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Deg Hitan Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Deg Hit'an tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Deg Hit'an website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Deg Hit'an pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Deg Hit'an Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Deg Hit'an"? What does it mean?
Deg Hit'an is pronounced similar to "degg-heet-an." This means "people from here" in their native language. You will also see it spelled many other ways, such as Deg Hitan, Deg Xit'an, or Degexit'an. Since the Athabaskan languages were traditionally unwritten, the spellings of Athabaskan words in English sometimes vary a lot. The Deg Hit'an have also frequently been known as the Ingalik Indians, which is their name in the language of their Inuit neighbors. Some Deg Hit'an people still call themselves Ingaliks, but others do not like this name.

Where do the Deg Hit'ans live?
The Deg Hit'an Indians are original people of western Alaska. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Deg Hit'an lands.

How is the Deg Hit'an Indian nation organized? Do the Deg Hit'ans live on a reservation?
Deg Hit'ans in the United States do not have reservations. Like most Alaska Natives, they live in Native villages instead. The three Deg Hit'an Native villages are independent from one another, but they have joined two coalitions, Doyon Limited and the Tanana Chiefs Conference, to handle tribal government and land management on behalf of Koyukon villages.

In the past, each Deg Hit'an village was governed by a headman, or village chief. The headman was always male, and was chosen by clan leaders, usually on the basis of his leadership skills or medicine power and his family's prestige. Today, Deg Hit'an villages are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Deg Hit'an Indians speak?
Deg Hit'an people speak English today, but some Deg Hit'ans, especially elders, also speak their native Deg Xinag language. Deg Xinag is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Deg Xinag word, "dogedinh'" (sounds similar to doh-ge-deen) is a friendly greeting in Degexitan. You can also read a Deg Xinag picture dictionary here.

Today Deg Xinag is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Deg Xinag people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Deg Hit'an culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Anvik Native Village. There you can find information about the Deg Hit'ans in the past and today.

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How do Deg Hit'an Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Deg Hit'an children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. Deg Hit'an mothers traditionally carried their babies on their backs, using a moosehide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place.

What were Deg Hit'an homes like in the past?
The Deg Hit'ans lived in earth houses. Athabaskan earth houses were made by digging an underground chamber, surrounding it with log walls and a thatched roof, and then packing the whole structure in layers of earth to insulate it. Since Deg Hit'an houses were partially underground, they were larger than they appeared. Usually these houses had multiple rooms and each one housed several familes from the same clan. Here is a website with some pictures of an earth house like the ones Deg Hit'an Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Deg Hit'an people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Deg Hit'an clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Deg Hit'an men and women wore very similar clothing: a caribou-skin tunic and trousers with attached moccasins. In cold weather they added mittens, hooded coats, and sometimes heavier boots. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about Native American costume in general.

The Deg Hit'ans didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux tribe. Normally they wore fur hoods or went bare-headed. The Deg Hit'ans did not normally paint their faces, but women wore tattoo designs on their faces. Both men and women usually wore their hair long.

Today, some Deg Hit'an people still wear moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of hide trousers... and they only wear fancy regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Deg Hit'an transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Deg Hit'ans used moose-hide or birchbark canoes to navigate the rivers. Here is an article about American Indian canoes. Overland, Deg Hit'an people used tools like snowshoes and toboggans to travel across Alaska. Today, of course, Deg Hit'an people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

What was Deg Hit'an food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Deg Hit'an Indians were hunting people. Deg Hit'an men hunted caribou, moose, and small game, and caught salmon and other fish in the rivers. Deg Hit'an women gathered roots, berries, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about types of Indian foods.

What were Deg Hit'an weapons and tools like in the past?
Deg Hit'an hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. Fishermen used nets and basket traps. In war, Deg Hit'an men fired their bows or fought with war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and information about the war club and other Native American weapons.

What are Deg Hit'an arts and crafts like?
Deg Hit'an artists are known for their fine Indian basket and bead art. Here is an online photo gallery of Deg Hit'an, Ahtna, and other Alaskan Athabascan artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Deg Hit'an tribe interact with?
The Deg Hit'ans traded with neighboring Athabaskan tribes, and also with the Yup'ik Eskimos. Their closest allies have historically been the Holikachuk, with whom they sometimes intermarried. They sometimes fought with the Koyukon or Gwich'in, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

What kinds of stories do the Deg Hit'an Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Deg Hit'an legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Deg Hit'an Indian culture. Here is one Deg Hit'an legend about Raven creating a mountain. Here's a website where you can read more about Deg Hit'an mythology.

What about Deg Hit'an religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Athabaskan life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Deg Hit'an people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Athabascan spiritual beliefs or this site about Native religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Deg Hit'an tribe. You may enjoy Bear Hunter, a book about Athabascan life through the eyes of an 11-year-old Koyukon boy. The Koyukon culture is very similar to the Deg Hit'an culture. For older readers, we can recommend Travels Among The Dena, a good book on Native Alaska culture including a chapter on the Ingaliks (Deg Hit'an.) There's also a good book of traditional Deg Hitan legends called Engithidong Xugixudhoy. Younger kids might like The Girl Who Swam With The Fish, a picture book based on an Athabascan legend. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended books on Native American culture. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Deg Hit'an Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Deg Hit'an Tribe

Deg Hit'an Indian Tribe
An overview of the Deg Hit'an people, their language and history.

Deg Hit'an Language Resources
Deg Hit'an Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Deg Hit'an Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Deg Hit'an Native Americans past and present.

Deg Hit'an Indian Words
Deg Hit'an Indian vocabulary lists.

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