Tanaina Indians

Tanaina Indians. Own name, meaning, “people” exclusive of Eskimo and Europeans.

  • Also called Knaiakhotana.

Tanaina Connections. The Tanaina belonged to the Athapascan linguistic stock.

Tanaina Location. According to Osgood (1934): “The drainage of Cook Inlet north of Seldovia (59°20′ N. lat.), the north half of Iliamna Lake troll its drainage, including Clark Lake. Since contact, possibly slight incursions have been made into territory formerly occupied by Eskimo, notably Seldovia Bay and portions of Iliamna Lake.”

Tanaina Subdivisions

Osgood (1936) gives the following:

  1. Lower Inlet (Seldovia and Kachemak Bay).
  2. Middle Inlet (Tustamena, Skilak, and Kenai Lakes and the adjacent coast).
  3. Upper Inlet (Knik arm of Cook Inlet and its drainage).
  4. Susitna (Susitna River and drainage).
  5. Tyonek (west coastal region of Cook Inlet).
  6. Iliamna (region of the north part of Iliamna Lake arid its drainage).
  7. Clark Lake (the region about Clark Lake).

Tanaina Villages

  • Chinila, on the east side of Cook Inlet near the mouth of Kaknu River.
  • Chuitna (not given by Osgood), on Cook Inlet at the mouth of Chult River
  • Eklutna, at the head of Knik Arm.
  • Iliamna, near the mouth of the Iliamna River.
  • Kasilof, on the east coast of Cook Inlet at the mouth of Kasilof River.
  • Kasnatchin, at Anchor Point, Kenai Peninsula.
  • Kenai, on the east side of Cook Inlet at the mouth of Kid, eu River.
  • Kilehik (not noted by Osgood), on Lake Clark.
  • Knakatnuk, opposite Nitak on the west side of Knik Arm, at the head of Cook Inlet.
  • Knik, near the mouth of Knik River.
  • Kultuk, on the east side of Cook Inlet near Nikishka.
  • Kustatan, on the west side of Cook Inlet below Tyonek.
  • Nikhkak, on Lake Clark.
  • Nikishka, near East Foreland at the head of Cook Inlet.
  • Ninilchik, on the east coast of Cook Inlet south of the mouth of Kasilof River.
  • Nitak, on the east side of Knik Bay at the head of Cook Inlet and near Eklutna.
  • Skilak, on the south side of Skilak Lake, Kenai Peninsula.
  • Skittok, on Kaknu River and forming part of the Kenai settlement.
  • Susitna, on Susitna River, Cook Inlet.
  • Titukilsk, on the east shore of Cook Inlet and near Nikishka.
  • Tyonek, on the west side of Cook Inlet.
  • Zdluiat, on the east side of Knik Bay south of Nitak.

Tanaina History. Cook Inlet received its name from Captain Cook who entered it in May 1778, but all of the natives met by him seem to have been Eskimo. The Russian settlement of Kodiak in 1784 marked an important event for the history of the region because the Russians, assisted by Aleut hunters, at once began to exploit the animal wealth of the neighboring region, and Cook Inlet was a principal scene of their activities. In July 1786, Portlock and Dixon went to the very head of Cook Inlet and must have had dealings with the Tanaina because they met with considerable success in their trading operations. Captain Douglas visited the inlet in. 1788. Russian ownership gave place to ownership by the United States in 1867, but Cook Inlet was exploited relatively little until the railroad line was built from Seward to Fairbanks and skirted the head of the inlet for many miles. The Tanaina Indians were one of the last groups in Alaska to receive attention from ethnologists.

Tanaina Population. Mooney (1928) estimated that there were about 1,200 Tanaina in 1740. In 1818, 1,471 natives were enumerated in Cook Inlet. In 1825 Baron Wrangell returned 1,299. Veniaminoff (1840) gave 1,628 and in 1860 the Holy Synod returned 937. In 1869 Halleck and Colyer returned the grossly exaggerated estimate of 25,000. The census of 1880 returned 614 and that of 1890, 724. Mooney estimated 890 in 1900. (See Ahtena.)



Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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