The Jabila’ina Dancers perform at beginning of festivities.

CIRI and the People of Cook Inlet

10,000 B.C.: The colossal glaciers covering what is now the Cook Inlet Region begin to melt. According to most theories, this event makes way for the first Alaska Native peoples to set foot on these lands.

By about A.D. 500 to 1000, Athabascan-speaking Dena’ina have arrived in the region, roaming the area in semi-nomadic bands and eventually developing permanent homes and communities. The land teems with plant and animal resources; inland forests provide birch to make canoes and sleds, while the rivers of the region produce runs of salmon.

The Dena’ina and Ahtna Athabascan people of Southcentral Alaska develop sophisticated and complex cultures that thrive until the late 1700s, when Russians arrive. Until disease comes to the villages, decimating the Native populations by nearly 50 percent, roughly 3,000 to 5,000 Dena’ina live in dozens of settlements in the area.

Cook Inlet Villages and Lands

The geographic boundary of the CIRI region, shown below, closely approximates the traditional homeland of the Dena’ina Athabascans. Within the regional boundary are villages and group sites recognized under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In addition, within the regional boundary is the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest urban center. Anchorage is often referred to colloquially as the largest Alaska Native village because of the large number of Alaska Native people who live within the municipal boundaries.

There are seven villages in the CIRI region. The Dena’ina villages of the region are Eklutna, Knik, Tyonek, and Salmatof. The people of Chickaloon are a mixture of Ahtna and Dena’ina Athabascan. The people of Ninilchik and Seldovia have ancestors of Aleut and Alutiiq descent, as well as some Dena’ina.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act also recognized two other categories of Alaska Native localities–groups, which had smaller populations of Alaska Native people than villages, and four cities with significant Native populations but considered urban (Kenai, Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka). The groups within CIRI’s regional boundaries are Alexander Creek, Caswell, Gold Creek, Montana Creek and Point Possession. Kenai, of the four cities named in ANCSA, also lies within CIRI’s regional boundary and is the home of many people of Dena’ina heritage.

Many of the Dena’ina of the Cook Inlet region lived near Cook Inlet, a large body of salt water they referred to as Tikahtnu. Consequently, they utilized the marine resources and abundant salmon runs of the region. They also traded these marine resources with more interior groups of Alaska Native peoples, including the Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet. The Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet depended heavily on mountain resources such as moose, caribou and fur-bearing mammals.

Cook Inlet Village and Group Dena’ina Place names*

 


* Names from Shem Pete’s Alaska, by James Kari and James A. Fall; principal contributor, Shem Pete; A Dena’ina Legacy, by Peter Kalifornsky and edited by James Kari and Alan Boraas; and Denai’ina Topical Dictionary, by James K

Kayakers land at the Homer Spit for the August 2008 Tamamta Katurlluta.

This early history of the people of Cook Inlet Region formed the foundation for the CIRI family of shareholders today. While a significant percentage of CIRI’s original shareholders were of Dena’ina and Ahtna descent, CIRI is the corporation of Alaska’s urban center, where many Alaska Natives relocated from other regions and subsequently enrolled with CIRI and became CIRI shareholders.

Today, CIRI is owned by more than 8,800 shareholders. Our Alaska Native shareholders are of Athabascan, Southeast Indian, Inpuiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Aleut/Unangax descent—a unique cultural diversity that represents shareholders from all Alaska Native groups, from throughout the state.

The Athabascan people come from Interior and Southcentral Alaska, a region stretching from south of the Brooks Mountain Range all the way to the Kenai Peninsula. Traditionally, Athabascans traveled in small, nomadic groups, migrating with the seasons to hunt and gather, living on moose and caribou, plants, berries and fish.

The Unangax (Aleuts) and Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) were primarily maritime people, living on sea life and land mammals, and harvesting seals, whales, salmon, halibut and shellfish for food, clothing and oil. Today, many Unangan and Sugpiaq peoples live on the Pribilof Islands, along the Aleutian Chain, on Kodiak Island and on the Alaska Peninsula.

A number of Yup’ik and Inupiat people lived on the shores of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, subsisting on whale, walrus and seal, and known for their ivory carvings and grass and baleen basket weaving. Yup’ik people also lived along the banks of the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, inhabiting seasonal subsistence camps, many of which became modern villages.

The Tlingit, Haida, Eyak and Tsimshian people populated the temperate rainforests reaching from the Copper River Delta to the Southeast Panhandle of Alaska. They shared a common culture that involved dependence upon the ocean and rivers for food and transportation. While significant differences in language and clan systems existed, all four groups developed similar tools, regalia, ceremonies (or potlatches) and subsistence patterns.

Today’s CIRI shareholders represent a cross-section of all these cultures. Some CIRI shareholders continue to live traditional subsistence lifestyles, while others hold contemporary jobs in traditional village areas. They have become business owners, corporate executives, physicians, lawyers, educators and social workers, among other professions. Throughout every sector, across Alaska and the Lower 48, CIRI shareholders work together to honor their diverse cultures and build a strong future for generations to come.

 

Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated is one of the 13 Alaska Native regional corporations. The geographic boundary of the Cook Inlet Region, Inc (CIRI) closely approximates the traditional homeland of the Dena’ina Athabascans.

Within the regional boundary are villages and group sites recognized under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In addition, within the regional boundary is the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest urban center.
Picture of Cooks Inlet, Alaska

Cook Inlet Villages, Groups and Cities

Anchorage is often referred to as the largest Alaska Native village because of the large number of Alaska Native people who live within the municipal boundaries.

The Dena’ina villages of the region are Eklutna, Knik, Tyonek, and Salmatof. The people of Chickaloon are a mixture of Ahtna and Dena’ina Athabascan. The people of Ninilchik and Seldovia have ancestors of Aleut and Altutiiq descent, as well as some Dena’ina.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act also recognized two other categories of Alaska Native localities, groups, which had smaller populations of Alaska Native people than villages, and the four-named cities, communities with significant Native populations but considered urban. The groups within CIRI’s regional boundaries are Alexander Creek, Caswell, Gold Creek, Montana Creek and Point Possession. Kenai, Alaska, one of the four-named cities under ANCSA, also lies within CIRI’s regional boundary and is the home of many people of Dena’ina heritage.

Many of the Dena’ina of the Cook Inlet region lived near Cook Inlet, a large body of salt water they referred to as Tikahtnu. Consequently, they utilized the marine resources and abundant salmon runs of the region. They also traded these marine resources with more interior groups of Alaska Native peoples, including the Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet. The Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet depended heavily on mountain resources such as moose, caribou and fur-bearing mammals.

Cook Inlet Village and Group Dena’ina Place names

•Alexander Creek – Tuqen Kaq’
•Caswell – Q’uch’u’itnu
Chickaloon – Nay’dini’aa Na’
•Eklutna – Idlughet
•Gold Creek – Quht’anagga K’etnu K’ilani
•Kenai – Kahtnu
•Knik – K’enakatnu
•Montana Creek – Qiduk’ggat
•Ninilchik – Niqnalchint
•Point Possession – Tuyqun
•Salamatof – Ken Dech’ Etl’t
•Seldovia – Angidahtnu
•Tyonek – Tubghnenq

Native Villages and Native Corporations in the Cook Inlet Region:

Community Name Corporation Name
Alexander Creek Alexander Creek Inc.
Caswell Caswell Native Assoc. Inc.
Chickaloon Chilkaloon Moose Creek Native Assoc.
Eklutna Eklutna Inc.
Golovin Golovin Native Corporation
Kenai Kenai Native Assoc. Inc.
Knik Knikatnu Inc.
Montana Creek Montana Creek Native Assoc.
Ninilchik Ninilchik Natives Assoc., Inc.
Point Possession Point Possession Inc.
Salamatoff Salamatoff Native Assoc. Inc.
Seldovia Seldovia Native Assoc. Inc.
Tyonek Tyonek Native Corporation