Athabaskan

Athabasca, AB, Canada

First Contact:

10
30
60
gather% / fish % / hunt %
60
30
10
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

1/7

Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes

About the Tribe

The Athabaskan peoples, residing in Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska, U.S.A., and the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories of Canada have traditionally occupied a vast geographic area of approximately 3 million square kilometers. This enormous region has been continuously occupied by Athabaskan peoples for at least 10,000 years and includes three of North America’s largest river systems (Mackenzie, Yukon and Churchill Rivers). It also includes large areas of both tundra (barren lands) and taiga (boreal forest) as well as North America’s highest mountains (Mount McKinley and Mount Logan) and the world’s largest non-polar ice field (St. Elias Mountains). The southeastern boundary of the Arctic Athabaskan peoples’ traditional territories includes portions of provincial northern Canada. The ancestors of contemporary Athabaskan peoples were semi-nomadic hunters. The staples of Athabaskan life are caribou, moose, beaver, rabbits and fish. Athabaskan peoples today continue to enjoy their traditional practices and diet. Except for south-central Alaska (Tanana and Eyak) and the Hudson Bay (Chipweyan), Athabaskan peoples are predominately inland taiga and tundra dwellers. Collectively, the Arctic Athabaskan peoples share 23 distinct language and live in communities as far flung as Tanana, Alaska and Tadoule Lake, northern Manitoba, nearly 5400 kilometers apart. Shӓkat is the Southern Tutchone name for summer, harvesting season. This was an annual activity I did with my Grandparents, gathering a vast list of traditional food from the land for the long winter ahead. Starting in mid July through to September we fished for salmon, picked berries, and hunted for moose, which we call Kanday. This was a major food supply for the Dӓn, the people. Before my time all the food was gathered, and this was about survival for your family as there were no grocery stores in the days of my great-grandparents. Most times it would just be me and my grandfather together out hunting.



The homeland of Tanana Athabaskans is the Dfc climate type subarctic boreal forest of Nearctic ecozone, called Interior Alaska-Yukon lowland taiga. Their lands are located in different two ecoregions:[44]

  1. The south of Tanana River, called Tanana-Kuskokwim Lowlands and this ecoregion forms an arch north of the Alaska Range and Lime Hills. Native people of the lowlands are mainly Koyukon, Tanana, and Kuskokwim Athabaskans. Main communities are Fairbanks, North Pole, Tok, and Delta Junction.

  2. The north of Tanana River, called Yukon-Tanana Uplands and this ecoregion forms are rounded mountains and hills located between the Yukon and Tanana Rivers and spanning the Alaska-Yukon Territory border. Native people of the uplands are Tanacross, Tanana, and Hän Athabaskans. Main communities are Fox, Ester, and Eagle.

Tanana Athabaskans were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who moved seasonally throughout the year within a reasonably well-defined territory to harvest fish, bird, mammal, berry and other renewable resources.[6][7] The Tanana territories generally is a mosaic of open and closed spruce forests covering the low gradient outwash slope between the Alaska Range and the flats and ridges north of the Tanana River.[7]


The economy of Tanana Athabaskans is a mixed cash-subsistence system, like other modern foraging economies in Alaska. The subsistence economy is main non-monetary economy system. Cash is often a rare commodity in foraging economies, because of lack of employment opportunities or perceived conflicts in the demands of wage employment and subsistence harvesting activities.[7] The primary use of wild resources is domestic. Wild resource use in many Athabaskan villages is overwhelmingly for domestic consumption, since commercial fishing in Alaska is absent.[7] Commercial fishing and trapping patterns are controlled primarily by external factors. The state's limited entry system, operational by 1974 (after ANCSA), limits the number of available fishing permits for commercial salmon (esp. the Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus species for salmon cannery) fishing. In Nenana, about one-third of households have a permit. Most (70%) sample households with a permit used. Those with a permit that did not fish commercially, did fish for subsistence.[7]

Importance of Animal Products

Skinning and cutting 1000 pounds of moose meat was a lot of work for just the two of us. He always had stories that had important lessons for me. He talked highly of his father and how they would be traveling a long way on foot in the cold weather, and to warm up they would drink moose blood soup. Taking several hours to skin and pack up we were usually home at night and grandma would be worried about us. After hanging the meat for a full day it was time to process and make cuts and dried meat. I always asked my grandma to retell me the story of when her family went through a hard time. Her father had been gone one week following moose tracks and her mom and four other siblings had been harvesting squirrels for food. They were very lucky that the moose had circled around close back to the cabin. Moose blood soup and Dry Meat soup were always my favored meal growing up and I cook them often in return for my grandparents.


Hunting was associated with seasonal movements along trails and frozen rivers, particularly as bands moved between rivers and uplands. The primarily hunting animals for Tanana Athabaskans are big animals (caribou, moose, and wild sheep). Most valuable hunting animal is the caribou (subspecies Rangifer tarandus granti, Lower Tanana bedzeyh Tanacross wudzih Upper Tanana udzih). The caribou was the most important food animal in the Upper Tanana before the coming of the non-natives and resultant disintegration of the original nomadic patterns.[46] The economic life of the Upper Tanana centers around the caribou. Not only does the animal constitute the source of food for the natives and their dogs, but also it supplies the material for their clothing, shelters, and boats as well as netting for their snowshoes and babiche and sinew for their snares, cords, and lashings.[15][47] The caribou hunt occurred in the early summer and mid-summer. Caribou hunting during the fall migration involved the use of fence, corral, and snare complexes and was a seasonal activity critical to the survival of the Tanana people.[6] Today, most caribou meat is typically used fresh, or is frozen for later use.[15] The moose (subspecies Alces alces gigas, Lower Tanana denigi Tanacross dendîig Upper Tanana diniign) was other most important food animal for Tanana Athabaskans. Moose hunting is the most common resource harvesting activity among Lower Tanana Athabaskan bands.[7] Moose hunting is always a popular activity in modern Athabaskan communities because of the meat's economic value and a food preference for large game.[7] Moose hunting in the fall was either an individual pursuit or group activity. Moose meat was eaten fresh or preserved.[6] The Mansfeld-Kechumstuk band of Tanacross employed several methods to hunt Dall sheep (in Alaskan English simply sheep, Lower Tanana deba Tanacross demee Upper Tanana dibee) in late summer and early fall in local mountainous areas or as far south as the Mentasta Mountains. Dall sheep were a desired source of food and material for clothing and tools.[6]

Migratory waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and upland game birds (ptarmigans and grouse) were a valued source of fresh meat. Grouse (spruce grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, ruffed grouse Lower Tanana deyh Tanacross deyh, ch'ehtêeg, tsą́ą' ts'uug Upper Tanana daih, ch'ahtagn, tsąą'ts'uu) and ptarmigan (willow ptarmigan and rock ptarmigan Lower Tanana k'orrh'eba, ddhełk'ola Tanacross k'étmah, ddheł k'aal Upper Tanana k'atbah) were taken opportunistically throughout the year with bow and arrows or with snares and fence-snare arrangements. Ducks and geese were easily captured when molting. Men in birchbark canoes quietly approached waterfowl in bays and coves and shot them with bow and arrows. Women and children then caught the birds and collected eggs from their nests.[6]


Fishing (creek and river) was done near the village sites, and the fish were stored in large subsurface caches and is domestic and most common. The main economical fish (Tanacross łuug Upper Tanana łuugn, łuuk) species are mostly whitefish (humpback whitefish, round whitefish Tanacross xełtįį' ) and Pacific salmon (king (chinook) Upper Tanana gath Tanacross łuug chox, red (sockeye) Upper Tanana łuugn delt'al Tanacross łuug delt'el). Other fish species are pike (Upper Tanana ch'ulju̱u̱dn Tanacross uljaaddh), grayling (Lower Tanana srajela Upper Tanana seejiil Tanacross seejel), lingcod (Upper Tanana and Tanacross ts'aan) and sucker (Upper Tanana taats'adn Tanacross tats'aht'ôl). Fishing at Mansfield Lake and Fish Creek for whitefish, pike, and grayling began in the late spring and continued until mid-July and was a major harvest activity; whitifish was an especially important and perennially reliable food source. All band members except the very young children assisted in harvesting and processing the catch. The spring fish harvest provided a welcome dietary change after a long winter of eating mostly dried fish and meat. Fish not eaten fresh were processed and dried on drying racks for later consumption. Both fresh and dried fish were cooked in boiling water, produced by placing heated stones into a birch bark basket.[6]

Importance of Plants

The white spruce (Picea glauca) and black spruce (Picea mariana) are the dominant tree, with its maximum tree line being held at around 4,000 feet. Above this limit only stunted willows and alders are found. In the lowlands, several ferns such as the ostrich, wood, beech and oak fern are found.[11] Beginning in late spring and continuing throughout the summer and early fall months, both adults and children gathered a variety of plants and vegetative materials. Fruit and berries (Lower Tanana jega, deneyh, nekotl Tanacross jêg, ntl'ét, nit-sįį', ... Upper Tanana jjign, nt'lat, niitsil, ...), edible roots (esp. Indian potato or wild carrot Hedysarum alpinum Lower Tanana troth[48]), and assorted plants (esp. wild rhubarb Polygonum alaskanum) were eaten fresh, preserved for later consumption, or used for medicinal purposes. Birch bark of paper birch (Lower Tanana k'iyh Tanacross and Upper Tanana k'įį) and spruce roots (Tanacross xeyh) were needed to make baskets, cooking vessels, tools, cradleboards, and canoes.[6] The Upper Tanana use Vaccinium vitis-idaea as a food source. They boil the berries with sugar and flour to thicken, eat the raw berries, either plain or mixing them with sugar, grease or the combination of the two, fry them in grease with sugar or dried fish eggs, and make them into pies, jam, and jelly. They also preserve the berries alone or in grease and stored them in a birchbark basket in an underground cache, or freeze them.[49] They also use it in their traditional medicine, eating the berries or using the juice of the berries for colds, coughs, and sore throats.[49]

Transition to Industrialized Food Products

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