Sharing Our Voices: Alaska Native Arts and Heritage


ᐃᓗᓕᖏᑦ ᐱᔭᐅᔪᓐᓇᖅᑐᖅ ᖃᓪᓗᓇᑎᑐᑦ ᑭᓯᐊᓂ

A map showing the culture group names and the cities, towns and villages of Alaska.

The Indigenous lands that are called Alaska have been for thousands of years the homelands of the Inuit, the Iñupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Cup’ig, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq and Unangax̂ (Aleut) peoples; the Diné/Dene/Athabascans, the Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina, Gwich’in, Hän, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Kuskokwim and Upper Tanana peoples; and in the Southeast, the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Ts’msyen/Tsimshian peoples. This spotlight introduces readers to arts and cultural heritage work in Alaska by its Indigenous peoples, with a focus on the Arctic.

A map showing the culture group names and the cities, towns and villages of Alaska.
Map of the Indigenous lands that are now called Alaska. COURTESY OF THE SMITHSONIAN ARCTIC STUDIES CENTER

Tlingit leader Rosita Worl wrote: “When we say haa aaní, “our land,” we are speaking from the heart. Those words mean ownership, which we have had to defend through history. They mean identity, because this is our homeland. They mean the nourishment of body and spirit provided by bountiful rain forests, coasts, and rivers. This land and its gifts have sustained us for hundreds of generations.” [1] Alaska Native peoples, their lifeways and creativity, are as diverse as the expansive lands and waters that sustain them. At 665,400 square miles, Alaska is as wide as the entire lower-48 U.S., and its 33,904 miles of shoreline is greater than all other states combined. The environments include thirty-two ecologically distinct regions: tundra, boreal and coastal forests; countless rivers and lakes, mountain ranges and glaciers; and five large marine ecosystems. 

In the past and today, Alaska Natives face myriad challenges of colonialism with perseverance and resiliency. The arts are just one expression of their ongoing successes. Sugpiaq Elder Gordon Pullar addressed this for his people in a way that resonates for all Alaska Natives: “Despite the traumatic events of conquest and oppression, the culture did not die. Its candle has burned dimly at times, but the light has never gone out. Now it’s becoming bright again.”


[1] Quotes from Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, edited by Aron L. Crowell, Rosita Worl, Paul C. Ongtooguk and Dawn D. Biddison.

What is Alaska Native Museum Sovereignty?
Welcoming Alaska Native peoples into museum spaces as experts in their own cultural histories.

ARTShops: An Alaska Native Arts Leadership Program
Arts leaders in rural Alaska share harvesting, processing, cultural and art-making knowledges, connecting across generations.

Empowerment Through Culture: The Alaska Native Heritage Center
A wellness program in Anchorage reconnects youth to the Indigenous heritage.

Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation
A Conversation with Alaska Native Artists.

Conversations: Land Acknowledgement
A webinar with Melissa Shaginoff.

Bridging tradition and technology in Inuit music
James Dommek Jr., Byron Nicholai, Julia Ogina and Tiffany Ayalik discuss the past, present and future of Inuit music.

Intergenerational Creativity and Learning through Indigenous Comic Art
A project combining comic art, Athabascan heritage, and Smithsonian collections offers new learning opportunities for today’s youth.

Renewals: Urban Unangax̂ Culture Camp
A culture camp in Anchorage creates opportunities to learn Unangax̂ language and lifeways.

Sonya Kelliher-Combs
Revealing the personal and cultural histories embedded in materials.

Holly Mititquq Nordlum
An Iñupiaq artist and traditional tattoo practitioner on healing that spans generations.

Brian Adams
Connecting with Inuit culture and community through photography.

For Yup’ik artist, hunter, fashion designer and advocate Ilgavak, it’s more than skin deep.

Listen Up: Northern Soundscapes
A sonic circumpolar response to Alaskan field recordings.

Native Arts at the University of Alaska
Academic programs supporting Alaska Native arts.

Conversations of Ourselves
An exhibition of work by an Iñupiaq artist based on Alaska Native perspectives.

Celebrating Our Beauty
An Indigenous short on women’s tattooing heritage.

Allison Warden
Performance art from the Arctic.

Amber Webb
Advocating for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls through art.



This article was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.

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