Sneak Peak: Native Alaska Unboxed

In this blog post we are going to give you a sneak peak at our upcoming Native Alaska Unboxed, planned to release in early fall. In this box, we have focused on the Native Alaskan people who were spread across the habitable regions of what is now Alaska prior to 1750. You’ll learn about these different groups, explore their art and culture, understand the importance of animals, and learn terminology specific to Native Alaskans. Looking for more on the Indigenous people of Americas? All of our American History boxes include Indigenous history reviewed by Indigenous educators.

Alaska is a big state. It is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana put together. Different parts of the state have very different weather and plants. The people in each region learned how to survive with the challenges of their home. Each region has its own benefits and challenges, and the peoples who lived there learned to thrive with the available resources. In this box, you’ll learn all about these different regions and you’ll make your own snow goggles, used by the Iñupiat to protect their eyes from the sun reflecting off water or snow. By 2,500 years ago, people had settled in every habitable region of Alaska (in some areas, the winters are too harsh for human survival).

By 1750, Alaska was home to around eighty thousand people who belonged to several unique groups. These groups of Alaska Natives are based on peoples who share similar languages and cultural practices. They still live in Alaska today, spread across several regions. These groups are:

  1. Northwest Coast: St.Lawrence Island: Siberian Yup’ik
  2. Arctic: Iñupiaq (Northern Arctic); Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Yupiaq (Southwest Arctic) 
  3. Kodiak Island, Prince William Sound, Alaska Peninsula: Alutiiq/Sugpiaq
  4. Aleutian Islands: Unangan
  5. Sitkan: Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian 
  6. Interior: Athabascan

Housing

Living spaces had to adapt to the climate. The Unangan, Athabascans and Sugpiaq/Alutiiq built houses into the ground to harness the insulation of the earth. Siberian Yup’ik houses were tents similar to yurts. They stretched reindeer skins over wooden frames. Some of the nomadic groups built shelters out of wooden or animal bone domes covered with animal hide. These were easily transportable as the group moved from place to place. Wondering about igloos? Some of Canada’s First Nations people did build temporary and permanent igloos. You’ll learn more about igloos and other types of shelter in the literature included in the box.

Art & Culture

Art plays an important part in Native Alaskan culture. Tattoos, beads, carving, and clothing were used to show wealth, status, and honor the spirits. You may be familiar with Totem poles. You’ll learn in this lesson that the Tlingit and Haida peoples used totem poles originally as house posts or memorials. They were carved to show the crests of the person’s clan and the events of the person’s life. But the images also appear on clothing, beadwork, and tattoos. In this box will be a Yu’pik made mask to decorate.

Alaskan Animals and their Importance to the Indigenous People

Learn all about the animals of Alaska and their importance to the Native groups. In addition to eating the meat, animal skins and feathers were used to make shelters, clothing, and ceremonial objects. Even though the groups were spread out across different climates, everyone ate fish! Those living on the coast relied more heavily on the sea, with whales and sea lions having particular importance.  Caribou was hunted in the interior. You’ll learn about the cooperative nature of the hunts and how the animal was honored by the Indigenous people.

Today, over 0ne hundred thousand Alaska Native people still live in Alaska. Many of them continue traditional ways along with a modern life. 

Also in this box…..

  • Guide to Alaska Native Terminology and Languages
  • Make your own yo-yo (created in consultation with a Yu-pik artist)
  • Learn about Raven and his importance to the Athabaskans, the Tlingit, and Haida
  • A full reading list

Want to get a head start? Read Alaska’s First People by Judy Ferguson. A young girl named Tahita (Tlingit, Aleut, Haida, Inuit, Tismshian, Athabascan) goes on a journey across Alaska in 1898 in an exploration of Alaska’s original inhabitants. The pictures are lovely for showing the differences in culture and environment across the state.

 

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