Alaska Indians

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The Tlingit:
Alaska Indians

By: Holli Kearns

The Tlingit are an American Indian people whose land consists of the southeastern coast and Islands of Alaska, known as the “panhandle.” The official origin of the Tlingit people is unknown. One hypothesis is that the people came from the coast of Asia and Japan, migrating north and east, and settled in the southeast many years ago. Art forms and some physical features of the Tlingit people are similar to some Pacific groups. Tlingit legends speak of migrations into the area from several directions (including north from the Bering Sea land bridge and southwest from the Polynesian islands. It is speculated that human occupation of Southeast Alaska occurred 11,000 years ago by the Tlingit people, and their rich culture and firmly established existence support that hypothesis. (Wertz, 2008)

The name Tlingit (pronounced Kling-kit) basically means “human beings.” The work was originally used simply to distinguish a human from an animal, since the Tlingits believed that there was little difference between humans and animals. Over time, the word became used by Europeans and other explorers as the title of the tribe of people. At the time of contact by Europeans, the Tlingit population is estimated to have been about 15,000. (Wikipedia, 2012)

Southeast Alaska is a land rich in natural resources. Since the Tlingit lived on the coast, much of their food and other supplies were found in the sea. Springtime food was halibut, shellfish and seaweed, with seal and salmon becoming abundant in early summer. The sea provided much of what the Tlingit required, however, it was considered a “poor man’s” diet to only eat seafood . Hunting supplemented fishing, but hunting big game was done primarily for furs. Bears were rarely hunted, as the Tlingit considered bears to be too closely related to humans. (Mihesuah, 1996)

Tlingit society is divided into two primary houses. These houses are Raven and Eagle...
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