|Alaska Natives are the indigenous peoples of Alaska. They include: Aleut, Inuit, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Eyak, and a number of Northern
Athabasca cultures. Alaskan natives in Alaska number about 119,241 (as of the 2000 census).
There are 229 federally recognized Alaskan villages and five unrecognized
Tlingit Alaskan Indian tribes.
Inuit is a general term for a group of culturally similar
indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic coasts of Alaska, the
eastern islands of the Canadian Arctic, Labrador, and the
ice-free coasts of Greenland. In Eskimo Inuktitut, the language
of the Inuit people, "Inuit" means "the people". The English
word "Eskimo" is a Native American word which is widely believed
to mean "eater of raw meat" (although this meaning is disputed).
Many Inuit consider the word Eskimo offensive, but it is still
in general usage to refer to all Eskimo peoples, though it has
fallen into disuse throughout Canada, where Canadians use the
The Inuit were traditionally hunters and fishermen, living
off of Arctic animal life. They hunted by preference whales,
walruses, caribou and seals, although polar bears, musk oxen,
birds and any other edible animal might be taken in a pinch. The
Arctic has very little edible vegetation, although Inuit did
supplement their diet with seaweed.
Sea animals were hunted from single-passenger, covered
seal-skin boats called qajait (singular qajaq) which were
extraordinarily buoyant, and could easily be righted by a seated
person, even if completely overturned. Because of this property,
the Inuit design was copied - along with the Inuit word - by
Europeans who still make and use them under the name kayak.
Inuit also made umiaq - larger, open boats made out of skins and
bones for transporting people, goods and dogs.
The Inuit used several kinds of harpoons and spears. Large
harpoons were used to hunt the walrus. Smaller spears were used
for hunting small animals and birds. Wooden spear throwers were
used to increase the spear's power. All spear throwers were
individually made for the hunter. The length of the thrower was
equal to the distance between the hunters forefinger and his
elbow. This have the hunter and extra arm joint.
In the winter, Inuit would also hunt sea mammals by making
holes in the ice and waiting for the air-breathing seals and
walruses to use them when they needed air. According to Inuit
tradition, they learned to do this by observing the polar bear,
who hunts by seeking out holes in the ice and waiting nearby.
Warm clothing was important to the Inuit tribes. Sealskin was
usually wore in the summer. In the winter caribou skin was worn.
Caribou skin was light weight yet very warm. Clothing was also
made of other skins including those of musk oxen, polar
bears, and birds. The women skinned the animals and made the
clothing. The women used bones for needles and gut thread. Both
men and women wore hooded tunics and trousers over long boots.
the women's tunics were made very large so she could carry her
baby inside the tunic.
On land, the Inuit used dog sleds (in Inuktitut, qamutiit,
singular qamutiq) for transportation. The husky dog breed comes
from Inuit breeding of dogs for transportation. A team of dogs
in a fan formation (and not bound together in a line like horse
teams) would pull a sled made of animal bones and skins, and in
some southern areas a bit of wood, over the snow and ice. They
used landmarks to navigate, and possessed a comprehensive native
system of toponymy.
Where natural landmarks were insufficient, the Inuit would
erect an inukshuk to compensate. Inuit industry relied almost
exclusively on animal hides and bones, although some tools were
also made out of worked stones, particularly the easily-worked
mineral known as soapstone.
Walrus ivory was a particularly essential material, used to
make knives. Some Inuit who lived near the tree-line also had
native woodworking traditions. Inuit made clothes and footwear
from animal skins, sewn together using needles made from animal
bones and threads made from other animal products.