The chance to travel to places that are vastly different from where we live is one of the greatest privileges we can encounter in our lifetimes. With that privilege, however, comes an opportunity and responsibility to learn about and respect the culture of the area you visit. Although Alaska is a part of the United States, it has a native culture and history that differs greatly from much of the rest of the country. Here are a few facts and tips about Alaskan culture that should help prepare you for and enhance your fishing trip to Alaska:
- Alaska’s native population: Today, about 19 percent of Alaska’s total population is made up of Alaskan Native Americans. This is a rather large portion when compared to the approximately 1.7 percent that Native Americans make up nationally. In fact, Alaska has a higher percentage of native population than any other state. This portion of the population lives throughout the state, including about 200 rural villages as well as urban areas.
- Distinct cultures: That 19 percent of the population is actually divided into 11 different distinct cultures, each with their own languages, dialects and customs. For regional purposes, however, Alaska Natives are usually separated into five groups: the Northwest Coast Natives, the Inupiaqs, the Yupiks, the Aleuts and the Athabascans.
- A mix of old and new: It’s important to keep in mind that Alaska’s native population is as diverse in lifestyle as any other population. However, for the Alaskan natives who still live in the more than 200 different rural villages across the state, some aspects of daily life have not changed much from what they were hundreds of years ago. While most of these villages have televisions, phones and Internet, they also partake in traditional customs, such as eating “Eskimo ice cream,” a mix of fat, berries, dried meat and vegetables. Elders in these villages also make a point of passing on traditions such as beadwork, carving, weaving, kayak making and dancing onto younger generations. If you’re lucky enough to visit one of these villages, you might get a chance to browse through and even purchase some of these crafts.
- Alaskan museums: There are numerous museums located throughout Alaska that offer more in-depth glimpses into both the history and present day life of Alaskan natives. The Alaska Heritage Library and Museum in Anchorage has a collection of artifacts, photos, artwork and more. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage also has rare artifacts and offers both a scholarly and artistic exploration of Alaskan native history. The Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow has a library full of Inupiat elders’ wisdom, some of which dates back 20,000 years. These are just a few places where you can gain insight into native Alaskan culture, so be sure to do some research in advance of your trip to find museums, libraries and cultural centers close to where you’ll be traveling.
As long as you keep an open mind, you might just gain a newfound appreciation for Alaskan Native culture on your next fishing trip to Alaska.