Athabascan woman and husky
Photo Credit: Lexi Qass’uq Trainer (Cup’ik/Yup’ik)

Alaska Native Culture Itinerary: Interior Region

Alaska Native Culture Itinerary: Interior Region

About the Author: Angela Łot’oydaatlno Gonzalez is Koyukon Athabascan originally from Huslia, Alaska, along the Koyukuk River. She loves beading and writing. She owns Athabascan Woman Blog and has written two children’s books: Button Up! Fall in Alaska and Koyukon Fish Camp. 

Interior Alaska is rich in Alaska Native culture and history, representing peoples such as the Koyukon, Gwich’in, Iñupiaq, Han Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Kuskokwim, Holikachuk, and Deg Hit'an. There are multiple ways to experience these diverse cultures and traditions.

Begin your journey at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks, situated by the picturesque Chena River, where you can immerse yourself in Alaska Native heritage through exhibits, demonstrations, and cultural programs. Enjoy free admission and explore traditional practices, arts, languages, and history through interactive displays. Don't miss the opportunity to browse and purchase beautiful, authentic artwork at their Alaska Native Gift Shop. Depending on the season, you can watch Dene Games and Native Youth Olympics demonstrations, dance group performances, and Gwich’in Athabascan Fiddle Dance performances.

Morris Thompson Visitor Center

Head up to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to explore the Museum of the North, where exhibits spotlight the art, traditions, and history of Alaska Native cultures, including both traditional and contemporary art. Check the schedule for cultural programs, workshops, and events featuring storytelling sessions, dance performances, craft demonstrations, and lectures by Indigenous artists and scholars. Each year, they feature new exhibits or programs that capture the imagination. Step outside to take in the beautiful views from the Troth Yeddha' Campus, located on the ancestral lands of the Dena people of the lower Tanana River.

The Riverboat Discovery offers a unique three-hour tour that immerses visitors in the heart of Alaska Native culture. The journey features a guided walking tour of the Chena Village Living Museum, where guests can explore an Athabascan village with traditional cabins, a supply cache, a spruce bark hut, and fur pelts. Guides share how Athabascans have lived traditionally in the interior for thousands of years. You can also meet sled dogs from Susan Butcher’s Trail Breaker Kennel, gaining more insight into the role of dog mushing in Alaska Native culture.

Athabascan Village on Riverboat Discovery

Love road trips? Drive along the Richardson Highway, Alaska Highway, or Parks Highway to visit small communities like Northway, Tok, or Nenana, where you can delve into local Alaska Native cultures. Some communities may offer tours, but you can also walk around and explore on your own. Larger communities may have visitor centers where you can learn about the area or gift shops featuring Alaska Native art.

Enjoy flying? Many flightseeing opportunities take you out of the city and into remote and rural communities which are home to Athabascan and Iñupiaq people. Some companies offer guided tours, but you can also explore on foot. Often, you will see how the locals live, with smokehouses for drying and smoking fish and game. Modes of transportation include trucks, SUVs, ATVs, snowmachines, and boats. Do your research to find locals who can give you a tour along the Yukon River and its many tributaries, where you can visit fish camps. Communities may appear similar, but each has unique Alaska Native beliefs, languages, and ways of life.

Alaska Native Fish Wheel
Athabascan Fish Wheel

For those with more time (and perhaps a larger budget), head south toward Denali National Park & Preserve by driving or taking a sightseeing plane. Kantishna Roadhouse, an Indigenous-owned and operated backcountry lodge, sits 92 miles into the park on the ancestral lands of five northern Athabascan groups. You can see breathtaking wilderness, learn about its gold mining history, and immerse yourself in Alaska Native culture through cultural programs and presentations. Meet Elders, see sled dogs, and participate in sewing and beading classes. The lodge also features a library and gift shop showcasing Athabascan art and Alaska Native reading materials. If you have less time, they also offer Denali day trips with fly-in opportunities, where you can enjoy natural trail hikes and gold panning while enjoying lunch at the Roadhouse.

Woman views Denali from Wonder Lake

No matter how you choose to explore Interior Alaska, you'll find countless opportunities to connect with the vibrant cultures and traditions of Alaska Native communities. From museums and cultural centers to remote villages and breathtaking natural landscapes, each experience offers a deeper understanding of this region's rich heritage. Plan your journey today and discover the incredible stories and traditions that make Interior Alaska a truly unique destination.

Snowy mountain peaks in Alaska

New! Alaska Native Culture Guide

Immerse yourself in Alaska Native heritage and learn how to experience the living culture of the state's Indigenous peoples.