The Tlingit are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Bearers of an extensive history and rich culture, Tlingit communities continue to flourish today and maintain a strong presence in their region of southeast Alaska.
The Tlingit Indians are Northwest Coast people. They live in southeastern Alaska and in British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada.
Tlingit, northernmost of the Northwest Coast Indians of North America, living on the islands and coastal lands of southern Alaska from Yakutat Bay to Cape Fox. They spoke the Tlingit language, which is related to Athabaskan.
The Tlingit people, whose name means “People of the Tides”, have a vast history; many speculate its origins dating as early as 11,000 years ago. Two major theories exist as to where the Tlingit people originate from, the largest being a coastal migration across the Bering Strait land mass from north Asia.
Dancing regalia of the Chilkat Tlingits gathered at a potlatch in Klukwan, circa 1900. Dance, for the Tlingit people, is a means of expression and communication, and a form of enjoyment. It is a major potlatch activity, or, as in the old days, it could be an impromptu performance around the evening fire.
The most diverse group of Alaskan Natives are the southern Eskimos or Yuit, speakers of the Yup’ik languages. At the time of contact, they were the most numerous of the Alaska Native groups.
Around 17,000 Tlingit still reside in the state today, mostly in urban and port areas of Southeastern Alaska (with a smaller-but-still-significant population in the Northwest). They continue carrying on their own rich traditions while actively participating in Alaska’s present-day culture and commerce.
The Tlingit tribe, whose name means “People of the tides” lived off the produce from the Pacific Ocean and surrounding coastal areas. Their shelters were plankhouses built from the abundant Cedar trees which also provided the material for heir and dugout canoes.
The world, to the Tlingit people, is filled with spirits, or yéiks, who could manifest their powers through any thing. Therefore, the Tlingit people were taught to respect every thing that existed around them; the punishment for disrespect was loss of food. Each person also had a guardian spirit, known as a tu-na-jek.
The 1804 Battle of Sitka was the end of open Tlingit resistance, but the Russians were safe only so long as they were vigilant.
This great land (Aani) known as Southeast Alaska is the ancestral home of the Tlingit and Haida people. Legend has it that in ancient times a portion of the Haida Nation came to this land from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia), the true ancestral home of the Haida people.
They ate fish, sea mammals, deer, mountain goats, caribou, moose, shellfish, seaweed, berries, and roots. The men did the hunting, and the women did the gathering. What did they wear? The Tlingit men wore breechcloths, and the women wore short skirts made of cedar bark.
The culture of the Tlingit, an Indigenous people from Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon, is multifaceted, a characteristic of Northwest Coast peoples with access to easily exploited rich resources. In Tlingit culture a heavy emphasis is placed upon family and kinship, and on a rich tradition of oratory.
Although the name is spelled “Tlingit” in English it is actually pronounced [ˈklɪŋ. kɪt], i.e. “Klinkit”.