Alaskan culture was influenced by Russians, Spanish, Scandinavians, British and others, long before the United States owned it.
Russia claimed Alaska as their territory in the early 1700's. But many other explorers from various countries landed on Alaska's shores during several centuries of exploration, perhaps even before the Russians.
The native population includes these Alaska tribes: Inuits, Yupiks, Aleuts, Eyaks, Athabascans, Haida, Tsimshian and Tlingits. There are a number of other native tribes which are less known and may be part of these groups, such as the Eklutna, Unanga and Chugach Natives. These native peoples with their languages, customs, festivals, dress, arts and crafts, have always been a major part of the Alaskan culture.
Many of Alaska's towns, mountains, glaciers, bays, rivers and other features were named by the various explorers, engineers, gold miners, settlers and others who found their way into this vast land. Translations and interpretations of Alaska native language names have also been used.
Russian culture was an early and prominent influence as can be seen by the Russian Orthodox churches scattered throughout many of Alaska's cities.
An example was the small Alaskan native village of the Eklutnas. This was located at the north end of Knik Arm, near Anchorage. It has been turned into the Eklutna Native Historical Park. It still has the original Russian Orthodox Church building next to the Eklutna children's graveyard. A beautifully painted miniature 'spirit' house marks each child's grave.
Eklutna Indian Graveyard for Children
Another example of an early Alaska Russian Church is located in the town of Dutch Harbor or Unalaska in the Aleutian chain. It was built in 1825 and is still in use, as are the churches in Sitka and Kenai. Other religions of the world also came here to spread their influence on the Alaskan culture.
After several centuries of exploitation and suppression, Alaska's native populations have now been given the opportunity to recover, and retain as much of their original native cultures as possible.
Today, the Eskimo cultures and other Alaska native cultures are being encouraged and helped to preserve historical values, customs, traditions and languages. These native tribes have been given the right to continue their subsistence style of living as they have in past centuries. Natives that wish to continue that lifestyle still hunt whales, caribou, moose and other wildlife that they have traditionally used for food, clothing and shelter.
So today, along with museums, libraries, universities, scientific research sites, military installations and other signs of our modern civilization, there are also millions of acres of lands that have been preserved in their natural state. They are not only lands specifically owned by the Alaskan Native Tribes, but in Alaskan parks, wildlife preserves, national forests and other public lands. This makes it possible for all Alaskans, native or otherwise, to retain the traditional Alaskan culture that has made it the great place it is.
The lifestyle of many Alaskans, outside of its largest cities, usually includes some of the very basic skills and activities found here in the early days of frontier settlers.
People still propspect for gold. You'll find people living in log cabins, using homemade stoves and hauling drinking water from springs and creeks. Families still bake sourdough bread and gather and preserve wild foods because there is no corner grocery store for many. You learn to be self-sufficient here, but you always help someone who needs it. You may be the next one that needs help.
With very short summers and long, cold winters, any excuse for festivals and celebrations is always welcome. These tend to be very frontier-style and fully enjoyed by everyone. Even an Alaska celebration in one of the larger cities definitely has the old-time flavor of Alaska's early history and frontier-style living.
Throughout Alaska, you'll find plenty of relics from the gold rush days, such as abandoned mines, machinery, tools, buildings and nearby ghost towns. There are old cabins with moose antlers mounted over the doorway, left by hunters and trappers. And the logging and fishing industries have also left abandoned tools and equipment lying around. If you go on a hiking trip or exploring in Alaska's backwoods, you are likely to run across some of these.
If you want a taste of the Real Alaskan Culture, spend some time at a festival in a remote village and get acquainted with a few of Alaska's people. You will find lots of very friendly people here. They may even invite you home for dinner if they find out you are a visitor. If you ask, they may tell you a few adventure stories of their own.
And if you haven't already done so, talk to an Alaskan Native. Ask if they have any squaw candy you could try, or some other native treat, like muktuk or agutak. And DO ask to see some of their very beautiful handicrafts, such as mukluks or parkas made of sealskin. You might even want to buy one after you see it!
Wherever you go and whatever you do in Alaska, you are sure to find out more about the Alaskan Culture. So don't be a stranger—come on up to Alaska's modern cities and backwoods villages and get acquainted! We'll be glad to have you! Now, I hope you're not ready to leave yet, because there's still a few more things you could find out about Alaska's culture in its Alaska natural history museums...
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