Local Culture and History

Subsistence fishing for king salmon

Athabaskan People and Natural Resource Use

Innoko Berries 250wThe area where the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge exists today was, and still is, a land rich in natural resources. The Athabaskan people lived for centuries along the Innoko and Iditarod rivers, in villages such as Dishkakat, Dementi, Holikachuk, and Old Shageluk. They used a variety of seasonal campsites to harvest fish and game, which depended on the time of the year. Fish camps and fall hunting camps are still in use today up and down rivers of the Innoko region.

As hunters and gatherers, Athabaskan families depended on the harvest of plants, animals, and fish for survival. These rich, renewable resources provided food, shelter, fuel, clothing, tools and modes of transportation, and were bartered for other needed supplies. They set up spring camps to harvest furbearers and waterfowl, and summer camps for fishing and picking berries. Berries, including blueberries, salmonberries, cranberries, blackberries and raspberries, provided an important staple to their diet. These summer camps, also called “canoe camps”, were often located near the forks of rivers, or along the Yukon River, where salmon and whitefish runs were abundant (see salmon strips drying at fish camp, below). Throughout the year, hunters roamed over what is now the refuge in search of caribou, waterfowl, moose and other wild game (after the early 1900’s).

salmon drying at fish campThough there are no communities within the refuge boundaries today, residents of adjacent villages on the lower Innoko and Yukon Rivers continue to harvest the land’s resources to feed their families and to preserve local cultural traditions. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) recognizes this historic, cultural lifestyle and provides rural residents with continued opportunities for subsistence use.

Historic Settlements

Several Athabaskan historic villages were located in what is now the Innoko Refuge. Confirmed sites include Dishkakat (Korotsenaledalten) and Holikachuk (Khuligichagat), which were "winter" or more permanent villages of the Holikachuk Athabaskan people.

Holikachuk remnant building 500w
The now abandoned village of Holikachuk on the Innoko River

A party of Russian explorers under Lieutenant Zagoskin documented many villages in the 1840s along the Innoko River. Some of these villages were probably fish camps or trapping camps that were seasonal in nature. The villages were called Iltenleyden or Unagunchagelyugmyut, Inselnostlende, or Katykhkatmyut, Khuligichagat (Holikachuk), Kkholikakat, Tlegokokhkakat, Ttality (“Fast Current” also known as Dementi).

Around the turn of the century, Interior Alaska experienced numerous gold rushes. Several towns sprang up in the area which is now the Innoko Refuge after “color” was found along the Innoko River and its tributaries. The supply towns of Ophir and McGrath came about as the result of the September 1906 gold strikes on the Ganes Creek. In the following years, gold was discovered on Ophir Creek as well as on other nearby creeks. Three more new towns (Flat, Dikeman, and Iditarod) came about with the 1908 discovery on Otter Creek, a tributary of the Iditarod River. Remnants of some of these gold rush towns can still be found along the banks of the Innoko and Iditarod Rivers.

Gold Rush

In 1906, Thomas Ganes, Mike Roke, John Maki and FCH Spencer struck gold on Ganes Creek in the upper Innoko River area. This initiated the first Innoko gold rush in 1907. Other areas of discovery included tributaries of the Innoko and Iditarod rivers. The “Inland Empire”, as the area was known, experienced a brief boom of activity which included the growth of the communities of Dikeman and Dishkakat. Supply towns, such as Rennies Landing, sprang up on what is now the Innoko Refuge. These communities, now abandoned, were located on what are currently refuge lands. The gold rush history of the area and the resulting historic sites on the refuge are valuable cultural resources of the refuge.