Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Tlingit are Native Americans living in southeastern Alaska. The Tlingit continue to occupy many of their aboriginal village sites along the southeastern coast of Alaska. Many elders still speak the Tlingit language which belongs to the Na-Dene phylum. The Tlingit hunted, fished salmon, and gathered plants and shellfish. The Tlingit increasingly came to depend on income from fur trapping and an active arts and crafts trade. The Tlingit were stratified into three social classes and ranked within classes. Class and rank continue to remain important in village life. The Tlingit today work in business, industry, government, and the professions.


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North America --Northwest Coast and California


United States

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in this eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Tlingit file consists of twenty-eight English language documents covering a total time span from the 1700s to the early 1980s. Most of the works, however, focus on the time period from about 1880 to 1920. The area most intensively studied is that of the Chilkat region, with the Angoon and Yakutat areas providing much additional information. There are six basic ethnographies in this file which give an excellent overview of traditional Tlingit ethnography: Krauss (1956, no. 1), Swanton (1904-05, no. 10), DeLaguna (1960, no. 17), Oberg (n.d., no. 18), Olson (1967, no. 19), and Emmons (1991, no. 31). In addition to the above, other works provide data on potlatching (a major theme), cultural history, socio-cultural change, clans, crime and punishment, kinship terminology and relationships, puberty ceremonies, and archaeology. In 1996, six new monographs were added to the file Emmons (1991, no. 31), Kan (1989, no. 32), Tollefson (1977, no. 35; 1978, no.34; 1982, no. 36; 1995, no. 33), providing data on mortuary customs, conflict management (in the study of clan roles in the potlatch), formation of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), and social change in potlatching and in village settlement patterns. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article, "Tlingit," by Kenneth Tollefson in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 1. 1991. Timothy O'Leary and David Levinson, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were prepared by John Beierle, August 1996.

Overview by

John Beierle

AANKAAWOO -- town chief; highest ranking clan chief in the village -- categories 622, 614

Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Sisterhood (ANS) -- categories 668, 575

Back packs -- category 482

Children's potlatch -- festival for children -- categories 431, 858

Compensation for offenses -- category 681

Concept of forfeiting something of equal value to those who have been wronged or who have lost something -- category 671

Conflicts or disagreements involving hunting rights -- category 423

Crests -- category 532

Destruction of property in retaliation for an alleged offense -- category 556

DONNAK -- body medicine -- categories 789 or 755

GOWAKAN -- specially selected representatives (usually brothers- in-law) who served as peacemakers and go-betweens in interclan affairs -- category 607

"Head start" program of the government -- category 658

HITSATI -- see house chief

Housebuilding potlatch -- categories 342, 431

House "chief" -- head of the house group -- categories 592 (sometimes with 554)

House group -- usually affiliated with clans -- categories 592, 614

KUWAKON -- "deer"; peace hostages -- category 728

KWAN -- the largest geographical division, with little political or economic reality -- category 631

Local clan villages -- categories 614, 621

Moiety villages -- categories 616, 621

NA-KA-NEE -- clan brothers-in-law who act as assistants at the potlatch -- categories 602 or 607

Payment of blankets or other property for the shaman's curing -- category 437

Potlatch -- a major ceremony of the Tlingit -- categories 431, 796, 556

Relations with Hudson Bay Company or other Russian, American, British, or French companies -- category 648

Russian Orthodox Church -- organization and activities of, but not directly relevant to Tlingit acculturation and missionization -- category 795

Snow shoes -- category 481

Stencils -- category 413

Stone cairns -- category 324

TA-SATE -- amulet worn around the neck and used for scratching when using fingernails is taboo -- category 789

Totem poles -- categories 532, 614 (and/or 211 according to emphasis)

Totems -- categories 771, 779, 614

Town chief -- see AANKAAWOO

Village household -- community house; dwelling that housed the residents of an entire village (40-50 people, sometimes 100+ people) -- categories 342, 621

YEK (YEHK or YAGE) -- guardian spirit -- category 776

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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