Our Heritage

The Eyak people originated along the Eastern Coast of Prince William Sound, where the town of Cordova, Alaska is located. With less than 400 Eyak Natives, it is the smallest Native group in the state. Traditionally, they fished and hunted in the Copper River Delta and along the forests and coastline that runs along Prince Williams Sound. The people lived between the Athabascan Indians to the north and west, and the Tlingit to the east. Aleut and Chugach (Alutiiq) people also lived along the western shores of Prince William Sound. While retaining their own unique identity and language, the Eyaks traded and adapted certain customs and tools from their neighbors. Like the Tlingits, the Eyaks are socially organized into a clan system of the Eagle and Raven.

The Eyak people built their homes from red cedar, spruce, and hemlock timber and planks. All houses had a central fire pit and could hold 20 to 50 people. In each Eyak village, there were two potlatch houses, outside of which was a totem with an Eagle or Raven. Potlaches, formal ceremonies that might last days and include feasting, speeches, singing, and dancing, were held for funerals, weddings, baby namings, completion of a new house, erection of a totem pole, or to mark other important occasions.

Many contemporary Eyaks live in or near Cordova, on the Copper River Delta. It is an area rich with abundant wildlife and breathtaking scenery. The Copper River Delta is the crown jewel of North America’s wetlands. The 700,000 acre delta, the largest wetland on the Pacific Coast, is home to black and brown bear, moose, mountain goats, and tens of thousands of waterfowl. It is also where the world’s most coveted salmon – Copper River red and king salmon – is harvested. Commercial and subsistence fishing remains the lifeblood of Cordova. From May until September, the local harbor is teaming with gillnet fleets and purse seiners coming in with their catch.