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Snow Owl – September 2004

Three Tlingit men pose in ceremonial dress, Wrangell, Alaska, ca. 1900
Carlyon, Fred W.
United States--Alaska--Wrangell, ca. 1900

(pronounced KA-LIN-GIT)

Far to the north, in the vast forests of Alaska, there lies a place that is beautiful, remote, but strangely comforting and homely. This is the land of the Tlingit.

"There is an old story that says how some strange people came from the western ocean. Among them were two sisters. They landed on Dall Island in Southeastern Alaska. There the sisters met and married men whose people were coming down the rivers from interior North America. One sister-went with her family to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Her children grew and multiplied into the Haida Nation. The other sister went with her family to Prince of Wales Island. She became the ancestress or Mother of the Tlingit Nation." (The Proud Chilkat by Brendan and Lauri Larson. 1977.)

The exact orgin of the Tlingit people is not known, however, some of the art forms and physical features of the Tlingit are very similar to those of other peoples in the Pacific Rim. Sometime about 300 years ago, several Tlingit clans from from Prince of Wales Island, the Stikine River Valley, the Nass River Valley and Kupreanof Island traveled further north and established settlements at Klukwan-the Mother Village; Kalwaltu; Yandestaki; and Chilkoot Lake. Other camps were Taiyasanka Harbor, Tanani, the mainland near Sullivan Island and Dyea. These settlements, situated in Southeastern Alaska, provided abundant natural resources for the Tlingit.

The forests of Southeast Alaska supplied shelter, game and wild berries while the ocean was a vast storehouse of fish and sea mammals. Because of the abundant food and products, the Tlingit spent relatively little time surviving, therefore were able to spend much of their time on perfecting their craft skills and trade.

Thanks to the ingenuity and industrious nature of the Tlingit, they were able to create a massive trade empire that streched from Alaska to Canada and as far south as Northern California. The vast Tlingit empire was second only to the Inca empire in the south.

Named Kaw-Claa wearing her potlatch dancing costume, Alaska, 1906
Nowell, Frank H., 1864-1950
United States--Alaska--Nome, 1906
Case, W. H. (William Howard), 1868-1920
Draper, H. H.
U.of W. Digital Collection
(This photo had no description, but to me it is definitely the same lady picture above this one…Snow Owl)
Tlingit women pose in ceremonial dress, Wrangell, Alaska, ca. 1900
Carlyon, Fred W.
United States--Alaska--Wrangell, ca. 1900

To the coastal Tlingit people, home is the narrow mainland coast, islands, bays, and fjords of southeast Alaska. The people reside in the dynamic region where the land meets the sea, building their villages on narrow rock beaches wedged between the tidewater and the dense forests rising into lofty mountains, an area of human occupation for the last 10,000 years. Heavy rainfall creates a luxurious rainforest environment and a temperate climate.

Tlingit villages have always faced the sea. The peoples' lives revolve around the harvest from the sea outside the front door and from the forests and rivers outside the back door. The waters of southeast Alaska provide one of the richest maritime environments in the world. As the Tlingit people make their seasonal rounds, they catch fish and sea mammals and collect shellfish and sea plants.

The Pacific salmon is preferred above all other fish. Every year five different species of salmon follow one another in succession, journeying from the sea to swim upriver.

Halibut fishing requires the greatest ritual attention because it is the most dangerous fishing activity. The halibut grows to be the largest and most powerful fish in the region.

In the past, fishermen used a specially carved hook, weighted by a rock and suspended downward, so the halibut would see its decoration and be influenced by it. Today Tlingit fishermen still believe that success in fishing depends on the willingness of the fish to make itself available to humans. In selecting the image to carve on the hook, fishermen often chose a powerful creature, perhaps itself a good fisher. Its spirit would entice the fish to the bait.

To this day, when fishing and preparing fish, Tlingit people continue to respect traditional practices.

Photo by Brian Wallace
Celebration has helped re-ignite the spirit of Alaska's first people
For the opening ceremonies, Centennial Hall was filled to capacity, with people in the aisles of the large ballroom. Some of the crowd milled through the corridors, or socialized in the parking lot and on the lawn. June 2, 2000
Photo by Brian Wallace
A procession of over 1000 native dancers and singers at the beginning of Celebration 2002 in Juneau, Alaska Thursday. Celebration is a three day biennial gathering of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribal members….

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