Anchorage is located within Dena’ina Ełnena, the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan people. One of Alaska’s many distinct and diverse Indigenous groups, the Native people of Knik Arm are the K’enaht’ana, members of the Eydlughet (Eklutna) and K’enakatnu (Knik) tribes.
The Upper Cook Inlet regions between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains have long provided abundant fishing, hunting, and gathering grounds, and the Anchorage Bowl area is filled with historically significant spots known for their roles in Dena’ina life. Traditional place names describe the areas’ geographical features and cultural uses: Point Woronzof, with its steep bluffs, was originally known as Nuch'ishtunt, meaning “Place Protected from Wind.” Earthquake Park, where land famously broke and shifted and sank into Cook Inlet during the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, was originally and aptly named Nen Ghiłgedi — “Rotten Land.” Kincaid Park was known as “Ułchena bada Huch'iłyut,” meaning “Where We Pulled up the Alutiiq Boats,” a name that tells the story of the last battle between the Upper Inlet Dena’ina and Ułchena raiders from Prince William Sound.
In the 20th century, the construction of the Alaska railroad and the ensuing development of the city of Anchorage brought significant disruptions to Dena’ina life in the area, and the 1918 influenza epidemic devastated local Dena’ina communities.
But the Anchorage area’s Dena’ina roots remain strong. Today, residents preserve the culture in world-class institutions like the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum, through traditional subsistence activities like berry picking in the Chugach Mountains or fishing in Turnagain Arm, and via captivating public art installations, live performances, and arts and crafts handmade by modern Dena’ina artists.
Learning about the land's Dena'ina heritage is an important part of any visit to Anchorage.
In 2018 the Anchorage Parks Foundation received a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation to begin work on a parks and trails indigenous place names project. The project aims to creatively, accurately, and beautifully highlight the culture and history of Anchorage and our indigenous people.
Soon after the project began it became clear that parks and trails signage is a contributor and catalyst to a larger movement of indigenous Place Naming.
The Anchorage Mayor's Marathon course travels throughout the lands of our indigenous people.
For a greater understanding of the Dena’ina people and the Indigenous Place Names Project, please enjoy more at the Anchorage Park Foundation website.
We are proud of our people, and proud of our lands. The Place Names project is a step towards honoring the Dena’ina landscape of the Anchorage Area.