In 2000, Alaska Natives comprised just 0.04% (120,766 individuals) of the total U.S. population; however in the state of Alaska they comprise 19% of the state’s population of 660,000. The Alaska Native groups include:
- Southeastern Tribes
The majority of Alaska Natives live in Alaska’s major urban cities (Anchorage and Fairbanks) due to job opportunities, higher education institutions, and to have access to regular healthcare. Alaska Natives make up the majority of individuals who reside in remote village communities throughout the state which range from several hundred to several thousand persons. Many villages strive to balance a subsistence economy and a western cash economy.
A subsistence economy refers to the hunting, fishing, and gathering activities related which traditionally forms the economic base for many Alaska Native people while a western cash economy emphasizes the need for wages and cash payments to exchange for goods or services needed by individuals. An example of economic balancing seen in many Native communities in Alaska include using wages from employment to purchase ATVs, nets, guns, and ammunition to support subsistence hunting or fishing activities.
Alaska’s unique geography and population characteristics, combined with transportation and economic factors, present enormous challenges for delivery of health care services for all its elderly inhabitants, but especially for those of Alaska Native heritage. It is perhaps not surprising that under these conditions sizeable portions of the state (52% of both rural and urban census areas) have been designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs), where many Alaska Native elders reside.
Rich Cultures and Traditions
Many Alaska Natives have rich cultural practices that have been passed down through generations. Alaska Natives’ worldview is one of a collective culture where the entire group is the focus rather then the individual self—a Western concept. The primary emphasis is based upon harmonious interconnectedness among the group members.
The customs of the Alaska Native people are similar in scope but each varies from tribe to tribe. The customs include group emphasis, cooperation, giving and sharing, patience, listening and observation skills, spirituality, respect for lands-animals-Creator, respect for elders, and balance and harmony with others and the natural environment.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census:
- 85.7% of Alaska residents age 5 and older speak English at home.
- The next most common languages are
- A total of 5.2% of Alaskans speak one of the state’s 22 indigenous languages, known locally as Native languages.
1. Data was retrieved from the U.S. Census Bureau on February 9, 2009 at http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/censr-28.pdf
2. Data was retrieved from the First Alaskan Institute on September 11, 2007 at http://www.firstalaskans.org