Some of the defining characteristics of Alaskan culture include the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, totem carving, art, native dancing, and Russian Orthodox communities and churches. Alaska comprises eleven distinct native cultures and languages with 22 different dialects, each with a unique heritage.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center has organized the individual native cultures into five geographic, cultural groups based on proximity and generalized similarities: Athabascan; Unangax and Alutiiq; Yup'ik and Cup'ik; Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik; and Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. In the mid-eighteenth century, Russia had staked a claim on the region and began setting up Russian Orthodox missions throughout Southeast Alaska, where many traditional communities, historical churches and museums survive today. Russian influence and culture are abundant in the area's architecture, clothing styles and art.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics includes native dancing, storytelling and athletic games based on strength, balance, agility and endurance. Historically, natives from outlying villages gathered to share information, expand opportunities and build relationships while competing in events that mirrored daily life and survival. Fairbanks, Alaska held the first Eskimo-Indian Olympics in 1961 with six dance groups and competitions in the blanket toss, high kick and seal skinning. As of 2015, the event has grown to include 19 competitions, native dance and storytelling.