The last frontier is filled with a strong sense of gratitude and respect for the land. We know that we can’t get to where we’re going without remembering where we’ve been. Engaging in the prominent cultural values and respecting Alaska Native heritage are fundamentals in understanding the incredible diversity that makes up Alaska. Albeit somewhat crazy to outsiders, these traditions are captivating and dearly important to those living throughout the rural villages and more populated towns in the great 49th state.
1. Dog mushing.
Tracing back its Eskimo roots in the 15th century, dog mushing was actually the primary mode of transportation in rural Alaska until the 1920s when flying the increasingly popular option. Dog mushing is the state sport of Alaska with the most popular race to date being the Iditarod which runs from Anchorage to Nome.
2. Gold panning.
Since the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1897, gold panning in Alaska has been an integral part of the economy in the last frontier. To this day gold mining on a large scale and gold panning on an individual scale is still a very prominent way of life in the 49th state.
3. Native arts and crafts.
When history and tradition collide, you will often times find some of the most special and unique Alaska Native arts and crafts in the form of dolls, paddles, jewelry and more.
4. Subsistence fishing.
Subsistence fishing is an integral part of many Alaskans' ability to survive in the last frontier. Plentiful access to nourishing seafood keeps everyone strong and resilient. In addition to utilizing the natural resources for eating purposes, much of the Alaska Native population using this fresh seafood for tribal methods, acting out culture and complying with long withstanding values.
5. Bone carving.
From the bone and ivory of whales and seals, carving is a very skilled art that is prominent among the Alaska Native culture. These incredible carvings can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and are truly all one-of-a-kind pieces.
6. Handmade dance masks.
If you’ve been to Alaska, chances are you’ve seen these incredible masks in a building displayed somewhere. They are truly phenomenal works of art. The history behind the dance masks is long and varied. The masks are generally used in conjunction with storytelling, singing and dancing through performances which tell of many different elements to the long withstanding indigenous cultures.
7. Trapping and fur trading.
Marten is the most important animal to trap in Alaska mostly due to the sable fur. Other fur-bearers are wolf, lynx, wolverine, beaver, fox, mink red fox, otter, coyote, ermine (weasel) and muskrat. Alaskans rely on the warm fur to make hats and clothing and many sell or trade the furs for profit in order to survive.
8. Subsistence hunting.
In the largest state in the nation, subsistence hunting is one of the most responsible ways that we can do our part in controlling animal populations while also assuring that we eat the finest, most organic meat possible. In rural Alaska as well as more populated areas, subsistence hunting is critical to our nutrition, food security and economic stability. Luckily for residents, we have the ability to hunt all year long and keep a plentiful supply of wild game on our tables and in our freezers.
9. Totem poles.
This incredible carved woodwork demonstrates true symbolic ties between humans and animals. The most popular animals used in totem poles are the wolf and the eagle. These fascinating poles are said to record family events and are to be read from the bottom up. The height of the pole was said to be a reflection of wealth and power. Ketchikan has one of the most glorious collections of totem poles in the entire state of Alaska. Visitors can spend hours upon hours submerging themselves into the truly rich and diverse Alaska Native culture.
10. Basket weaving.
The indigenous people of Alaska have the most spectacular history of basket-weaving that has been passed down from generation to generation. Basketry is an ancient Native Alaskan art that is still thriving today in the last frontier. These baskets are generally made from rye grass (which can be found on the Aleutian Chain) while the larger baskets are made using birch bark and/or willow root.
Is there a special tradition in Alaska that you hold near and dear to your heart?