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Travel Tip For Today

Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes as well as a pair of sandals or Tevas. Before you leave home, break in your new shoes so you're not uncomfortable on the road.

Alaska's Native American Heritage


Whitehorse has a large population of people of Indian descent. Others areas in Alaska with major Native American populations people are the environs of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Barrow and Ketchikan.

Anthropologists believe that early people emigrated to Alaska over the Bering land bridge 15,000-30,000 years ago, but there is much disagreement as to when this really happened. Some scholars believe it may have been as recently as 3,000 years ago.

Members of four ethnic groups stayed to populate Alaska: The Athabascan Eskimos (some of whom went south to become Apache and Navajo), who settled the arctic shores; the Aleuts, who populated the Bering land bridge and the Aleutian island chain; and the Tlingits and the Haida, who occupied the lush southeast.

Many of these people were nomadic, returning seasonally to favorite hunting and fishing areas. Others, especially the Tlingits and Haida, favored by a dependable food supply, only moved from summer fish camps to permanent winter residences where they evolved a complex society. All native people lived in complete harmony with their surroundings, altering the land very little. They had no written language, but passed along their history and heritage by means of dance, art, storytelling and verbal historians. At their height, there were probably 75,000 to 100,000 native people in Alaska. This number was quickly and drastically reduced by the coming of the white man with his diseases and metal-weapons aggression.

The profound difference between the native American culture and that of the Europeans is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that songs were owned by the clan, and a clan could only use another clan's song if formally lent. The Indians held spiritual things like songs in ownership, while the land belonged to all. Or, the custom of potlatch, in which an individual's status in the community was vastly enhanced by being able to hold a huge celebration and give away valuable gifts to all of the guests.

The natives were generally a peaceable and inventive people (although the practice of slavery was very widespread among the clans.) Their intelligence is confirmed by their ability to live successfully in an extremely difficult environment, one of the most inhospitable on earth. However, they were helpless against the European guns.

During the time of Russian occupation, there were no more than 600 Russians holding all of Alaska. After the U.S. acquired Alaska in 1867, no treaties were made with the native Alaskans. In 1900, the native population was estimated at 30,000. Statehood for Alaska did not settle native land claims; however, oil and the giant income it generated brought about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which finally recognized the rights of Alaskan natives and gave them the economic means to enter into the mainstream of Alaskan development. Today, one of the native corporations ranks among the 500 wealthiest corporations in the U.S.

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P.O. Box 233
Carmel Valley, California
United States
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