Foods of Northwest Alaskan Subsistence

Each season of the calendar dictates what food will be harvested.

The muskox, caribou, moose are the hoofed game animals in this part of Alaska. They provide hardy meat and hides for the Alaskan people. The sea is also an important provider of food. Marine animals such as beluga whales, seals, walruses, saltwater fish, crabs and other crustaceans are available for sustenance in season. Fowling, egg, picking greens and berries are very important to life on the tundra.  One of the most essential food sources is the salmon that are found in the freshwater streams in the summertime. Most of the summer months are filled with catching, cutting, smoking and drying the salmon for the rest of the year.


Summer fish Drying
Beginning in the summer, the rivers are full of Salmon to be caught, boned, cut hung to dry and smoked. Much of Native Northwest Alaskan subsistence depends on fishing in the oceans and river systems of the Seward Peninsula. Some of the best Salmon of the world is caught and preserved here. Later in the summer, there are berries to be gathered upon the tundra.


Preparing the catch
Next, the early Fall begins hunting season for Moose, Grizzly bear. Winter hunts include Muskox and Caribou. The Caribou and Muskox are known for hearty meat, innards and hides.

Winter into Spring

Norton Sound King Crab Pots
Through the winter and early spring, there is ice-fishing off the Nome shoreline. For the famous Norton Sound King Crab, they will cut holes in the thick ice to drop crab pots.
During the fall and spring, Natives hunt seals and Beluga Whales on Nome's shorelines. They are used for food, oil and bones.


Gathering Eggs- Subsistence living
Fowling and egg gathering are typically springtime ventures. Likewise, plant-life gathered from the shorelines and tundra are an important part of the Native Alaskan subsistence diet. Young seedlings/greens and certain seaweeds are gathered in late April through early June.
Traditional Eskimo Food
The methods for meat preservation includes dehydration, smoking, freezing, canning with water or oil.  Fish eggs may also be canned, fermented. or dried. Similarly, berries may be dried, canned or frozen. (above is a plate of Tradtional Eskimo Fare)

Some of the common animals used for native subsistence living in the Nome area/Seward Peninsula

This is a non-exhaustive chart of the common animals are hunted and plant are gathered according to season.


SpringBeluga Whales,
King Crabs,
Saltwater Fish,
Brant Geese (Brents),
Snow Geese,
Bladderwrack (Seaweed),
Nori (Black Seaweed),
Beach Greens (Sea Purslane),
Goose Tongue,
Ribbon Kelp,
Wild Mustard,
Alaskan Dandelion
Beach Lovage (Wild Celery),
Sweet Gale,
Northern Wintercress (American Yellowrocket),
Cooked Fireweed Shoots
Summer(Freshwater Fishing) Salmon:
Chinook (King)
Coho (Silvers),
Chum (Dog Salmon),
Pink (Humpy),
Sockeye (Red Salmon),
Arctic Grayling,
Northern Pike.
Low Cranberries,
Beluga Whales,
Grizzly bears,
Low Cranberries,
King crabs,
Ice Fishing

Managing Land Resources for Native Alaskan Subsistence Living

Over-Hunting and Destruction of Habitat

When the 1900 gold rush brought settlers from all over, the population boom strained the local hunting and fishing resources. Consequently, the local wildlife was devastated.  Both over-hunting and destruction of habitat were putting many species into extinction.  Although Alaska was a US territory, the government was “loose” in certain aspects concerning hunting and fishing. Once Alaska became a new state in 1958, the federal government passed the responsibility of managing the fishing and wildlife onto the state government. The Native population organized councils and rallied the government to protect these unreplaceable resources and protect the subsistence way of life.

Subsistence Regional Advisory Council

The 1971 Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCA)allowed the government-managed defined land resources for subsistence harvesting. Over 100 million acres have been set aside in this act for the Native peoples utilization. The governmental Subsistence Regional Advisory Council helps prevent the over fishing and hunting of the land and waters. Believe it or not: Commercial business in Alaska accounts for 97% of the fishing! The remaining 3% of fishing is for subsistence and sport.  The resources are evaluated to make sure all the interested parties are appropriated the correct amount of natural resources. They also evaluate environmental impact of harvesting certain animals such as marine mammals. Tom Gray of “Alaskan NW Adventures” sits on the Subsistence Regional Advisory Council.

Each Council member must be a resident of the region the Council represents

o Possess knowledge of the region’s fish and wildlife resources

o Possess knowledge of the region’s subsistence uses, customs and traditions

o Possess knowledge of the region’s commercial and sport uses of fish and wildlife resources

o Demonstrate leadership through involvement in local or regional fish and wildlife management organizations

o Be able to communicate effectively with diverse groups

“Our ancestors tried to use everything for clothing and tools. They were constantly hunting to fill the stomach with food. Though everything was depleted, they always made sure they had enough to survive. They’d say they were always hunting food to fill the other corner of the mouth.”  –Wassilie Evan, Akiak


Cochran, Patricia Longley, and Alyson L Geller. “The Melting Ice Cellar: What native traditional knowledge is teaching us about global warming and environmental change.” American journal of public health vol. 92,9 (2002): 1404-9. Retrieved June 10, 2020

“Iñupiat Heritage Center | The North Slope Borough.” North Slope Borough,, 2015, Retrieved June 10, 2020

Janice J. Schofield, “Alaska’s Wild Plants, Revised Edition: A Guide to Alaska’s Edible and Healthful Harvest,” Alaska Northwest Books, March 31, 2020.

Kirkland, Erin. “Kids Corner: Alaska Is a ‘Berry’ Fun Place in the Fall!” Alaska On the Go, 23 Sept. 2015, Retrieved June 10, 2020


Mooney-Seus, Maggie. “NOAA Fisheries Announces Availability of 2019 Draft Technical Memorandum for the Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Trawl Survey: Results for Commercial Crab Species.” NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 6 Sept. 2019. Retrieved June 01, 2020.

The International Boreal Forest Research Association. “About Boreal Forests.”, 2016, Retrieved June 12, 2020

U.S. National Park Service. “Subsistence: Preserving a Way of Life – Gates of The Arctic National Park & Preserve (U.S. National Park Service).” Gates of the Artic, National Park and Preserve,, 28 July 2016, Retrieved June 10, 2020

Warhol, Tom. Tundra. Tarreytown, NY, Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2007.

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