Tanana - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tanana were a hunting, fishing, and gathering society. They hunted large and small game of the boreal forest, including moose, caribou, bear, sheep, muskrat, beaver, ptarmigan, hare, grouse, porcupine, and waterfowl. Several species of salmon and whitefish were taken by a variety of methods that included traps, fences, gill nets, dip nets, and fish wheels for salmon. Other fish species taken included northern pike, burbot, sheefish, and longnose sucker. Berries, edible plants, and wood were gathered for use. Nowadays, nearly all of these same fish and wildlife resources continue to be harvested for subsistence. In 1984, the village of Minto had among the largest per capita harvest of wild foods in the state—1,015 edible pounds per person. Since contact, fish and wildlife have been used in trade with European-Americans to obtain manufactured goods. Furs, dried salmon, and cordwood were used in trade and for acquiring cash. A mixed subsistence-cash economy is characteristic of present-day Tanana villages. Trapping, commercial salmon fishing, and wage employment, although all limited, are the primary means for earning cash.

Industrial Arts. Handicrafts include the manufacture of birchbark baskets, dog sleds, snowshoes, fur caps and boots, and various articles of beadwork for sale and exchange.

Trade. Little is known of aboriginal trading practices, although an interregional trail network was clearly well developed as evidenced in several historic accounts that reported the presence of imported manufactured items in advance of European-Americans in central Alaska. After contact, trading trips were made regularly by certain band members to posts along the Yukon River and near the mouth of the Copper River to the south. A native trade fair was held frequently at a site near the junction of the Tanana and Yukon rivers, although its antiquity is uncertain. Trading expeditions Declined in the twentieth century as goods and products became available at stations and stores in the Tanana Valley proper.

Division of Labor. Aboriginally, men were responsible for hunting, providing firewood, cooking food, and manufacturing tools, snowshoe frames, boats, and canoes. Women tanned skins from which they made clothing, footwear, and tents. They made birchbark utensils and collected water, edible plants, and berries. Women carried the heavy loads and pulled toboggans loaded with gear and equipment. Women, then as now, could and did hunt large and small game. They cut and dried fish and meat, although men often assisted as they do nowadays. Both men and women fished. Now, traditional cooking of food, particularly for ceremonial purposes and in camp is done by men, and European-American-style cooking is done by women. Earlier in the twentieth century both men and women trapped; however, this is virtually a male activity nowadays. Commercial fishing is done primarily by men, although women commonly assist. Both men and women are involved in wage employment.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, individuals, family groups, or bands did not own property in the Western legal sense. The use and occupancy of lands were guided by usufruct rights based upon kinship and group affiliation. Band territory was open to all members of the band for subsistence use. Members of neighboring bands asked permission to use certain areas. Trapping areas were used by and associated with particular families and were handed down along family lines from one generation to the next as they often are today. The 1906 Alaska Native Allotment Act was extinguished in 1971 by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Prior to 1971 many natives applied for individual land allotments, although few have received patent to date. Land was granted to natives of Nenana and Minto in the form of profit-making corporations by the 1971 act, but these lands include a relatively small proportion of the land traditionally used and occupied by Tanana Athapaskans.


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