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Human Ecology

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Dena'ina Indians -- Alaska, Indians of North America -- Alaska -- Social life and customs, Ethnobotany -- Alaska, Cultural landscapes -- Alaska, Nondalton (Alaska) -- Social life and customs


The Inland Dena’ina, an Athabaskan people of south-central Alaska, produce and value Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) in myriad ways. Ethnographic interviews and field visits conducted with Inland Dena’ina residents of the village of Nondalton, Alaska, reveal the centrality of CMTs in the creation and valuation of an Indigenous cultural landscape. CMTs serve as waypoints along trails, as Dena’ina people travel across vast distances to hunt wide-ranging caribou herds and fish salmon ascending rivers from Bristol Bay. CMTs also provide bark and sap used in Dena’ina material culture and medicines, leaving signature marks upon the spruce, birch, and other trees found in the sprawling taiga forest of the region. Dena’ina travelers value these markers as gifts from their elders and ancestors, helping modern-day people to orient themselves geographically, culturally, and spiritually. Today, with industrial-scale resource extraction proposed for Dena’ina traditional lands, including extensive open-pit mines, there is new urgency in demonstrating the geographical presence and extent of potentially affected Dena’ina people. CMTs have been overlooked in existing literatures in spite of their ubiquity and their cultural importance. Our research draws from the firsthand accounts of Dena’ina elders and survey across the landscapes of the Lake Clark core of the Dena’ina homeland.


© 2020 by the authors. Licensee: Springer.

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