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The Tlingit Indians of Alaska: respect for nature and ancestors marked the Tlingit culture.



For centuries, the Tlingit (CLINK-it) Indians of Southeastern Alaska believed that the salmon teeming teem 1  
v. teemed, teem·ing, teems

v.intr.
1. To be full of things; abound or swarm: A drop of water teems with microorganisms.

2.
 in their waters belonged to a sacred race of people. The "salmon people" swarmed up the rivers in invisible canoes each spring, offering themselves to humans as food. The Tlingit showed their gratitude with songs and ceremonies. Afterward, they returned the bones of the salmon people to the sea to be reborn.

The Tlingit, whose name means "people of the tidelands," migrated from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge
''For the proposed transportation bridge across the Bering Strait, see Bering Strait Bridge.
The Bering land bridge, also known as Beringia, was a land bridge roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) north to south at its greatest extent, which joined present-day
 thousands of years ago. They settled in the Alexander Archipelago Alexander Archipelago (ärkĭpĕl`əgō), island group off SE Alaska. The islands are the exposed tops of the submerged coastal mountains that rise steeply from the Pacific Ocean. , a small chain of windswept wind·swept  
adj.
Exposed to or swept by winds: windswept moors.


windswept
Adjective

1.
 islands along the coast of the Alaska Panhandle The Alaska Panhandle, sometimes referred to as Southeast Alaska, is the southeastern portion of the coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, which lies just west of the northern half of the Canadian province of British Columbia.  (see map, p. 11). In this region of rolling waves, rugged coastlines, and lush rain forests, they created a unique culture.

From the forests they cut towering red cedar red cedar: see juniper.  trees. They used the wood to build houses and canoes, and to carve totem poles, becoming master woodworkers. From the sea and land they fed and clothed clothe  
tr.v. clothed or clad , cloth·ing, clothes
1. To put clothes on; dress.

2. To provide clothes for.

3. To cover as if with clothing.
 themselves with the meat and skins of seals, sea otters, deer, beavers, and other animals.

No animal was killed needlessly or wasted. The Tlingit believed that every creature had a soul. Giving thanks and treating animal remains (dead bodies) with respect ensured that their spirits would return.

The Raven and the Eagle

Among the creatures the Tlingit held most sacred were the crafty raven and the noble eagle. The Tlingit themselves were divided into two groups, or moieties (MWAH-eh-tees). One side was represented by a raven, the Raven, The

answer for quests of longing: “Nevermore.” [Am. Lit.: “The Raven” in Hart, 656]

See : Frustration
 other by an eagle.

The strongest bond in Tlingit life, however, was with an individual's clan, or extended family. Each clan considered itself related through a legendary ancestor. Each had its own stories and its own crest, an animal symbol that represented the family history. In ceremonies, it was used to symbolize or communicate with ancestral spirits.

The Tlingit culture was one of the few where lineage (family descent) was passed down through the mother, rather than the father. Normally, a man's wealth would be inherited by his sister's children instead of his own.

All children had to go through initiation rites. When a boy was about 10 years old, he went to live with his mother's brother. The boy's uncle instructed him in the history of his clan and taught him how to carve wood, hunt, and fish. Lighting the fire in the home each winter morning was the boy's special responsibility.

Girls learned their clan's legends and skills such as cooking and basket weaving Basket weaving (or basket making, basketry, or basketmaking) is the process of weaving unspun vegetable fibers into a basket. People with the profession of weaving baskets are basketmakers.  from female elders.

The Winter Village

Traditional Tlingit life revolved around the seasons. In late spring, people traveled to hunting and fishing camps, where they remained until the fall.

In autumn, the Tlingit gathered again in their villages. Each Tlingit village held several large houses. Such buildings, called longhouses, could accommodate a number of families from the same clan. The longhouse longhouse

Traditional communal dwelling of the Iroquois Indians until the 19th century. The longhouse was a rectangular box built out of poles, with doors at each end and saplings stretched over the top to form the roof, the whole structure being covered with bark.
 was the focal point focal point
n.
See focus.
 of Tlingit social life, with the clan's noble family living in the back, near a storeroom of the clan's sacred treasures.

The eldest man in this family led the entire household. Other families from the clan lived along the sides of the house. The Tlingit also kept slaves, many of whom had been captured in war, who slept by the front door. In the middle of the house was a large hearth where meals were cooked for the house chief or for guests attending celebrations.

The most important celebration was the potlatch potlatch (pŏt`lăch'), ceremonial feast of the natives of the NW coast of North America, entailing the public distribution of property. , a great feast usually given by the clan chief to mark a significant event. Potlatches were held at weddings, house raisings, totem pole raisings, and funerals. Each potlatch featured dancing, singing, feasting, and storytelling.

The potlatch was also an expression of the chief's status. (The word potlatch comes from the Chinook Chinook, indigenous people of North America
Chinook (shĭnk`, chĭ–), Native American tribe of the Penutian linguistic stock.
 word for "giving.") Many gifts were offered at a potlatch, including furs, rare shells, and blankets. A chief's prestige (importance), in fact, depended on how much he gave away!

The Old Way Vanish

The Tlingits' first contact with whites came with the arrival of Russian traders in the mid-1700s. Europeans and Americans soon followed. The Tlingit built a strong trading economy, based in part on their skill with canoes.

For a long time, they fiercely resisted attempts to control them. But diseases brought in by settlers devastated dev·as·tate  
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark.
 the tribe, especially the smallpox epidemics (widespread outbreaks) of 1835-1840. About half of the roughly 15,000 tribal members died from the disease.

By then, some Tlingit had married the new settlers and adopted their ways, which included joining the Russian Orthodox Church Russian Orthodox Church: see Orthodox Eastern Church.
Russian Orthodox Church

Eastern Orthodox church of Russia, its de facto national church. In 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev (later St.
.

In 1867, Russia "sold" Alaska--including Tlingit lands--to the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . Americans soon descended on the Indians' homeland and took control. U.S. companies seized the major salmon streams and built canneries (canning factories). Later, in the "gold rushes" of the 1880s and 1890s, thousands more outsiders overran o·ver·ran  
v.
Past tense of overrun.
 the area.

In a relatively brief time, the Tlingit lost their traditional way of life. Villages were abandoned as people moved to the cities to seek work in the canneries. At first, even these jobs were denied them.

The 20th Century

Despite setbacks, however, the Tlingit never gave up their claims to their ancestral lands. Beginning with the work of a Tlingit lawyer named William Paul William Paul is the name of:
  • William Paul (attorney), Alaskan politician and attorney.
  • William Paul (bishop), Bishop of Oxford and Dean of Lichfield.
  • William Paul (British politician), communist activist.
  • William Paul (immunologist), head of the U.S.
 in the 1920s, they fought for their rights and won some victories. When Alaska became a state in 1959, the Tlingit joined with other Alaska Natives to stop even more land from being taken by the state government.

In 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, commonly abbreviated ANCSA, was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on December 18, 1971, the largest land claims settlement in United States history.  gave the combined tribes of Alaska a settlement of money and land. Instead of establishing reservations, the act made the Indians stockholders in corporations that manage the land for profit. When the process is complete, the Tlingit will have reclaimed some 500,000 acres through about 11 corporations.

The 2000 Census estimated the number of Tlingit in Alaska to be fewer than 10,000. Among some tribal members there is a growing effort to reclaim their language and traditions. Frederick "Eric" Lauth, 13, (see cover) is proud of his Tlingit heritage. He performs Native dances at a cultural center in Saxman, Alaska. "For me," says the eighth-grader, "love of family and respect for elders are what matter most."

Words to Know

* archipelago (AHR-kuh-PEHL-uh-goh): a group of islands.

* crest: an animal or plant used as a symbol for a family or clan.

* totem pole: a collection of crests carved from a single log.

Your Turn
WORD MATCH

1. crest      A. family descent

2. clan       B. feast

3. lineage    C. importance

4. prestige   D. animal symbol of
              a family or clan

5. potlatch   E. extended family


THINK ABOUT IT

1. What did Tlingit boys learn during their initiation rites? What did Tlingit girls learn?

2. Do you think the Tlingit could ever regain their traditional way of life? Why or why not?

OBJECTIVE

Students should understand

* The Tlingit are an American Indian people who established settlements in the southeastern region of Alaska.

* WORDS TO KNOW

archipelago: a group or chain of islands

* totem pole: a collection of crests carved from a single log.

* BACKGROUND

During a Tlingit potlatch, guests feasted on seals, berries preserved in oil, and dried fish. The celebration would continue until the guests became sick, which was viewed as a great honor for the host. A potlatch that failed to make a guest ill would be seen as a failure and be a considerable embarrassment to the host.

* CRITICAL THINKING

COMPREHENSION: Why did the Tlingit celebrate their natural surroundings? (The Tlingit performed ceremonial songs, dances, and feasts to honor the living spirit of nature. The Tlingit believed they were the beneficiaries of the environment, which had willingly contributed its plants and animals Plants and Animals are a Canadian indie-rock band from Montreal, comprised of guitarist-vocalists Warren Spicer and Nic Basque, and drummer-vocalist Matthew Woodley.[1] They are signed to Secret City Records.  to ensure the survival of the Tlingit communities.)

MAKING INFERENCES: The Tlingit people did not have a written language. How did they remember their history? (They carved animal symbols that represented family or clan history, and also told their history at potlatch feasts.)

* ACTIVITY

RITE OF PASSAGE rite of passage
n.
A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood.
: Remind students of how Tlingit boys and girls boys and girls

mercurialisannua.
 performed initiation rites that marked their acceptance as full members of a tribe. Instruct students to draw an image or write a paragraph that describes a modern initiation rite that celebrates a person's acceptance into a social or family group.

STANDARDS

SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8

* People, places, and environment:

How the Tlingit developed a close relationship with the natural resources that they relied upon for survival.

* Power, authority, and governance:

How the territorial expansion of the U.S, helped contribute to the decline of the Tlingit people in southeastern Alaska.

RESOURCES

PRINT

* Beck, Mary G., Heroes and Heroines in Tlingit-Haida Legend (Alaska Northwest Books, 1990). Grades 5-8.

* Mikaelsen, Ben, Touching Spirit Bear (HarperTrophy, 2002). Grades 6-8.

GROLIER WEB SITE KEY WORD

* Tlingit

WEB SITES

* Tlingit Myths www.sacred-texts.com/ nam/nw/tmt

ANSWERS

1. D

2. E

3. A

4. C

5. B
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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:American History
Author:White, Deborah
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Sep 20, 2004
Words:1473
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