The Tanana Alaska

The Tanana name comes from the Tanana River, which flows through their homeland in present-day east-central Alaska. About 130 air miles west of Fairbanks, Tanana is located in Interior Alaska, two miles west of the Tanana-Yukon River junction. TAH-nuh-naw is pronounced similarly to TANAINA, whose name means “the people”. Tanana is thought to have been the first name given to the river, and its meaning is obscure.
From the confluence of the Tanana River with the Yukon River to the Tok River, people have inhabited lands along both rivers. Scholars have considered the Nabesna as a subtribe of Tanana, and in fact, they are sometimes referred to as Upper Tanana, living along the Nabesna and Chisana Rivers south of the Tok River.
There were many tribes in the region that were ATHAPASCANS, or Athapascan-speaking, including the Tanana, Tanaina, AHTENA, HAN, KOYUKON, and KUTCHIN (among whom the Tanana were once mistakenly grouped), as well as other tribes in the area. They were classified as SUBARCTIC INDIANS, i.e., part of the Subarctic Culture Area. As seminomadic people, the Tanana hunted, fished, and gathered wild foods in small groups, although they maintained villages in their territory. A few miles downstream of the mouth of the Tanana River was Noukelakayet Station, later known as Fort Adams.
As well, they traded with neighboring tribes, such as the Tutchone, who lived in what is now Canada’s Yukon Territory to the east of them. Traditionally, the Tanana tribe was a nomadic group of hunters who relied on caribou, moose, and mountain sheep for food and clothing. In 1868, when the French-Canadian François Xavier Mercier established the first fur trading post in the area, there were as many as five different Athabascan languages spoken.
The Tanana name comes from the Tanana River, which flows through their homeland in present-day east-central Alaska.
The Tanana name comes from the Tanana River, which flows through their homeland in present-day east-central Alaska. This is Tanana Alaska Post Office. Internet Archive
Tanana were traditionally enemies with the Koyukon, who fought for territory along the Yukon River. In Alaska and the Yukon Territory, the interior tribes were among the most isolated. By the first half of the 18th century, traders representing the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Russian American Company had contacts with them.
New technologies were acquired by the Tanana; however, they continued to lead an independent, traditional hunting-gathering lifestyle into the 20th century. As miners moved into the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, change was accelerated. The Alaska Highway was built in 1942, which contributed to their further acculturation.
The Native American Claims Settlement Act was passed by Congress in 1971, granting lands and funds to Alaska Natives. When Doyon Limited was formed to manage tribal business development, the Tanana villages became part of it, along with those of the Ingalik, Koyukon, and other Athapascans. The Tanana have worked with other Native peoples to protect tribal lands and resources through Doyon and intertribal not-for-profits.
In 2002, Pat Sweetsir responded to oil companies’ efforts to drill new lands on Alaska’s Arctic North Slope. During a summit sponsored by the Kutchin, Tanana, the chief and leader of 42 Alaska tribes, revealed that 95 percent of the North Slope is now open for drilling. It is important to protect the permafrost, however, as the result is regular spills that seriously damage it.
Read More: The History of the Arikara Tribe