Tanaina - Orientation

Identification. The Tanaina are an Athapaskan-speaking American Indian group located in Alaska. Tanaina synonyms are variations of "Dena'ina" (people) or "Kenaitze." The latter may refer only to the people of Kenai Peninsula, but frequently it is extended to include all Tanaina.

Location. Tanaina are located in the Cook Inlet and adjacent areas of southwestern Alaska between 59° and 63° N and 148° and 157° W. Traditionally and today they comprise three subdivisions, or "societies," based on cultural similarities and on levels of interaction and social interchange Including intermarriage. The Kenai subdivision occupied the southeastern shore of Cook Inlet including the Kenai Peninsula, except for the Pacific Ocean side. The Susitna subdivision encompassed the Susitna, Matanuska, and Yentna river valleys including the area now occupied by the modern city of Anchorage and the northwest shore of Cook Inlet. The Interior subdivision was northwest of Cook Inlet. Today, some Tanaina are still found on the Stony River, but the Mulchatna villages have been abandoned. The Lake Clark (Kijik) population has moved south to Sixmile Lake (Nondalton). Iliamna Lake has one Tanaina village (Pedro Bay). Only Tyonek Village remains on the northwest shore of Cook Inlet. Tanaina still reside on the Kenai Peninsula, up the Susitna, Matanuska, and Yentna rivers, and around the city of Anchorage. The region is mountainous or hilly with many lakes, rivers, and streams. Boreal spruce forest with some cottonwood and birch stands on the east shift to taiga at the far western perimeter. The climate is mild in summer with a dry early and wet late period. Winters are cold, reaching —20° F.

Demography. Exact population figures for Tanaina are Especially difficult to calculate. According to my estimations, precontact Tanaina must have numbered at least four thousand to five thousand. After severe epidemics of the late 1800s, the figure apparently dropped to about fifteen hundred. Modern census figures do not segregate Tanaina ethnically, and many villages are multiethnic. A rough estimate would be at least fifteen hundred.

Linguistic Affiliation. Tanaina speak an Athapaskan Language with two dialects: Upper Inlet (Susitna subdivision) and Lower Inlet. Lower Inlet dialect is subdivided into Outer Inlet, Iliamna, and Interior. Today, all except the elderly speak English, and some young people speak no Tanaina. In recent years a resurgence of interest has stimulated its teaching again.

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