You could spend the whole morning at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art and still come away bewildered by all of the different indigenous groups that fall into the category of "Alaska Native." There are at least 11 distinct cultures that speak 20 different languages, and not even all Alaska Natives agree on where the divisions lie. The best way to begin untangling the ethnographic lines (while still enjoying your vacation!), is to pay a visit to the Alaska Native Cultural Center. There you can wander around an unusual Native village containing examples of the traditional dwellings of various groups from around the state. Natives stationed there do demonstrations and seem genuinely happy to talk about their cultures. You can't be sure who you'll meet, but you might find Tlingits at the clan house smoking fish, then encounter Aleuts at the sod house weaving grass baskets or stretching seal skins over a kayak frame. In the cultural center's high-ceilinged main building, you can look around a gallery of Native art, watch a cultural film in a plush theater, and catch storytellers, dancers, and Native athletes on stage. Time your visit to catch one of the 30-minute stage presentations (see the website for current hours). The thing I really like about the Alaska Native Cultural Center is that it's more than a checkmark on the mass tourism trail, although it's that too. The center's role as a visitor attraction is secondary to its mission to promote Native culture among Natives. Throughout the year there are all sorts of events that draw Alaska Natives form every group, such as intertribal gatherings, leadership conferences, CD releases, programs to honor elders, storytelling and drumming festivals, and celebrations of things like the arrival or winter or the return of spring
Alaska Native Heritage Center
8800 Heritage Center Drive
Our Rating Hours Summer daily 9am–5pm; winter Saturdays only from 10am–5pm Phone 800-315-6608 or 907-330-8000 Prices Admission $25 adults, $21 seniors and military, $17 children 7–16, free for children 6 and under; Alaska residents $10 adult, $7 children Web site Alaska Native Heritage
Map8800 Heritage Center Drive Anchorage
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.