Athabascan territory ranges from the Brooks Range in northern Interior Alaska to Cook Inlet in Southcentral Alaska and from Norton Sound in the west to the Canadian border in the east and beyond. There are 11 distinct languages among the varying groups of Athabascans. The Athabascans were migratory, following the fish and game, and created communities near some of Alaska's larger rivers, including the Yukon, Tanana, Susitna, Kuskokwim, and Copper Rivers. Many of our familiar place names in Interior and Southcentral — like Denali (the Great One) — are traditional Athabascan names.
The Morris Thompson Cultural Center in Fairbanks partners with the Tanana Chiefs Conference to provide classes and cultural programs, many of which are taught by rural Alaska Native residents, as a way of sharing traditions and skills with Alaska visitors and residents alike.
The Athabascans built winter villages and summer fish camps and lived and traveled in small groups of between 20 and 40 people. In their matrilineal system, Elders made the important decisions for the group, and the core unit was often a woman and her brother with both of their families. The mother's brother still frequently takes charge of educating her children in Athabascan history and traditions.
Because resources were seasonal, Athabascan men engaged heavily in trade with other communities. They used canoes made of birch bark and moose hide, as well as sleds and dogs, to transport goods. Clothing was also resource-based; moose and caribou hides were used for tunics, moccasins, and other articles.
Learn more about Alaska Native Culture.
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