For thousands of years, Alaska Native peoples have been thriving in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, and their rich heritage is a big part of what makes Alaska such a special place. Today, Alaska Natives and American Indians make up nearly one-fifth of the state’s residents. Though many indigenous Alaskans live in remote villages far off the road system and subsistence harvest their food, about a third live in urban cities. As of the 2010 census, the median age of Alaska’s indigenous population was 27.
This is just a snapshot of Alaska’s diverse cultures, which each have deeply rooted traditions and dynamic, contemporary lifestyles. Start your discovery here. Then dive deeper with stories about the many ways of life that make Alaska unique.
Alaska is home to eleven distinct ethnic groups that can be divided by region.
Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian
North and Northwest
Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik
Yup’ik and Cup’ik
Southcentral and Aleutian Islands
Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) and Unangax
There are 229 federally recognized tribes in the Alaska region and more than 80,000 tribal members.
The Annette Island Indian Reserve, home to the Metlakatla Indian Community, is the only reservation in Alaska. Alaska Native Corporations own all the rest of the Native land in the state.
Alaska Native Corporations
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, enacted in 1971, transferred 43.7 million acres of land and $962.5 million to indigenous Alaskans. The act is unique in that it established corporations to administer the land and money. There are 13 regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations.
More than 130,000 Alaska Natives are the sole shareholders of these corporations. For-profit corporations operate businesses in fields like oil and gas, timber, or tourism, and dividends based on the company’s profit are paid out to shareholders. Each region also has a nonprofit corporation that provides a range of educational, social, and cultural services to shareholders.
Alaska Native Languages
In 2014, the State of Alaska designated 20 native languages as official languages. Some of those languages are considered extinct, with no fluent speakers. About 10,000 people speak Central Yup’ik, which makes it the most commonly spoken indigenous language in the state. All of Alaska’s indigenous languages have been declining over the last 40 years.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Learn more about the state’s indigenous people and culture by visiting the center, which promotes Native cultures and traditions, in Anchorage during the summer months. Visitors to the center can learn traditional dances, try Native games, and walk through recreations of traditional village sites.