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Nearly 86,000 Alaska Natives lived in Alaska in 1990.25 Census analysts estimated that another 17,000 lived outside Alaska at that time. In absolute terms, Alaska Natives in Alaska increased numerically by 21,595 persons from 1980 to 1990. Eskimos (Inupiat and Yupik) increased by 30 percent, Alaskan Indians (Athabascan, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian) increased by 43 percent, and Aleuts increased by 24 percent. In relative terms, however, the number of Alaska Natives in Alaska declined from 16 percent to 15.6 percent of Alaska's total population.26

General Population

The 86,000 Alaska Natives living in Alaska were present in all census areas of the state. In some census areas, particularly in northern regions of the state, Alaska Natives comprised over half the areas' populations. Census areas with one-half or more Alaska Native populations included the Bethel Census Area (84%), Dillingham Census Area (73%), Lake and Peninsula Borough (76%), Nome Census Area (74%), North Slope Borough (73%), Northwest Arctic Borough (85%), Wade Hampton Census Area (93%), and Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (56%). Other census areas with relatively high percentages of Alaska Native populations included Aleutian Islands East, Bristol Bay Borough, Prince of Wales-Outer Ketchikan, Sitka Borough, and Skagway-Yakutat-Angoon. In fact, Alaska Natives made up 20 percent or more of the population in half of Alaska's census areas. Nearly half of Alaska Natives lived in census areas where Natives made up more than half of the population.

The census areas with high percentages of Native populations shared characteristics of rapidly changing populations. These characteristics included high birth rates, high death rates, and high levels of outward migration from the census areas.

Outward migration of population was also a common characteristic of census areas with predominantly Alaska Native populations. The Bethel Census Area recorded a net outward migration of 444 people (3% of the 1990 population), the Dillingham Census Area recorded a net outward migration of 101 people (2.5% of the 1990 population), the Lake and Peninsula Borough recorded a net outward migration of 118 people (7% of the 1990 population), the Northwest Arctic Borough recorded a net outward migration of 309 people (5% of the 1990 population), the Wade Hampton Census Area recorded a net outward migration of 483 people (over 8% of the 1990 population), and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area recorded a net outward migration of 932 people (11% of the 1990 population).27

While statistics for census areas with predominantly Alaska Native populations reflected high levels of outward migration between 1980 and 1990, statistics for census areas with predominantly non-Native populations reflected high levels of inbound migration by Alaska Natives. Anchorage, for instance, with 211,000 non-Natives, grew to have the largest concentration of Alaska Natives in the state with about 15,000 Natives living there. The Matanuska-Susitna region recorded the second highest in-migration of Alaska Natives.28

Fertility and

High birth rates correlated with high percentages of Alaska Native population in census areas in 1990. While the average birth rate throughout Alaska was 24.4 per 1,000 people, in the Bethel Census Area it was 31:1,000; Dillingham Census Area, 30:1,000; Lake and Peninsula Borough, 33:1,000; Nome Census Area, 30:1,000; Northwest Arctic Borough, 36:1,000; North Slope Borough, 32:1,000; and Wade Hampton Census Area, 37:1,000. Thus, in the most heavily Native-populated census areas, the birth rate ranged from 124 percent to 155 percent of the statewide average birth rate.29

High death rates also correlated with high percentages of Alaska Native population in census areas in 1990. While the average death rate throughout Alaska was 4.1 per 1,000 people, in the Bethel Census Area it was 6:1,000; in the Dillingham Census Area, 6:1,000; in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, 7:1,000; in the Nome Census Area, 7:1,000; in the Northwest Arctic Borough, 7:1,000; in the North Slope Borough, 6:1,000; and in the Wade Hampton Census Area, 7:1,000. In the most heavily Native-populated census areas, the death rate ranged from 134 percent to 175 percent of the statewide death rate. For Alaska Natives, average life expectancy in 1990 was 63.6 years versus 71.8 years for Whites in Alaska.30

Comparison of Average Income/Income Increase by Race









Asian/Pacific Islanders








Alaska Natives/
Native Americans








Source: Alaska Economic Trends, July 1992, pp. 3-4


Population Age

The Alaska Native population in 1990 was significantly younger than the overall population of the state. Forty percent of the total Alaska Native population was below voting age (18 or older) as compared to just over 30 percent of the non-Native population of Alaska. The median age for Alaska Natives in 1990 was 24.0 years versus 29.5 years for White Alaskans. Twenty-nine percent of these young Alaska Natives were of school age.31

The older Alaska Native population (over 64) was only 4.8 percent of the total Native population and only slightly higher than the 4 percent of Whites in the over-64 grouping.

Distribution of age in a population indicates the dependency burden that its working age (18-64) members must carry in relation to nonworking members (ages 1-17 and 65+). In Alaska in 1990 on a statewide basis, this dependency ratio was 54.6 nonworking age individuals for every 100 working age individuals. For Alaska Natives in 1990, this dependency ratio was 83.3 nonworking age individuals (74.6 youths and 8.7 seniors) for every 100 working age individuals. This means that the dependency burden in the Native community is 5 percent higher than the dependency burden among Alaska's overall population.


Economic and Education

Poverty and Unemployment

Despite a nearly 80 percent increase in their per capita income between 1980 and 1990, Alaska Natives continued to be the ethnic group in Alaska with the lowest per capita income. Alaska Natives also continued to constitute the largest group of the total Alaskan population to live in poverty.

The statewide imbalance of Alaska Natives in poverty reflected bad economic conditions for them in both urban and rural areas. Predominately Native rural areas of the state continued to have over 20 percent of their population in poverty. The situation was worst where the Native population was the highest and economic opportunities were limited. Unemployment in the eight census areas where more than half the population was Native ranged from 11 percent to 29 percent for an average unemployment rate in those areas of 18 percent. In contrast, the unemployment rate in the 17 census areas where less than half the population was Native ranged from 2 to 16 percent for an average unemployment rate in those areas of over 8 percent.

The poverty rate in the eight census areas where more than half of the population was Native ranged from 9 percent to 31 percent for an average poverty rate in those areas of 23 percent. In contrast, the poverty rate in the 17 census areas where less than half the population was Native ranged from 4 percent to 14 percent for an average poverty rate in those areas of 8 percent.

A pervasive shortage of adequate housing is closely related to the intense poverty in some census areas with high Native populations. Furthermore, a majority of houses in census areas where over half the population is Native tend to be without plumbing. The reverse is true where Alaska Natives constitute a minority of the population.32

Poverty Distribution by Race in Alaska







Asian/Pacific Islanders






Alaska Natives/
Native Americans






SOURCE: Alaska Economic Trends, July 1992, p.7


Educational Attainment

In census areas with 50 percent or more Alaska Native population, educational attainment is significantly less than in census areas with lower percentages of Alaska Native population. In predominantly Alaska Native areas, percentages of high school graduates in the population range from 58 percent (Wade Hampton Census Area) to 70 percent (Dillingham Census Area).

Percentages of college graduates in these areas range from 10 percent (Wade Hampton Census Area) to 15 percent (Dillingham Census Area). In predominantly non-Native areas, percentages of high school graduates in the population range from 66 percent (Aleutians East Census Area) to 90 percent (Anchorage Census Area). Percentages of college graduates in these areas range from 13 percent (Aleutians East Census Area) to 31 percent (Juneau Borough). Census data for Alaska Native Regional Corporations tends to confirm the information indicated by the census district data.


Population Education Characteristics










Arctic Slope



Bering Straits



Bristol Bay









Cook Inlet















Average Percentage



SOURCE: 1990 Census of Population and Housing — Summary Social, Economic, and Housing Characteristics — Alaska, Table 17, p. 93.



Alaska's estimated 86,000 Natives live in all areas of the state from the smallest and remotest of villages to the state's major urban centers, For purposes of this report, three main geographic classifications are used: village Alaska, maritime rural, and urban Alaska. These descriptive groupings are somewhat broad, intended only to provide a basic framework within which important economic, social, and demographic variables (e.g. economic development and industry, education, local self-governance, social and cultural lifestyles, and health) can be discussed and analyzed. They are not intended to be definitive with respect to policy or legal interpretations regarding substantive public policy issues, for instance the rural and urban definitions in the subsistence debate.

Village Alaska

Alaska consists of two main geographic/climate divisions: arctic/subarctic village and maritime village. The total land area of village Alaska is 493,461 square miles, or nearly 87 percent of Alaska's land mass. Most of Alaska's major mountain ranges, its river systems and lowlands, its vast expanses of taiga and tundra, and virtually all of its near-endless coastline are located in village Alaska.

Village Alaska is home to just over 52,000 Alaska Natives (61% of the state's total Alaska Native population) spread among some 200 villages. These villages range in size from just a handful of residents in the smallest of villages to several thousand in regional centers such as Bethel and Kotzebue.33

Within village Alaska, Natives make up nearly two-thirds (65%) of the total population. On a statewide per capita basis, Natives are 10 times more likely to live in village Alaska than are non-Natives. Furthermore, of the 28,236 non-Natives residing in village Alaska, 6,390 live in the northern and western regional centers of Barrow, Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue, and Nome. An additional 3,920 reside in the small Prince of Wales/Outer Ketchikan census area in southeast Alaska. This means that well over one-third (37%) of non-Natives residing in village Alaska live in just six distinct enclaves.

Arctic/Subarctic Village

By far the largest of the principal geographic areas studied by the Commission, arctic/subarctic village Alaska encompasses the northern and western coastal regions and their adjacent inland areas and most of interior Alaska. The whole of three Alaska climate zones — arctic, continental and transitional — fall within this geographic area. Arctic/subarctic village Alaska is home to just over half (43,850) of all Alaska Natives resident in the state.

Arctic/subarctic village Alaska continues to be the area with the highest percentage of Alaska Native residents. In this vast area that encompasses 80 percent of Alaska, Natives make up over two-thirds (68 %) of the population.


Just under 16,000 Natives, mainly Inupiat Eskimos, reside in the north and northwest areas of arctic/subarctic village Alaska, 40 percent of whom live in the three regional centers of Barrow, Kotzebue, and Nome. The balance of this area's Alaska Natives live in 33 coastal and riverine villages from Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, to Kaktovik on Barter Island off the far northeast coast of Alaska.


Some 21,415 Alaska Natives (one-fourth of all Alaska Natives resident in the state) live in the southwest area of Alaska. Predominantly Yupik Eskimos reside in this part of arctic/subarctic village Alaska in communities along the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay coasts, in the Yukon River and Kuskokwim River delta areas, the western/southern drainages of these same two rivers, and in the central and northern portions of the Alaska Peninsula. One-fifth of the Natives in this region reside in the two main centers: Bethel and Dillingham, with the remaining 80 percent residing in 62 villages.


The remaining 6,000 Alaska Natives of arctic/subarctic village Alaska, mainly Athabascan Indians, live in interior Alaska in villages located primarily along five major river systems: the Yukon, Tanana and Koyukuk rivers, and the upper drainages of the Copper and Kuskokwim rivers. Unlike other areas within arctic/subarctic village Alaska, there are no large, predominantly Native regional centers in interior Alaska. Instead, the area is characterized by a handful of subregional hubs (e.g. Ft. Yukon, Galena) ranging in population from about 500 to 800 total residents each, with several smaller villages in close proximity. Altogether, there are 48 Native communities in this area, a small portion of which are located along highway systems.

Maritime Village

Maritime village Alaska encompasses the climate zone of the same name, and stretches along the coastlines of southeast and Southcentral Alaska (including Kodiak Island), as well as the length of the Aleutian Islands chain.34

With a much longer history of sustained encroachment by Western civilization and an earlier development of natural resource industries, especially fisheries, maritime village Alaska has a significantly smaller number of Alaska Natives as a percentage of total population than does arctic/subarctic village. Today, the 8,309 Alaska Natives residing in maritime village Alaska constitute about 51 percent of the area's total population.


Alaska's southeastern panhandle is the traditional territory of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Indian tribes. Of the 12,831 Alaska Natives living in Southeast Alaska, 4,571 (or 36%) live in 10 coastal villages. Natives constitute 70 percent of the population of these villages (and their surrounding areas) which stretch the length of the panhandle from Yakutat in the north to Metlakatla in the south.

North Gulf Coast

In terms of tribal affiliation, this area of village Alaska is the most diverse. As has been the case historically, Alaska Natives living on the northern coast of the Gulf of Alaska (i.e. Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, and Kodiak) include Eskimos, Eyaks, Athabascans, Koniags, and Aleuts. This area of village Alaska is home to 1,941 Alaska Natives spread between 11 villages from Tatitlek in Prince William Sound to Akhiok on the southern end of Kodiak Island.35 Alaska Natives constitute 30 percent of the area's overall population.


Encompassing the western end of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, the Aleutians area of maritime village Alaska has 1,797 Alaska Native residents, or just over half (51%) of the area's 3,498 total populations.36 The traditional home of the Aleut people, the Alaska Native population of the region is still substantially Aleut. Alaska Natives resident in this portion of maritime village Alaska live in seven Aleutian villages ranging from Sand Point on the Alaska Peninsula to Atka in the west, and St. Paul and St. George on the Pribilofs.

Maritime Rural

Maritime rural Alaska includes those areas not otherwise included in village Alaska that retain general rural characteristics, but where Native populations and traditional cultures no longer predominate. These areas are located throughout maritime Alaska and include mainly medium-sized municipalities and their environs where Alaska Natives generally constitute less than 15 percent of the total populations.37

In most respects, the tribal affiliations of Alaska Natives living in the various regions of maritime rural Alaska correspond with the tribal makeup of maritime village Alaska. The major notable exceptions are the more heavily populated areas of the Kenai Peninsula where, much like urban centers, a greater mix of Alaska Native groups can be found.


This portion of maritime rural Alaska includes the Wrangell-Petersburg Census Area (less the village of Kake), the Sitka Borough and the Haines Borough. Alaska Natives, numbering 2,929, make up about 17 percent of the total population in these areas. As is the case with all of southeast Alaska, Natives living here are generally Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Indians.

North Gulf Coast

The North Gulf Coast area of maritime rural Alaska consists of several larger population groupings in the same North Gulf Coast region described in maritime village Alaska, above. Included are the Valdez-Cordova subcensus area, the Kenai-Cook Inlet subcensus area (less the villages of Port Graham and English Bay), and the Kodiak City-Kodiak Station subcensus area. Some 3,885 Alaska Natives, constituting about 7 percent of the area's total population, live in this geographic area. As is the case with Natives, generally, who live in this area, there is a great diversity of tribal affiliations. Aleuts, Yupiks, and Athabascans are the predominant tribes.


Some 321 Alaska Natives, or about 4 percent of the area's 8,469 residents, live in the Aleutians region of maritime rural Alaska (i.e. the Aleutians West Census Area less the villages of Atka, Nikolski, St. George, and St. Paul). At the time of the 1990 Census, over 90 percent of the total residents lived either in the military enclave on Adak Island or in the regional hub of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. Most of the relatively few Alaska Natives residing in this area live in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, and are of Aleut descent.

Urban Alaska

Urban Alaska is made up of five distinct areas: the Municipality of Anchorage, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Juneau Borough, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. About 70 percent (384,320) of all Alaskans live in urban Alaska, whereas just under 32 percent (27,198) of the Alaska Native population lives there.

With the exception of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska Natives constitute the largest single minority in each of the municipalities that make up urban Alaska.38 As noted previously in this report, between 1980 and 1990, urban Alaska experienced the highest rates of Native in-migration of all census areas in the state. As of 1990, over 19 percent of the total Alaska Native population was living in the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna area.

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