The Initial Exploitation of the Dena’ina: |
Russian Trade Ventures Force Culture Change |
Catlyn Clark |
ABSTRACT: As with all of the Native American societies, the Dena’ina of Cook Inlet we abruptly forced into a period of massive change to not only their landscape and economy, but also their way of life and culture. These spiritually and environmentally aware people were directly impacted by Russian trade ventures, which started in the 1700s. This paper attempts to describe and interpret this specific instance of culture change through examination of the Dena’ina people pre-contact and discussion of the changes after Russian involvement. |
Before the first Russian explorers came to Alaska, the Dena’ina had developed a complex culture based on their sedentary lifestyle. Prior to 1000 AD, the Athabascan Dena’ina were nomadic, but following climatic changes known as the Medieval Warming Period, it became beneficial for them to live in one place (Boraas 2004, p. 6). The salmon runs in Cook Inlet increased, and through the use of weirs and cold storage pits, the Dena’ina were able to collect large amounts of fish and preserve them. This preservation was previously unknown to the area, making the Dena’ina able to create a life of sustenance using a smaller land area.
As a result of the increased efficiency, the Dena’ina population was able to increase and become more focused.
“Dena’ina social organization adapted in response to food-getting innovations and sedentary villages with males of a matrilineal clan marrying wives from opposite clans (moiety exogamy) all controlled by a Qeshqa (chief) emerged to organize labor for intensive salmon fishing and equitably distribute food resources.”
-Boraas 2004, p. 6
The social organization of the Dena’ina was completely centered the most advantageous way to collect and distribute food, which was managed by the Qeshqa. Anyone, male or female, was technically allowed to...