The People of the Cook Inlet
It is not known exactly how long Alaska Native peoples have lived in Cook Inlet. It is believed they arrived with the melting of the glaciers that covered the area until about 10,000 B.C.
It is believed that by about A.D. 500 to 1000, Athabascan-speaking Dena'ina arrived in the region. The earliest Dena'ina likely lived in nomadic bands and eventually developed permanent homes and communities, tracing their ancestors through their mothers and grandmothers.
Like the Dena'ina, the nearby Ahtna Athabascans of Southcentral Alaska took advantage of the teeming plant and animal resources, as well as the climatic conditions to develop an astonishing degree of sophistication and complexity in their culture.
At the time of the Russian arrival into the region in the late 1700s, it is believed that there were 3,000 to 5,000 Dena'ina living in dozens of settlements. Diseases cut down many Alaska Native people, and Alaska Native populations declined by more than 50 percent.
Today, CIRI is owned by more than 7,500 Alaska Native shareholders of Athabascan, Southeast Indian, Inupiat, Yup'ik, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Aleut/Unangax descent. While a significant percentage of CIRI's original shareholders were of Dena'ina and Ahtna descent, CIRI is the corporation of Alaska's urban center, where many Alaska Natives relocated from other regions and subsequently enrolled to CIRI and became CIRI shareholders. Thus, CIRI has a unique cultural diversity with shareholders from all Alaska Native groups in Alaska.
Athabascans are from the state's Interior and Southcentral Alaska. Athabascans were traditionally nomadic in nature and were known as hunters and gatherers, living on moose and caribou, plants, berries, and fish.
Unangax (Aleuts) and Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) people were primarily maritime people, living on sea life and land mammals. Today, many Unangan and Sugpiaq peoples live on the Pribilof Islands, along the Aleutian Chain, on Kodiak Island, and the Alaska Peninsula.
Traditionally, many Yup'ik and Inupiat peoples lived on the shores of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. They subsisted on whale, walrus, and seal, and were known for their ivory carvings and grass and baleen basket weavings. Yup'ik people also lived along the banks of the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, where they subsisted on salmon and other riverine resources. Today, many Yup’ik and Inupiat people continue to live in far northern and western Alaska.
Tlingit, Haida, Eyak and Tsimshian people are from Southeast Alaska where they are fishers, hunters, artists, and carvers. Towering totem poles, dance masks, and decorative button blankets are representative of their clans and many still make their home in Southeast Alaska.
Today's CIRI shareholders represent a cross-section of all these cultures. Some CIRI shareholders still live traditional subsistence lifestyles or hold contemporary jobs in traditional village areas. Others have become business owners, corporate executives, physicians, lawyers, educators, and social workers, representing a cross section of employment in the larger society.