The Eyak are an indigenous group traditionally located on the Copper River Delta
Copper River (Alaska)
The Copper River or Ahtna River is a 300-mile river in south-central Alaska in the United States. It drains a large region of the Wrangell Mountains and Chugach Mountains into the Gulf of Alaska...

 and near the town of Cordova, Alaska
Cordova, Alaska
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,454 people, 958 households, and 597 families residing in the city. The population density was 40.0 per square mile . There are 1,099 housing units at an average density of 17.9 per square mile...



The Eyak's territory reached from present day Cordova east to the Martin River
Martin River
The Martin River is a river in southern Alaska. It flows westward from the Martin River Glacier into the Copper River Delta....

 and north to Miles Glacier
Miles Glacier
Miles Glacier is a -long glacier in the U.S. state of Alaska. It flows west to its terminus at Miles Lake , north of Goat Mountain and north of Katalla. It was named in 1885 after U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles by a Lt. Allen during his Alaska expedition.- References :...


There were four main villages:
  • Alaganik, near Mile 21 of the present day Copper River Highway
  • Eyak, located near Mile 5.5
  • unnamed, 800 yards south of Eyak
  • Orca, located within present day Cordova

In addition to these villages the Eyak would seasonally occupy fish camps at Point Whitshed and Mountain Slough.


The Eyak initially moved out of the interior down the Copper River to the coast. There they harvested the rich salmon
Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the same family are called trout; the difference is often said to be that salmon migrate and trout are resident, but this distinction does not strictly hold true...

 fishing grounds. When the Russians arrived they recognized the Eyak as a distinct culture and described their territory on their maps. They also traded with the Eyak and sent them missionaries. Because of their small population they were often raided and their territory boundaries were under pressure from the Chugach
Chugach is the name of an Alaska Native culture and group of people in the region of the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. The Chugach people are an Alutiiq people who speak the Chugach dialect of the Alutiiq language....

 to the west. The Tlingit, on the east side, had better relations with the Eyak and this led to intermarriage and assimilation of many Eyak. This pushed the Eyak's territorial boundary further west and contributed to the Eyak's decline. When the Americans arrived they started canneries
Canning is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a typical shelf life ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances a freeze-dried canned product, such as canned, dried lentils, can last as...

 and competed with the Eyak for salmon. This combined with integration with, and novel diseases introduced by non-native settlers led to the further decline of the Eyak. As populations decreased the remaining Eyak began to congregate near the village of Orca. In 1880 the population of the village of Alaganik was recorded at 117 and by 1890 it had declined to 48. In 1900 total population was estimated at 60. As more settlers arrived this last village became the town of Cordova. As of 1996 there were 120 living, partial Eyak descendents. The last full blood Eyak, Marie Smith Jones, died on January 21, 2008.


The Eyak spoke a distinct language closely related to the Athabaskan languages
Athabaskan languages
Athabaskan or Athabascan is a large group of indigenous peoples of North America, located in two main Southern and Northern groups in western North America, and of their language family...

. Pressure from neighboring ethnic groups and the spread of English resulted in a decline of the Eyak language. Marie Smith Jones (1918–2008) was the last native speaker.


Eyak Shamans used drums or painted wooden figures of humans, mammals, and other critters that were made powerful when in the shamans’ possession. These objects were used to heal, foretell the future, prevent evil spirits, grant fertility, and/or travel into the spirit realm.

Further reading

  • Birket-Smith, K., & De Laguna, F. (1938). The Eyak Indians of the Copper River Delta, Alaska. København: Levin & Munksgaard, E. Munksgaard.
  • De Laguna, F. (1990). "Eyak." In Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7 Northwest Coast. W. Suttles, ed. Pp. 189–96. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Harry, A. N., & Krauss, M. E. (1982). In honor of Eyak: The art of Anna Nelson Harry. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska.
  • Hund, Andrew. “Eyak.” 2004. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Taylor and Francis Publications. ISBN 1579584365
  • Hund, Andrew. 2008. “’Old Man Dude’ and Eyak Shamanism” Alaska Historical Society ~ University of Alaska's Statehood Conference, Alaska Visionaries: Seekers, Leaders, and Dreamers. Anchorage, AK. Unpublished manuscript.

External links

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