Ahtna

ETHNONYMS: Ahtena, Ahtnakotana

The Ahtna, an Athapaskan-speaking American Indian group, were located in the eighteenth century in the Copper River basin of Alaska and numbered about five hundred. First European contact was with Russians in the eighteenth Century, but it was the discovery of gold in their territory in 1899 that opened the group to intensive and sustained outside contact. In 1980 the Ahtna numbered three hundred and continued to live in the Copper River basin where they persisted in the practice of some of their traditional subsistence and religious activities. The Ahtna were and are culturally related to the neighboring Tanaina.

In the eighteenth century the Ahtna fished, hunted, and gathered for their subsistence and were heavily involved in the fur trade. Salmon, caught with traps, nets, weirs, and spears, was their most important food source. The Ahtna were divided into three geographical groups, each speaking a separate dialect and composed of several villages. Each village was made up of several families and was led by its own chief, or tyone. Each family occupied a semisubterranean wood and pole frame house covered with spruce bark. Within Ahtna Society there was a complex social structure consisting of village leaders, shamans, commoners, and a servant class. Religious life centered around the potlatch.


Bibliography

Goniwiecha, Mark C., and David A. Hales (1988). "Native Language Dictionaries and Grammars of Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland." Reference Services Review 16:121 — 134.

Hanable, William S., and Karen W. Workman (1974). Lower Copper and Chitina River: An Historic Resources Study. Juneau: Alaskan Division of Parks, Department of Natural Resources.

Laguna, Frederica de, and Catharine McClellan (1981). "Ahtna." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 6, Subarctic, edited by June Helm, 641-663. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

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