The Culture of the Alaska Native Peoples

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Alaska Native history is not a museum full of static artifacts; in this Anchorage center, you can see how the Alaska Native culture is vibrant and evolving.

No wonder it's one of Alaska's most visited landmarks! Visit the main stage to hear storytellers retell tales that have been passed down through the ages. Or, take in a performance featuring dancers of varying ages dressed in ceremonial attire (think beaded and painted tunics) who move to the beat of drums made from animal hides. Guests are often invited to join the dancers on stage because of the small and personal nature of the venue.

There are also many examples of human ingenuity on display, such as elaborately decorated moose hide boots, woven birch bark baskets, and seal skin tunics. Traditional native buildings, such as a Supiaq, a semi-subterranean home built by the Alutiqs to protect themselves from the harsh Alaskan climate, are on display outside. If you prefer, you can check out a traditional Haida Longhouse, a multi-family dwelling that consists of a large wooden structure with no windows and only a smoke hole at the top.

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When it comes to Alaskan museums, size isn't always a factor. Even if it's a tiny museum in Cordova, Nome, Seward, or Eagle, you'll find something cultural to appreciate in almost every Alaskan town. Staff members at these establishments are frequently well-versed in local history and delighted to impart their knowledge on you.

To wit: if you travel all the way up to Barrow in Alaska, don't miss the fantastic Inupiat Heritage Museum. The museum's entrance is already quite impressive, with a massive whale skull serving as a welcome mat and foreshadowing the main exhibit's subject matter.

Meanwhile, the Anchorage Museum is home to hundreds of elaborate works of art, including ceremonial masks, ivory carvings, animal-hide clothing, and tools fashioned from mastodon tusks. When you consider that the Smithsonian has returned more than 600 artifacts to Alaska, their original home, you can see that this institution has some serious credibility.

The Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, whose collection was begun by a Presbyterian missionary in the 1890s, and the UA Museum of the North in Fairbanks, where a giant wooly mammoth skull and tusks steal the show, are two other must-see cultural museums in the region.

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Visit the northernmost point of the continent, Barrow, for a small-town visit unlike any other in the world and an immersive cultural experience. It's the largest Eskimo village in the world, and it's located 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle, making it one of the few places on Earth where human life is still largely governed by the natural environment and animal behavior. In this context, that means it's whale-hunting time.

In fact, if you want to feel like you're a part of the community and have a good time doing it, you should visit in June, when the whaling festival is held. A whale hunt usually determines the first of two festival dates in the summer, so June 24–25 is typically when things get started. Calling Barrow's Top of the World Hotel can help you nail down the dates in any given year.

However, even if you can't visit during the festival, there is still a lot to see! Trips to Barrow, Alaska, both by day and overnight, are available during the summer. Keep in mind that because of Barrow's isolation and the rarity of its flights, the average cost of a vacation there is $500 per visitor. The northern climate is characterized by rapid shifts in weather, making it imperative that tourists carry travel insurance. It's important to give yourself some breathing room before and after an arctic expedition.

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Need the genuine article You can get as far away from a tourist trap as you can by taking a plane to a native village. We think you'll find this to be a genuine and extremely rewarding experience, whether you do it on your own or as part of a guided tour.

The harsh climate, simple buildings, and warm people of Alaska Airlines' day or overnight tour to Barrow make for an unforgettable experience, and the guide provides plenty of interesting context along the way. Flying to a village on your own, however, is an even more exciting adventure. Of course, many quaint towns lack the infrastructure necessary to accommodate tourists. However, B&Bs aren't hard to come by, even if you don't find a hotel.

But the attractions are more individual: you can stroll the dusty streets, chat with the locals, and get a realistic but welcoming glimpse into everyday village life. Call Northern Alaska Tour Company for more in-depth information on visiting rural areas.

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They are like three-dimensional murals, except that they are made by hand and celebrate a culture that is alive and well. Legends, family histories, and important individuals are just some of the topics that can be explored through the use of totem poles. The vibrant, modern-day Alaska Native communities are best understood through a visit to a totem pole park.

The Tlingit and Haida peoples of Southeast Alaska are widely regarded as the region's foremost experts on totem carving. Because of the milder climate and abundant natural resources, which provided more time for recreation, such art flourished in this area. Animals, berries, and plants from their natural habitats are common subjects for carving on totem poles, which can reach heights of 25 to 30 feet. Newer totem poles, in contrast to the colorless older ones, are painted in shades of black, red, and even blue and green using natural pigments.

Some parks in southeast Alaska feature collections of totems, sometimes with as many as twenty pieces dispersed across a wooded area. Ketchikan's Totem Heritage Center is home to the world's largest collection of authentic, age-worn totem poles from the 19th century. Totems, both old and new, are being preserved and passed down through the generations at the Totem Bight State Historical Park. Watch a carver at work in the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.

In addition, the historical centers and totem parks have low admission prices, making this a culturally enriching and reasonably priced vacation option.

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There are areas in Alaska where you can see clearly what the state might have been like hundreds of years ago. Russia had claimed Alaska for many years prior to the 1867 U.S. purchase. Russians were drawn to the area primarily because of the lucrative fur trade; sea otter pelts were the most highly prized commodity, though fur seals, beaver, and fox were also in high demand.

Russian settlements have long since disappeared, but in a few spots in southcentral and southeast Alaska, you can see the physical and cultural traces of that time and the profound impact it had on Alaska and its indigenous peoples. It was in Sitka, Alaska, that the Russians established their main base in 1799. In this area, you'll find St. The St. Michael's Cathedral, the oldest Russian church in the United States The first structure stood from 1844 to 1848, but a fire in 1966 reduced it to ashes. The current building was rebuilt after the fire, but it still houses many priceless artifacts from the original structure, including several icons and a 25-pound gospel bound entirely in silver.

The city of Sitka is not your only alternative. The Eklutna Heritage Site is a Russian historical site located north of Anchorage. With a history dating back to 1650, this park was once home to a thriving Athabaskan Indian community. Early in the 1800s, Russian Orthodox missionaries came to this area; St. St. Nicholas Church, the oldest surviving structure in the Anchorage area Photograph the elaborate and colorful Spirit Houses that have arisen as a result of cultural blending and are placed atop graves.

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Skeletal marrow Weavings so complex that they defy description The ultra-soft wool from a prehistoric animal The experience of shopping for genuine Native Alaskan arts and crafts is a wonderful way to put one's hands on a piece of the local culture. Given that many of these items, such as grass woven baskets, ivory and bone carvings, and gloves made from animal hides and trimmed with the softest furs, are the products of subsistence hunting and gathering, they are inevitably of high quality.

In Anchorage and other major cities across the state, you can find stores selling items created by local native communities as well as other products made in the Last Frontier. In downtown Anchorage, you can find one of the most interesting craft shops: Oomingmak Co-Op, where you can buy items made from qiviut (the soft underwool of a Musk Ox). Oomingmak is more than just a store selling souvenirs; it's also a knitting cooperative where Native Alaskan women can earn money to supplement their meager subsistence incomes by creating a variety of knitted items.

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