Tyonek is and has been home to many generations of Alaska Native people—people who are part of the Athabascan region of Alaska. Tyonek is a name, a place, and carries an identity all its own.
The Native Village of Tyonek, with a population approximately 130, is located only 40 air miles south of Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, with a population of about 300,000. The people of Tyonek are part of and speak an Athabascan dialect called Dena’ina.
Records show that for the past 1000 years, the people of and from Tyonek embrace a culture rich in the long-held traditions of subsistence, song, dance, storytelling, and religion.
The first recorded encounter between the Dena’ina and the Europeans occurred in May of 1778, when the British naval ships The Resolution and The Discovery, under the command of the famed Captain James Cook, anchored off West Foreland, near the Dena’ina Villages of Qezdeghnen (Kustatan) and Tubughnenq’ (Tyonek).
“Tebughna,” which translates as “the Beach People,” is the name for the people from Tyonek. They lived a subsistence lifestyle (and many still do), relying on the rich natural resources of the Cook Inlet. Hunting, trapping, fishing, and whaling have always sustained the people of Tyonek.
Tyonek has also seen many changes over the years. At one point, Tyonek was one of the largest ports in Alaska. Upon the discovery of gold at Resurrection Creek in the 1880s, Tyonek became a major hub for goods and people seeking to make their fortunes in Alaska.
In the early 1960s, oil companies paid $12,942,972.04 for the lease of Tyonek lands. With this money, the Tebughna built housing for the people of Tyonek, a school for the youth, and a new Tribal Center. A children’s trust for education was created, as well as the improvement of roads, an expanded airstrip, and much more.
In 1968, the leaders of Tyonek’s supported and helped fund the Alaska Federation of Natives who spearheaded the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. In 1973 and under the agreements set forth under ANCSA, Tyonek formed Tyonek Native Corporation and it then became a federally recognized Alaska Native Corporation. While starting out small, the Corporation has since branched out to create and include many successful subsidiaries and businesses.