The cultures of various peoples in Alaska are rich and diverse. Though Alaskan indigenous culture has evolved over many millennia, the values and traditions have been passed down lineages and are accepted and practiced in our modern society. Exploration, commerce, and natural resources have brought European, and Asian American cultural influences to Alaska. The integration of these cultures is present throughout the state. Alaska’s cultural diversity can be revealed through the languages, values, and traditions which people share in throughout their communities and regions.
|Map showing Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples and their languages. UAF|
Alaska’s indigenous population is culturally complex. The Aleut, Athabascan, Yupik, Inupiaq, Eyak, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshianic cultures are the primary indigenous groups in Alaska. The Athabascan culture is an indigenous group which demonstrates cultural coexistence in Alaska. The Athabascan culture crosses the cultural boundaries between Alaska and Canada. Intertwined by land based natural resources, the pre-European contact Athabascan peoples of these two countries shared interior hunting and trade routes. During this time they also interacted with the Yupik and Inupiaq, and Tlingit peoples. One of the most interesting aspects of the Athabascan culture and how it has crossed boundaries, is how the Apache and Navajo languages of the American Southwest are both forms of Athabascan language.(1)
|Mayfest parade celebrating Scandinavian culture in Petersburg, AK.
Photo by Donel Judy.
Coexisting cultures with a European influence can be found throughout the state. The Southeast Alaskan community of Petersburg is a good example of how cultures have coexisted. Originally a Tlingit summer fish camp, Peter Buschmann, a Norwegian immigrant, built docks, a cannery, and a sawmill in the site. The settlement drew in a large Scandinavian population to live and work in Alaska. Petersburg’s sister city is Hammerfest, Norway. Each year Petersburg has a 4 day Mayfest celebration, in honor of Norwegian Constitution Day. Both Scandinavian and Tlingit cultures are strong and thriving in the community.
|Alaskeros working a cannery line. Covdova FANHS collection.|
Another culture important to mention are that of the Alaskan Filipino. The largest migration of Filipino came from the lower 48 to work in Alaskan canneries beginning in the 1900s. Known as Alaskeros, these Filipino factory workers would work in Alaska during the summer and the U.S. Northwest and California in other seasons. According to the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, “In 1933 some of these men formed the first Filipino-led union ever organized in the United States: the Cannery Workers’ and Farm Labors’ Union Local 18257.(2) Originally Filipinos came over as crew on sailing expeditions, trading vessels, and even whalers. Many Filipinos came to work in Alaskan gold mines. Filipino is the largest of the Asian ethnic groups to residing in Alaska. For generations many Filipino have made Alaska their home.
There is no doubt that Alaska is culturally diverse. The numerous cultures which make Alaska home have contributed to a rich tapestry cultural values and tradition that makes Alaska unique.
(1) Athabascan Indians.” Native Americans. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <https://www.aaanativearts.com/alaskan-natives/athabascan.htm>.
(2) Filipino Cannery Unionism.” UW Departments Web Server. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/Cannery_intro>
UAF . Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. 2011. Map. Alaska Native Language Center, UAF, Fairbanks, AK. Web. 12 Apr 2012. https://www.uaf.edu/anla/collections/map/anlmap.png
Donel Judy. Little Norway Parade. N.d. Photograph. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, Petersburg, AK. Web. 12 Apr 2012. https://www.petersburg.org/visitor/littlenorway.html
Covdova Collection. Alaskeros. N.d. Photograph. Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History, Seattle, WA. https://depts.washington.edu/labpics/repository/v/Filipino/fahns_collection__fred_and_dorothy_cordova/cannery_worker_photographs/