Tanana - History and Cultural Relations

Prehistoric evidence of human occupation in the area Historically occupied by the Tanana extends as far back as eleven thousand years ago at one of the oldest radiocarbon-dated sites in North America. Elsewhere in the area, there have been few archaeological investigations, and little is known of prehistory of the area or the late prehistoric period that might shed light on the precontact culture and origin of the Tanana. The Tanana language reflects contact with Neighboring groups to the west, south, and southeast where the Upper Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, and Tanacross Athapaskan languages, respectively, are spoken. Social contact with the Upper Koyukon and Tanacross speakers has persisted from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Direct contact with European-Americans dates from the mid-1800s, first with the Russians who established a network of trading stations to the south and west and the English to the north and northeast. Contact with Americans was later when, after the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia, Commercial activity and exploration expanded. Continuous Contact among Tanana and European-Americans dates from the 1902 discovery of gold in the Fairbanks district and the subsequent intensification of mining at the core of the Tanana geographical area. Trading posts, roadhouses, telegraph stations, and commercial centers were established in the Tanana River valley; steamboats plied the Tanana River bringing goods and nonnative residents into the area. Furs were traded and dried salmon and cordwood became products of trade as dog teams and steamboats became central modes of transportation to supply and service mining operations and commercial activity.

Episcopalian missionaries established churches, schools, and medical facilities in the area during the first twenty years of the twentieth century. By the 1950s, the Salcha and Chena bands were nearly extinct and members of the Nenana, Wood River, Toklat, and Minto bands became consolidated at the villages of Nenana and Minto along the Tanana River. This marked the shift from a mobile hunting and gathering band population to a semipermanent village population. Hunting, fishing, and gathering of local fish and wildlife resources, however, continue to play an important role in the village economies of Minto and Nenana.

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