Tanana - Orientation

Identification. The Tanana are an American Indian group located in Alaska. The name "Tanana" is a corruption of the Tanana Athapaskan term Ten Dona ' which refers to the Tanana River valley. Among Tanana Athapaskans the term used for the Tanana River proper is Tth'eetoo', meaning "straight water." The names cited in historical accounts reflect the term applied by neighboring Gwich'in ("Kutchin") Athapaskan groups of the Yukon River valley. The Tanana Athapaskans do not refer to themselves by this larger grouping, but rather by the individual band name, such as "Mentekhut'ana" (people who inhabit the Minto Lakes). Nowadays "Tanana" is a linguistic term used to refer to Athapaskan-speaking people of the middle Tanana River and should not be confused with Koyukon-speaking Athapaskans who reside at the village of Tanana situated along the middle Yukon River.

Location. At contact the Tanana occupied and used the areas along the middle Tanana River between the Kantishna and Goodpaster rivers, the adjacent areas of the Tanana Lowlands and Minto Flats, as well as the surrounding hills of the Yukon-Tanana Upland north of the Tanana River and the foothills of the Alaska Range south of the Tanana River. This area is part of the boreal forest situated between 64° and 66° N and 144° and 150° W in central Alaska. Currently, most Tanana-speaking Athapaskans reside in the communities of Minto, Nenana, and Fairbanks.

Demography. In the early 1980s the Tanana population numbered about 500-600, residing primarily in the native Villages of Minto and Nenana and the urban center of Fairbanks. In 1910, Tanana Athapaskans totaled about 370 (Minto, Nenana, Chena, and Salcha).

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tanana language is one of twenty-three Northern Athapaskan languages of the Athapaskan family. At contact there were three dialects: Minto-Nenana, Chena, and Salcha-Goodpaster. Nowadays only the Minto-Nenana dialect is spoken.

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