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This article is about the ethnic group. For their language, see Hän language. For other uses, see Han.
Chief Isaac of Han.jpg
Chief Isaac of the Han, Yukon Territory, ca. 1898
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Canada ( Yukon) 250[1]
 United States ( Alaska) 60[1]
English, Hän
Related ethnic groups
Gwich'in and other Alaskan Athabaskans

The Hän (also Hankutchin or Han) are a First Nations people of Canada and an Alaska Native Athabaskan people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group. Their traditional land centered on a heavily forested area around the Yukon River straddling what is now the Alaska-Yukon Territory border. In later times, the Han population became centered on Dawson City, Yukon and Eagle, Alaska.


The name Hän is a shortening of Hänkutchin, which is the Gwich’in word hangʷičʼin for the Han literally meaning "people of the river". This word has been spelled variously as Han-Kootchin, Hun-koo-chin, Hong-Kutchin, An Kutchin, Han Kutchin, Han-Kutchín, Hăn-Kŭtchin´, Hän Hwëch'in, and Hungwitchin. The French traders called the Hän Gens du fou, Gens de Fou, Gens de Foux, Gens des Foux, or Gens-de-fine. The name Gens de Foux (and variants) has also been used to refer to the Northern Tutchone, in which case the name Gens de Bois or Gens des Bois referred to the Hankutchin.


The Hän were one of the last Northern Athabascan groups to have contact with European peoples. In 1851 the first white man, Robert Campbell, (from the Hudson's Bay Company) entered Han territory, when he traveled from Fort Selkirk to Fort Yukon. However, it wasn't until 1873 and 1874 (after the US purchase of Alaska) when two trading posts were set up. One was established by Moses Mercier, a former employee of the Hudson's Bay Company in Belle Isle across the Eagle River and the other, Fort Reliance, was established on the Yukon, just below the mouth of the Klondike River, near Dawson, by two Alaska Commercial Company traders, Leroy N. McQuesten and Frank Bonifield. Contact with whites led to a shift from fishing-hunting economy to a fur trapping economy with increasing reliance on European goods (e.g., guns, clothing, canvas) from 1887 to 1895.

Traditional religion was gradually supplanted after Bishop William Bompas established the first Anglican mission in Hän territory.

Several epidemic diseases affected the population.



Historically, fish, especially salmon, was the main part of the Hän diet. King salmon was caught along the Yukon River in June and chum salmon in August. Fishing tools included weirs, traps, gill nets, dip nets, spears, and harpoons. Salmon was dried and stored for winter consumption.

Between the salmon runs from June–September, the river camps were abandoned and other fish, moose, caribou, birds, bears, and other small game were sought after. Men hunted game (once after the salmon run and later for caribou in February and March) while women fished (for fish other than salmon.) Stone boiling in woven spruce-root baskets was a common cooking method.


A square half-recessed house was made of wooden poles and moss insulation (called a moss house) and served as the main type of housing.

A temporary domed house made of skin was used when traveling.


The Hän language is most similar to Gwich’in (Kutchin) and more distantly related to Upper Tanana and Northern Tutchone. The language was used as a lingua franca by Gwich’in, Tutchone, Tagish, and Upper Tanana peoples toward the end of the 19th Century during the gold rush. The language is now the most endangered language of Alaska with only a few speakers (all over sixty).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Alaska Native Language Center : Alaska Native Languages / Population and Speaker Statistics


  • Crow, John R.; & Obley, Philip R. (1981). Han. In J. Helm (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Subarctic (Vol. 6, pp. 506–513). Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • McPhee, John. (1977). Coming into the Country. New York: Farrat, Strauss, and Giroux.
  • Mishler, Craig and William E. Simeone. (2004). Han, People of the River: Hän Hwëch'in. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.
  • Osgood, Cornelius. (1971). The Han Indians: A compilation of ethnographic and historical data on the Alaska-Yukon boundary area. Yale University publications in anthropology (No. 74). New Haven, CT.

External links[edit]