the Qeshqa of Benteh ("Among the Lakes") Chief Visilla (Wasilla), the anglicized spelling of the chief's Russian-given name, Васи́лий Vasilij, which corresponds to the English name Basil meaning "royal, kingly"
  13. ^ Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CIRI)
  14. ^ Chickaloon Village Traditional Council
  15. ^ Native Village of Eklutna
  16. ^ Kenaitze Indian Tribe
  17. ^ Knik Tribal Council
  18. ^ Ninilchik Village Tribe
  19. ^ Salamatof Tribal Council
  20. ^ Seldovia Village Tribe
  21. ^ Native Village of Tyonek
  22. ^ Calista Corporation
  23. ^ Bristol Bay Native Association
  24. ^ Alaska Peninsula Corporation
  25. ^ Pedro Bay Corporation
  26. ^ The Kuskokwim Corporation

External links[edit]