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Koyukon Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Koyukon Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Koyukon"? What does it mean?
Koyukon is pronounced "koh-yoo-con." This was the Russian name for a river that runs through their territory. Their name for themselves in their own language is Denaakk'e, which means "the people," but today many people refer to themselves as Koyukons too.

Where do the Koyukons live?
The Koyukon Indians are Athabaskan people of central Alaska. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Koyukon lands.

How is the Koyukon Indian nation organized? Do the Koyukons live on a reservation?
Koyukons in the United States do not have reservations. Like most Alaska Natives, they live in Native villages instead. The Koyukon 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 Koyukon 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, Koyukon villages are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Koyukon Indians speak?
Koyukon people speak English today, but some Koyukons, especially elders, also speak their native Koyukon language. Koyukon is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Koyukon word, "baasee'" (sounds similar to bah-say) means "thank you" in Koyukon. You can also read a Koyukon picture dictionary here.

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

What was Koyukon culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Koyukuk Native Village. There you can find information about the Koyukons in the past and today.

How do Koyukon 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 Koyukon 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. Koyukon mothers traditionally carried their babies on their backs, using a moosehide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place.

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What were Koyukon homes like in the past?
The Koyukons 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 Koyukon houses were partially underground, they were usually larger than they appeared. The largest Koyukon houses were up to 100 feet long. Usually these houses had multiple rooms and each one housed several familes from the same clan. Here are some pictures of earth houses like the ones Koyukon Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Koyukon people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Koyukon clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Koyukon men and women wore very similar clothing: a caribou-skin tunic, knee-length pants, and high moccasin boots. In cold weather they added mittens, long coats, and fur hoods. All of these clothing articles were frequently decorated with colorful beadwork in floral patterns. In winter, Koyukon people sometimes wore a one-piece combination of boots and trousers to keep out the snow. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Koyukons didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Normally they wore simple hoods or went bare-headed. For ceremonies, however, Koyukon people sometimes wore dance headdresses like this one, consisting of a beaded headband ringed with caribou fur. The Koyukons painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and often wore tribal tattoo designs. Both men and women usually wore their hair long, sometimes pulled into a ponytail with a beaded hair ornament.

Today, some Koyukon people still wear traditional beadwork designs, 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 Koyukon transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Koyukons used moose-hide or birchbark canoes to navigate the rivers. Here is an article about Native canoes. Overland, Koyukon people used tools like snowshoes and toboggans to travel across Alaska. Today, of course, Koyukon people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

What was Koyukon food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Koyukon Indians were hunting people. Koyukon men hunted caribou, moose, and small game, and caught salmon and other fish in the rivers. Koyukon women gathered roots, berries, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about Native American food.

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

What are Koyukon arts and crafts like?
Koyukon artists are known for their fine basketry and beadwork. Here is an online photo gallery of Koyukon, Ahtna, and other Alaskan Athabascan artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Koyukon tribe interact with?
The Koyukons traded with neighboring Athabaskan tribes. They sometimes fought with the Deg Hit'an, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

What kinds of stories do the Koyukon Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Koyukon legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Koyukon Indian culture. Here is one Koyukon legend about a loyal beaver wife. Here's a website where you can read more about Koyukon mythology.

What about Koyukon religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Athabascan spiritual beliefs or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Bear Hunter, a book about Athabascan life through the eyes of an 11-year-old Koyukon boy. For older readers, we recommend Make Prayers to the Raven, an insightful book about the worldview of the Koyukon people. 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 American Indian books in general.

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 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Koyukon Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Koyukon Tribe

Koyukon Indian Tribe
An overview of the Koyukon people, their language and history.

Koyukon Language Resources
Koyukon Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Koyukon Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Koyukon Native Americans past and present.

Koyukon Indian Words
Koyukon Indian vocabulary lists.



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