Alaska Genealogy Trails

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Though there is room for doubt as to whether the natives of Alaska may properly be designated as Indians, they have been classed as such for the purpose of enumeration. Congress has not as yet given to the natives of Alaska a definite political status. In government reports and documents they have been variously described, either by the collective term of Indian or by their tribal names. But a small proportion of the aboriginal people of Alaska belong to the family known as North American Indians. If we distinguish the natives of Alaska by linguistic stocks, we find 5 existing in the territory, which may be arranged in accordance with their numerical strength as follows

The linguistic stock best represented in Alaska is the so-called Eskimauan, comprising all of the Eskimo tribes which inhabit the coast of Alaska in an almost uninterrupted line of settlements from the mouth of the Copper river to Bering strait, and thence eastward to the British boundary, including also the tribe known as the Aleutians, whose language, through some as yet unexplained intermixture or combination, has become totally differentiated from all other Eskimauan languages.

Next in numerical strength and probably of equal social and political importance are the tribes belonging to the Koluschan stock, including all the various subdivisions of the Thlingit (Thlinket) family. The Thlingit tribes are today probably the best known among Alaskan natives through constant and intimate contact with our people, who invest or labor in the mines and fisheries of the Southeastern district, or reap a surer harvest by supplying others with the necessaries and luxuries of life. As the Thlingit appear to have no objection to labor for their own support, and as they easily adopt our customs and mode of life, they will probably be the first among Alaska natives to become absorbed in our political system without the probationary interval of reservation life as the nation's wards, through which our plains and western Indians are now passing.

The third linguistic stock found in Alaska is the Athapascan, comprising tribes very near of kin to many of the well known North American Indians in the United States and the Dominion of Canada. The Athapascan tribes of Alaska are numerically weak and widely scattered, and it is doubtful whether they will be absorbed in our political family before contact with whites and change of surroundings reduce their number sufficiently to relegate them to utter insignificance as a factor of our population. This would be a pity, as they are not only willing but anxious to adopt the white man's ways and lead industrious lives according to their light.

The fourth linguistic stock existing in our northern territory is of foreign importation. It is classed by the bureau of ethnology as the Chimmesyan, and is confined to a single tribe, the Tsimpsean, who abandoned their home in British Columbia for a settlement in Alaska a few years ago. The fifth linguistic stock, the Skittagetan, is represented by less than 400 people, known as Haidas, who inhabit Prince of Wales island.

The various tribes which make up these linguistic families have been treated in detail in the monographs describing the 7 districts of Alaska, but a few remarks explanatory of the tables contained in this chapter may not be considered superfluous. As stated above, the Eskimo family is numerically strongest in Alaska. A single tribe, the Kuskwogmiut, numbers but a few less than the whole Athapascan family, and including the Aleutians, who formerly were enumerated separately, we find a total of 14,012 Eskimo in Alaska, more than three times the number of the Thlingits, the next largest tribe. On the strength of numbers alone the Eskimo should be the predominant native element in the Alaska of the future if they can survive the contact with civilization which has so generally proved fatal to savage tribes.

According to numerical strength the Eskimo tribes may be arranged as follows:

Kuskwogmiut 3,287
Magmiut 2,147
Kaniagmiut 1,154
Aleut (Unangan) 968
Aglemiut 767
Nunivagmiat 702
Kinegan 652
Mahlemiut 630
Chnagmiut 621
Chugachigmiut 433
Kaviagmiut 427
Tikera 295
Umudjek 267
Kiatagmiut 214
Ukivokmiut 200
Utkeagvik 193
Togiagmiut 190
Kwikhpagmint 172
Nushagagmiut 170
Nuwukmiut 143
Unaligmiut 110
Kuangmiut 81
Kakpanrongmiut 52
Utuka 48
Sidaru 47
Nonatogmiut 42

In regard to the habitat or location of the tribes of the Eskimo family in Alaska our information begins at present with the neighborhood of Point Barrow. We know that a few scattered bands of Eskimo have been found encamped on the Arctic shore between the British boundary and our northernmost cape, but such knowledge as we possess concerning them is altogether insufficient for classification. From Dease inlet westward between longitude 156° and 157° we find the tribe of Nuwukmiut with its principal settlement in the vicinity of the cape. Mr. William H. Dall, in his "Contributions to North American Ethnology", gives to all the tribes from the boundary westward of Gape Krusenstern the name of Kangmaligmiut, but more recent explorations enable us to distinguish as many as 8 tribes within these limits. Adjoining the Nuwukmiut on the west we find the Utkeagvik occupying the coast to longitude 158°. Next, between longitude 158° and 160°, comes the Sidarfi tribe, also known as Sezarok. Prom this point westward to longitude 164° the coast is occupied by the Utuka and the Kukpaurungmiut. The large territory between longitude 164° and 167°, including the peninsula formed by Gape Lisburne and Point Hope, is inhabited by the Tikera tribe or Tigeramiut. Mr. John W. Kelly, who had charge of the enumeration of the Arctic tribes, and Mr. Henry D. Woolfe, the author of the monograph on the Arctic district included in this report, speak of a tribe inhabiting the country south and east of the Tikera, the Kevalingamiut, who are described as leading a nomadic life and mingling with other tribes. It was probably owing to the latter peculiarity that these people were not distinguished in our enumeration.

On the shores of Kotzebue sound and on the rivers emptying into this large estuary we find the Nunatogmiut, formerly designated as the Noatuk, and the Kuangmiut (identical with the former Kowak and Koovuk). All of these tribes were, included in Mr. Dall's division of Kopagmiut, a term applicable to any people inhabiting the river valleys, meaning big river people.

On various points of Kotzebue sound the Mahlemiut have established themselves in temporary and permanent settlements, and during the summer season this region is visited by various other tribes from Norton sound, Cape Prince of Wales, the Diomede islands, and even from the coast of Siberia, who come for the purpose of barter and social enjoyment. These assemblages cause an intermingling of races and families, the effects of which are puzzling to students of ethnology.

The most numerous among the Arctic Eskimo tribes and best known to our whalemen and traders is the Kinegan, also known as Kingigumiut of Dall and others. Their principal settlement is at Cape Prince of Wales, but representatives of the tribe can be found scattered throughout the Arctic seacoast, Bering strait, and on the Siberian coast during the whaling and trading season.

The large peninsula formed by the waters of Kotzebue and Norton sounds, exclusive of the settlement of our westernmost cape just mentioned, is inhabited by the Kaviagmiut (known also as Kaveagmiut and Kaviarongmiut). A small branch of this tribe inhabiting Sledge island, on the coast immediately opposite distinguishes itself by the name of Aziagmiut.

The inhabitants of Ignaluk, on the American Diomede island, belong to the Kinegan tribe.

St. Lawrence island is inhabited by the Umucyek tribe, whose language and customs have been somewhat affected by intercourse with the coast and interior people of northeastern Siberia.

The residents of the small island of Ukivok (King island) consider themselves a separate tribe under the name of Ukivokmiut, though their language is almost identical with that of the Kaviagmiut. The word Kaviak, in one form or another, signifies "red fox" in all the Eskimo dialects; it is also used quite generally to designate the red-fox skins used as a circulating medium, the equivalent of one American dollar.

The shores of Norton sound and the northern portion of the Yukon delta are inhabited by 4 tribes, the Kaviagmiut in the north, adjoining the Unaligmiut, holding the eastern shore of the sound, and the Chnagmiut, occupying villages on the delta. Scattered among these we find the once powerful tribe of Mahlemiut.

The villages of the southern part of the Yukon delta and of both banks of the Yukon river as far as Basboinik village on the south and Andreafsky on the north are inhabited by the Chnagmiut tribe. Adjoining these in the east we find the Kwikhpagmiut, also known as the Ikogmiut (from the village and Russian mission of that name). The Kwikhpagmiut occupy both banks of the river to its junction with the Chageluk, the site of the Roman Catholic mission of the Holy Cross and the eastern limit of Eskimo population on the Yukon.

The great delta land of alluvial soil formed by the rivers Yukon and Kuskokwim, with its vast extent of tundra, hundreds of lakes and sluggish tidal channels, is thickly peopled by the Magmiut tribe (mink people). The inhabitants of the villages in the neighborhood of Cape Vancouver were formerly known under the local name of Kaialigumiut.

The northern and southern limits of the Magmiut on the coast of tho delta are the capes Eumiantzof and Avinof.

The Nunivagmiut, numbering a little over 700, inhabit the large island of Nunivak, and a small offshoot of this tribe has been reported as existing on the Kashunuk branch of the Yukon river.

Both the Magmiut and Nunivagmiut are closely allied in linguistic and ethnological features to their eastern neighbor the Kuskwogmiut, the largest tribe of the Eskimo family.

The western limit of the Kuskwogmiut tribe may be described by a line drawn from Cape Avinof northward along the 165th meridian to its point of intersection with the Kvichavak river. The northern boundary of the tribe runs eastward along the course of the river just named and on the north bank of the Kuskokwim from Kaltkagamiut to Ulokagmiut. To the eastward the Kuskwogmiut tribe is bounded by a line running in a southwesterly direction from the last named point to Cape Pierce, on Bering sea.

The Togiagmiut occupy the basin and lake system of the Togiak river, being separated in the east by a low watershed and a chain of lakes from the adjoining tribe, which the Russians named Nushagagmiut, though their own designation is Tahlekukmiut (Tahlekuk-Nushagak river).

The interior region, including the upper course of the Nushagak river, the Mulchutna river, the western half of Lake Iliamna, and its outlet, the Kvichak river, is occupied by the Kiatagmiut tribe, named Kiatentz by the Russians.

Prom the head of Bristol bay southward and westward the northern slope of the Alaskan peninsula is dotted with scattered settlements of the Aglemiut tribe, the southernmost of which is Unaugashik, situated on the north shore of Port Hayden.

The Aleut tribe, of somewhat doubtful origin and differing entirely in language from its immediate neighbors, has been classed by our most competent authorities on ethnology as belonging to the Eskimo family. The territory occupied by the Aleuts extends westward from the 159th meridian for a distance of more than 1,000 miles to the island of Attu, including also the Shumagin and Pribilof groups of islands. Their own tribal designation is Unangan (Unungan of Ball). The only historical traditions collected concerning these people by the Russians speak of hostility and warfare existing between them and their eastern and northern Eskimo neighbors.

The Kaniagmiut tribe, once powerful and warlike, the first to offer effective resistance to the advance of the Russian fur hunters, still occupies the territory invaded by Glottof and Shelikhof during the last half of the eighteenth century. Their settlements extend from Mitrofania in the south to Seldovia on the Kenai peninsula in the north, their principal villages being located on the Kadiak group of islands. The Kaniagmiut, to whom the Russians applied the name of Aleut, were of great service to the conquerors in extending their territory eastward into the Thlingit regions of the Alexander archipelago.

The easternmost tribe of the Eskimo family is known as the Ohugachigmiut, occupying the shores and islands of Prince William sound.

A small tribe of natives settled on the Copper river delta has undergone a process of gradual transformation ever since the Russians began to occupy that portion of the coast with their hunting and trading stations. Previous to the arrival of the Russians the Thlingit and Eskimo did not intermingle peaceably, though some Eskimo women were obtained by the Thlingit during hostile raids and plundering expeditions; but when these were repressed through Russian influence a system of intermarriage was inaugurated, which has been maintained to the present day. During the process of transformation this small tribe was classed with the Eskimo and named by the Russians Ugalentz. In the course of my investigations connected with the Tenth Census it became evident to me that the Thlingit element was rapidly gaining the upper hand, and that a change of classification would become necessary in the near future. The time for this change has now arrived and the Ugalentz tribe has been incorporated with the Thlingit family.

In reference to the use of the term Eskimo in preference to others, it is necessary to state that the tribal name of Innuit frequently applied to these people has been abandoned in the interest of uniformity and in deference to the action of both the American and British Associations for the Advancement of Science. These scientific bodies have decided that priority must prevail, and that the name first given to a race or tribe in scientific classification must be retained. The meaning of the word Eskimo is obscure and altogether unsatisfactory, while on the other hand we know that the term Innuit was derived from a root signifying man in nearly all Eskimo dialects. We find it in the form of Innuk, Niuk, Yak, Yut, Yuit, Liut, and Liufc, the plural being generally formed in ing or yuin, with a collective form ending in t, standing for people. In the Chugachigmiut dialect a sibilant or rather the sound of sh has been added to this root. With them the word for people is shu'it or shvit (from shiuk, man). During my journeys throughout Alaska I found the word yui't most generally understood for the word people, and the word nunet for a collection of dwellings or a village. The words owk (blood) and kayak (skin canoe) are used by every Eskimo tribe from Greenland to Prince William sound, and several of their numerals are also universally used. The name for their open skin boat varies from oomiak of the eastern Eskimo to angeyok of the Nunivagmiut. The term of nulegha (wife) is also found in nearly every dialect.

The Athapascan tribes of Alaska, encompassed on all sides but the east by a girdle of Eskimo, claim our attention next. These tribes, formerly classified as Tinueh, occupy the entire interior of the territory north of the 60th degree of latitude. They are the westernmost representatives of the people known to us as the North American Indians, who seem to have advanced along the course of the Yukon river and settled upon its tributaries until stopped by the dense Eskimo population of the coast regions. From the Yukon valley they branch off to the southward, occupying the upper Kuskokwim valley, the rivers emptying into Cook inlet and the Copper river to within a few miles of its mouth.

For the purpose of enumeration I have consolidated a number of small roving tribes under the general term of Kutchin, embracing all those formerly distinguished as Natsit-Kutchin, Han-Kutchin, Nehaunees, Yukonikhotana, and Yunnakakhotana. The Kutchin tribes as we group them now occupy the territory drained by the Upper Yukon and Porcupine rivers within our boundaries and their tributaries east of the ramparts of the Yukon river. West of this point we find the Tena-Kutchin inhabiting the villages on the Tan an a river in the south, and in the north the Koyukukhotana settled upon the banks of the Koyukuk river and also occupying a few villages on the Yukon.

The banks of the Yukon between Nulato and Kozerevsky are settled on both sides by the Athapascan tribes, known to us under the general designation of Ingalik (a word of Eskimo origin). The Ingalik differ from their kinsmen of the interior in depending almost wholly upon fish for their subsistence and in being addicted to the use of oil as an article of food. They have always mixed to a certain extent with their Eskimo neighbors and adopted many of their habits, though until within recent times they were habitually at war with each other.

Adjoining the Ingalik in the east we find the Kuilchana tribe (Koltshane of the Russians) leading a somewhat nomadic life in the central region drained by the Innoko, Tlegon, and Chageluk rivers in the north and the headwaters of the Kuskokwim river in the south. They form a small remnant of about 300 individuals, who have but little intercourse with neighboring tribes.

As far as known at this day the eastern neighbors of the Kuilchana are the Tnaina or Knaiokhotana, known to the Russians as the Kenaitz. The Tnaina inhabit the shores of Cook inlet down to Lake Clark and Iliamna in the west and Anchor point in the east. Their inland settlements are located at Lake Clark and Iliamna, on Skillakh lake, and on the banks of the Kinik and Sushitna rivers. Between these people and the Kuilchanas on the Upper Kuskokwim there still exists a quite extensive region of unexplored country, which may be inhabited by roving bands of natives.

The Copper river basin is inhabited by the Athapascan tribe of Atna or Atnatena, known to the Russians as Mednovtze or Copper river Indians. The Atua people are numerically insignificant, but their geographical position within reach of the principal southern tributary of the Yukon, as well as of the waters flowing into Cook inlet and Prince William sound, invested them with considerable importance in the times prior to the appearance of the white man upon the scene. They still keep up a desultory intercourse with the Tena-Kutchin and the Tnaina.

This ends our list of Athapascan tribes in Alaska. The former designation of this family, the Tinneh, was based upon a linguistic root common to all the tribes. The words khotana, kokhtana, tena, and kutchin may all be traced to the same origin of ten, tan, or tin, signifying man, in all the Athapascan dialects of Alaska.

The Thlingit tribes belonging to the Koluschan linguistic stock have been discussed at length in another chapter of this report. They occupy the. coast and most of the islands from the mouth of the Copper river to the southern boundary of the territory.

The Ugalentz, previously referred to in this chapter, form the westernmost subdivision of this important family, extending eastward to Controller bay. Adjoining them we find the Yaktag tribe inhabiting the coast between Cape Suckling and Cape Yaktag. The once powerful Yakutat tribe, which at the beginning of this century battled successfully with the Russians, still occupies the shores of the bay named after them and the coast eastward to Lituya bay.

The recent explorations of Mr. E. J. Glave have informed us of the existence of several roving bands of Indians in the interior beyond the high coast range of mountains. Mr. Glave calls them the Gunena, but as their habitat is not definitely known and may be within British possessions no attempt was made to enumerate them.

The Chilkat tribe, formerly warlike and much feared by the Russians, inhabits the upper portion of Lynn canal and the valleys of the Chilkat and Taya rivers. Until recently they occupied the profitable position of middlemen between the white traders and the interior Athapascan or Stick Indians. Much of their ancient glory has now departed, but they may still be considered a numerous and wealthy tribe, showing much independence in their attitude toward the whites.

The settlements of the Huna tribe are now confined to the north side of Chichagof island and a few points on the coast of Cross sound.

The north end of Admiralty island, Douglas island, and the vicinity of the town of Juneau are the original homes of the Auk tribe, which coutact with civilization has reduced to less than 300. Their neighbors in the south are the Takus, now reduced to a few hundred, but once a powerful tribe whose hunting and trading grounds extended far into the British Possessions. Their territory extends along the coast of the main land to Holkham bay and the Sumdum villages.

West of the Taku tribe we find the Hutznahu tribe settled on Admiralty island. But a few years ago this tribe defied the military power of the United States, but being somewhat roughly handled then they have given no further trouble. The Hutznahu tribe still numbers nearly 600.

The most important and most numerous tribe of the Thlingit family is that known as the Sitka-Kwan, inhabiting the immediate vicinity of Sitka and points on Baranof island. Individuals of this tribe are also found in nearly every portion of the Southeastern district, engaged in trade or labor.

The settlement's of the once much dreaded Kake tribe of the Thlingit family are confined to Kupreanoff island and the group known as the Kake archipelago, of which Kuiu is the largest. Of this tribe but 234 were enumerated in 1890.

The Stakin tribe, now living on Wrangell and Etolin islands, once occupied the adjoining coast of the main land and the mouth of the Stikine river. In times past they were among the most formidable rivals of the Sitkans, and later they knew how to derive the greatest advantage between the competing Bussian American and Hudson Bay companies. They still earn considerable money by packing and freighting for the Stikine miners.

The southernmost branch of the Thlingit family is the Tongass tribe, inhabiting Cape Fox, Fort Tongass, and adjoining country.

Of Prince of Wales island the Thlingit occupy only the northern section, the Hanega tribe having its villages there. Numbering less than 300, they are chiefly found around the sawmill of Chican and the fishing and trading station of Klawak.

This concludes the list of tribes of the Thlingit family, which as a whole number not quite 4,800 individuals.

The southern half of Prince of Wales island is peopled by the Haida, a tribe belonging to the Skittagetan linguistic stock, and closely related to the natives of Queen Charlotte islands of British Columbia. They were formerly a numerous and powerful tribe, the members of which could be found throughout the Alexander archipelago. A branch of this tribe settled among the Thlingit at Sitka, living there under a chief of their own, and the last representative of this ruling family, a woman, died but a few years ago.

The last and latest of the Alaskan tribes, the Tsimpseans, living on Annette island, are fully described in another chapter. They belong to the Chimmesyan linguistic stock. They have but recently migrated from British Columbia to Alaska.

Source: "Report on Population and Resources of Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890" Chapter 4
by United States Census Office - Alaska - 1893
Transcribed and Submitted by Barb Ziegenmeyer


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