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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pre-contact distribution of Eyak
Regions with significant populations
 Alaska,  United States428[1]
English, Eyak (historical)
Related ethnic groups
Tlingit, Ahtna, Chugach Sugpiaq

The Eyak (Eyak: ʔi·ya·ɢdəlahɢəyu·, literally "inhabitants of Eyak Village at Mile 6"[2]) are an Alaska Native people historically located on the Copper River Delta and near the town of Cordova, Alaska. Today, Eyak people live in Cordova, Yakutat, across Alaska, and the U.S.

Many Eyak descendants do not qualify to be tribal members in the Native Village of Eyak, a federally recognized Alaska Native tribe which was established through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. This is due to the enrollment qualifications that extend tribal citizenship only to those who reside in the town of Cordova for the majority of the year.



The Eyak's territory reached from present-day Cordova east to the Martin River and north to Miles Glacier.

There were four main villages:

  • Alaganik, near Mile 21 of the present-day Copper River Highway
  • Eyak, located near Mile 5.5
  • unnamed, 800 yards south of Eyak
  • Orca, located within present-day Cordova

In addition to these villages the Eyak would seasonally occupy fish camps at Point Whitshed and Mountain Slough.[3]

The now-common name Eyak for both the ethnic group and its language is an exonym and comes from the Sugt'stun (Alutiit'stun) dialect of Chugach Sugpiaq, a group of Sugpiaq ("real people," better known as Alutiiq) for an Eyak village as Igya'aq' at the mouth of the Eyak River.[4]

The Eyak refer to themselves as DAXunhyuu ("the people") and the present-day Eyak Native Village as IiyaaGdaad' ("at Eyak Native Village") – but the now officially recognized tribe as IiyaaGdAlahGAyuu ("People from Eyak Native Village"), as the tribe consists of descendants of Chugach Sugpiaq, Eyak, and Tlingit.[5]



The Eyak initially moved out of the interior down the Copper River to the coast. There they harvested the rich salmon fishing grounds. When the Russians arrived they recognized the Eyak as a distinct culture and described their territory on their maps. They also traded with the Eyak and sent them missionaries. Because of their small population, they were often raided and their territory boundaries were under pressure from the Chugach to the west. The Tlingit on the east side, had better relations with the Eyak leading to intermarriage and the assimilation of most Eyak. The Eyak's territorial boundary was pushed further contributing to the Eyak's decline. When the Americans arrived they opened canneries and competed with the Eyak for salmon. The integration and novel diseases which were introduced by non-Native settlers led to the further decline of the Eyak.

As populations decreased the remaining Eyak began to congregate near the village of Orca.[6] In 1880 the population of the village of Alaganik was recorded at 117 and by 1890 it had declined to 48.[7] In 1900 total population was estimated at 60. As more settlers arrived the last village became the town of Cordova. As of 1996, there were 120 partial Eyak descendants in the town.[6] The last full-blood Eyak, Marie Smith Jones, died on January 21, 2008.[8]



The Eyak spoke a distinct language closely related to the Athabaskan languages. Pressure from neighboring ethnic groups and the spread of English resulted in a decline of the Eyak language. Marie Smith Jones (1918–2008) was the last native speaker. Michael Krauss was known first and foremost as an Eyak language specialist.

Notable Eyak people



  1. ^ Eyak Corporation
  2. ^ Krauss, Michael E. 1970. Eyak dictionary. University of Alaska and Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1963–1970
  3. ^ "Eyak Native History". Cordova Historical Society. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  4. ^ Michael E. Krauss 2006: A history of Eyak language documentation and study: Fredericæ de Laguna in Memoriam. Arctic Anthropology 43 (2):pages 172–217
  5. ^ "Eyak Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  6. ^ a b Campbell, L.J. (1996). "Native Cultures in Alaska". Alaska Geographic. 23 (2). Anchorage, Alaska: The Alaska Geographic Society: 70–73. ISSN 0361-1353.
  7. ^ Hodge, Frederick (1912). Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico: A-M. Government Print Office. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  8. ^ Holton, Gary (1 February 2010). "Overview of the Eyak Language". University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved 26 February 2010.

Further reading

  • Birket-Smith, K., & De Laguna, F. (1938). The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska. København: Levin & Munksgaard, E. Munksgaard.
  • De Laguna, F. (1990). "Eyak." In Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7 Northwest Coast. W. Suttles, ed. Pp. 189–96. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Harry, A. N., & Krauss, M. E. (1982). In honor of Eyak: The art of Anna Nelson Harry. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska.
  • Hund, Andrew. "Eyak." 2004. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Taylor and Francis Publications. ISBN 1-57958-436-5
  • Hund, Andrew. 2008. "’Old Man Dude’ and Eyak Shamanism" Alaska Historical Society ~ University of Alaska's Statehood Conference, Alaska Visionaries: Seekers, Leaders, and Dreamers. Anchorage, AK. Unpublished manuscript.