The Tlingit (KLIHN kiht) are a Native American tribe who lived along the Northwest coast in a region called the Pacific Northwest. Tlingit
Geography The northwest coast has a wet climate with mild winters and cool summers. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and forest and rivers to the east. The ocean and forests were rich in natural resources. Because food was plentiful, the Tlingit often traded their excess with neighboring tribes in return for other goods.
Potlatches Ceremonial clothing was worn to potlatches: A Potlatch is a special feast at which the guest receive gifts instead of the host. Carved Masks Potlatch Hats Dancing Dresses Chilkat Robes
Potlatches Potlatches were held to mark an important event such as honoring a new chief or to celebrate a wedding. Special gifts were made or collected for every guest. A guest’s importance determined what type of gift they were given. Important guest might have been given a canoe or fur robe. Some potlatch celebrations lasted for many days. Tlingits at a potlatch in Sitka, Alaska on December 9, 1904
Food Salmon was the most important food to the Tlingit. In early spring, millions of salmon swim from the salty water of the Pacific Ocean to the freshwater rivers to lay their eggs. The Tlingit called this event the salmon run. A family could catch over 1,000 pounds of salmon during the salmon run. Large portions of the fish was dried or smoked so it could be kept for future meals.
Shelter Built large plank houses from the vast forest in the area. Often planks were cut from trees without chopping the tree down. Several families would live together in one house during the winter. Houses were decorated with bright, colorful pictures and designs that represented the family’s crest.
Totem Poles Huge wooden totem poles stood in front of each home. A totem pole is a pole carved and/or painted with symbols that represent a family’s history. Totem poles were often raised at potlatches. Most were 40-60 feet tall but some were as tall as 100 feet.
Family Life The families that lived together in the same house were part of the same clan. A clan is a group of families with a common ancestor. Clans were established through the mother’s side of the family. Boys were sent to live with his mother’s brother when he was 8 years old to learn how to hunt and other responsibilities. Girls learned house traditions from their mothers and grandmothers. Both boys and girls learned about the Tlingit and their clan’s history & customs from their elders.
Technology Tlingit did not have to spend much time “surviving” because there was an abundance of food and other resources where they lived. This enabled them to spend time specializing in technology, or designing tools, ideas, or other ways to solve problems. Examples of Tlingit technology are the dams they built, traps for catching salmon, and making canoes. Tlingit Fish Trap
Video This is a modern day Tlingit family performing a dance similar to that of their ancestors. Notice they are wearing traditional Tlingit clothing.
Focus Questions & Extended Writing What role did salmon fishing play in the life of the Tlingit? How did the Tlingit use the natural resources in their environment? What was the purpose of a potlatch? Suppose your class gave a potlatch. Write about your reasons for holding it an the activities you plan.