The geographic boundary of the CIRI region, shown below, closely approximates the traditional homeland of the Dena’ina Athabascans. Within the regional boundary are villages and group sites recognized under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In addition, within the regional boundary is the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest urban center. Anchorage is often referred to colloquially as the largest Alaska Native village because of the large number of Alaska Native people who live within the municipal boundaries.
There are seven villages in the CIRI region. The Dena’ina villages of the region are Eklutna, Knik, Tyonek, and Salamatof. The people of Chickaloon are a mixture of Ahtna and Dena’ina Athabascan. The people of Ninilchik and Seldovia have ancestors of Aleut and Alutiiq descent, as well as some Dena’ina.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act also recognized two other categories of Alaska Native localities–groups, which had smaller populations of Alaska Native people than villages, and four cities with significant Native populations but considered urban (Kenai, Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka). The groups within CIRI’s regional boundaries are Alexander Creek, Caswell, Gold Creek, Montana Creek and Point Possession. Kenai, of the four cities named in ANCSA, also lies within CIRI’s regional boundary and is the home of many people of Dena’ina heritage.
Many of the Dena’ina of the Cook Inlet region lived near Cook Inlet, a large body of salt water they referred to as Tikahtnu. Consequently, they utilized the marine resources and abundant salmon runs of the region. They also traded these marine resources with more interior groups of Alaska Native peoples, including the Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet. The Dena’ina of the upper Cook Inlet depended heavily on mountain resources such as moose, caribou and fur-bearing mammals.
Cook Inlet Village and Group Dena’ina Place names*
- Alexander Creek – Tuqen Kaq’, “Clear water mouth”
- Caswell – Q’uch’u’itnu
- Chickaloon – Nuk’din’itnu, “Bridge goes across-stream”
- Eklutna – Eydlughet, “By the plural objects”
- Gold Creek – Quht’anagga K’etnu K’ilani, “Creek that belongs to little people”
- Kenai – Kahtnu, “River-mouth-river”
- Knik – Nughay Bena, “Frog lake”
- Montana Creek – Qiduk’ggat, “Overflows and freezes”
- Ninilchik – Nihnalchint, “Lodge is built place”
- Point Possession – Ch’aghalnikt, “Where fabric extends out”
- Salamatof – Ken Dech’ Etl’t, “Scrub timber flat”
- Seldovia – Angidahtnu, “? Stream”
- Tyonek – Tubughnen, “Beach land”
* Names from Shem Pete’s Alaska, by James Kari and James A. Fall; principal contributor, Shem Pete; A Dena’ina Legacy, by Peter Kalifornsky and edited by James Kari and Alan Boraas; and Denai’ina Topical Dictionary, by James Kari.