CIRI and the People of Cook Inlet

10,000 B.C.: The colossal glaciers covering what is now the Cook Inlet Region begin to melt. According to most theories, this event makes way for the first Alaska Native peoples to set foot on these lands.

By about A.D. 500 to 1000, Athabascan-speaking Dena’ina have arrived in the region, roaming the area in semi-nomadic bands and eventually developing permanent homes and communities. The land teems with plant and animal resources; inland forests provide birch to make canoes and sleds, while the rivers of the region produce runs of salmon.

The Dena’ina and Ahtna Athabascan people of Southcentral Alaska develop sophisticated and complex cultures that thrive until the late 1700s, when Russians arrive. Until disease comes to the villages, decimating the Native populations by nearly 50 percent, roughly 3,000 to 5,000 Dena’ina live in dozens of settlements in the area.

This early history of the people of Cook Inlet Region formed the foundation for the CIRI family of shareholders today. 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 with CIRI and became CIRI shareholders.

Today, CIRI is owned by more than 8,700 shareholders. Our Alaska Native shareholders are of Athabascan, Southeast Indian, Inpuiat, Yup’ik, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Aleut/Unangax descent—a unique cultural diversity that represents shareholders from all Alaska Native groups, from throughout the state.

The Athabascan people come from Interior and Southcentral Alaska, a region stretching from south of the Brooks Mountain Range all the way to the Kenai Peninsula. Traditionally, Athabascans traveled in small, nomadic groups, migrating with the seasons to hunt and gather, living on moose and caribou, plants, berries and fish.

The Unangax (Aleuts) and Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) were primarily maritime people, living on sea life and land mammals, and harvesting seals, whales, salmon, halibut and shellfish for food, clothing and oil. Today, many Unangan and Sugpiaq peoples live on the Pribilof Islands, along the Aleutian Chain, on Kodiak Island and on the Alaska Peninsula.

A number of Yup’ik and Inupiat people lived on the shores of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, subsisting on whale, walrus and seal, and known for their ivory carvings and grass and baleen basket weaving. Yup’ik people also lived along the banks of the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, inhabiting seasonal subsistence camps, many of which became modern villages.

The Tlingit, Haida, Eyak and Tsimshian people populated the temperate rainforests reaching from the Copper River Delta to the Southeast Panhandle of Alaska. They shared a common culture that involved dependence upon the ocean and rivers for food and transportation. While significant differences in language and clan systems existed, all four groups developed similar tools, regalia, ceremonies (or potlatches) and subsistence patterns.

Today’s CIRI shareholders represent a cross-section of all these cultures. Some CIRI shareholders continue to live traditional subsistence lifestyles, while others hold contemporary jobs in traditional village areas. They have become business owners, corporate executives, physicians, lawyers, educators and social workers, among other professions. Throughout every sector, across Alaska and the Lower 48, CIRI shareholders work together to honor their diverse cultures and build a strong future for generations to come.