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Tanana Indian Fact Sheet

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

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    Tanana Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Tanana"? What does it mean?
Tanana is pronounced "tan-uh-nah." This comes from the word for "people" in their own language.

Where do the Tananas live?
The Tanana Indians are Athabaskan people of eastern Alaska. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Tanana lands.

How is the Tanana Indian nation organized? Do the Tananas live on a reservation?
Tananas in the United States do not have reservations. Like most Alaska Natives, they live in Native villages instead. The seven Tanana Native villages are independent from one another, but they have formed a coalition called the Tanana Chiefs Conference which handles land management and certain tribal government on behalf of all the Tanana villages.

In the past, each Tanana 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, Tanana villages are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Tanana Indians speak?
Tanana people speak English today, but some Tananas, especially elders, also speak their native Tanana language. There are actually three different Tanana languages, known as Upper Tanana, Lower Tanana, and Tanacross. They are very closely related to each other, and people who can speak one of them can often understand the others. If you'd like to know an easy Tanana word, "do'eent'aa'" (sounds similar to doh-aint-ah) is a friendly greeting in Tanana. You can also read a Tanana picture dictionary here.

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

What was Tanana culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. There you can find information about the Alaskan Athabaskans in the past and today.

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

What were Tanana homes like in the past?
The Tananas lived in earth lodges. 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 Tanana 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 are some pictures of an earth lodge like the ones Tanana Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Tanana people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Tanana clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Tanana 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, Tanana 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 Native American dress in general.

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

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

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

What were Tanana weapons and tools like in the past?
Tanana hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. Fishermen used nets and basket traps. In war, Tanana men fired their bows or fought with war clubs. Here are pictures and information about the Indian arrows and other traditional weapons.

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

What other Native Americans did the Tanana tribe interact with?
The Tananas traded regularly with neighboring Athabaskan tribes. They sometimes fought with the Koyukon, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

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

What about Tanana religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Tanana life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Tanana 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 beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Children of the Midnight Sun, an excellent book about the lives of contemporary Alaska Native children. One of the eight children profiled is Tanana Athabascan. 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 Native American books for children. 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 Tanana Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Tanana Tribe

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

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

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

Tanana Indian Words
Tanana Indian vocabulary lists.

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