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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Athabascan RavenAthabascans of Interior Alaska





A View of the Past

Written by
Patricia H. Partnow

Illustrated by
Michael D. Jimerson


as part of the Athabascan Indians
of Interior Alaska Social Studies Unit
May 1975

A Production of the Bilingual
Education Center of the Alaska Native Education Board
4510 International Airport Road
Anchorage, Alaska

1975 by Alaska
Native Education Board



It's a cold, still morning in November two hundred years ago. In the interior of what is know known as Alaska, the rivers and lakes have been frozen for several weeks. Snow covers the ground and clings to the short branches of the spruce trees.



In a clearing, set back from the river a bit, are four snow-covered houses mounds of white with smoke curling out of holes in the tops.

This camp is an Athabascan winter camp. Relatives and good friends, all members of the same band, have decided to stay at the same camp this winter and have built their moss-covered houses close together.

Two men come out of one of the houses

Two men come out of one of the houses carrying bows, arrows, and sinew snares. Laughing and talking to each other, they put on long snowshoes, untie a barking dog, and set off with it across the frozen river and into the forest on the other bank.

A woman, bundled in a caribou-skin parka, follows them out of the house and walks down to the river to get water.

A third man walks downriver a bit and checks his fish net under the ice. Soon the ice will be too thick for netting and it will be time to jig. But for now the winter run of whitefish is still filling the nets.

hunting moose

There are both big and small game animals in the area. It is also a good fishing spot, and close to the migration route of a herd of caribou.

going hunting

Each of the houses in this winter camp is home for two families. In one household, the two families decided to live together because the wives are sisters and their husbands get along with each other. In another, a married daughter and her husband are sharing a house with her parents. And in still another, the two men are hunting partners and good friends, and so decided to share a house.

These Athabascans will hunt and fish for awhile, but later on this winter they will break camp and split up. Each household will go to its own pond or lake to trap beavers, or will travel to a favorite hunting spot. When they move out of their winter camp, they will carry their tents, tools, clothes, and weapons with them. They'll leave only the houses themselves, still covered with snow.

snow melts

As spring comes and the snow melts at this winter camp, the moss and dirt that cover the houses will become wet and heavy. Water will drip through the planks on the roof, onto the dirt floor inside. By summer, the poles that held the roofs up will fall down under the weight of the soggy roof.


When the people return next fall they will be glad to see their friends and relatives again. They will see that the old houses have fallen down, and will start the work of building new ones. They will by busy with the houses, with fishing and hunting and getting ready for the winter. It is a good time of year!

Section 1 Adaptations to Basic Needs
Section 2 Athabascans
Section 3 Upper Tanana Athabascans
Section 4 The Yearly Cycle
Section 5 There's More To Culture Than Basic Needs
Section 6 Could You Survive?
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D
Appendix E
Appendix F



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified August 17, 2006