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This article is about the Alaskan Native group. For the Turkic people see Telengit.

The Tlingit ( or in English; sometimes spelled Tlinkit) are an Indigenous people of northwestern America. Their name for themselves is Lingít "people" ( ). The Russian name КО-ЛЮ-ЖИ (Koloshi) (from an Aleut term for the lower lip piercing) or the related German name Koulischen may be encountered in older historical literature, such as Shelikov's 1796 map of Russian America.

The Tlingit are a matrilineal society that developed a complex hunter-gatherer culture in the temperate rainforest of the southeast Alaskamarker coast and the Alexander Archipelagomarker. An inland subgroup, known as the Inland Tlingit, inhabit the far northwestern part of the province of British Columbiamarker and the southern Yukon Territorymarker of Canadamarker.


Tlingit and neighboring peoples

The greatest territory historically occupied by the Tlingit extended from the Portland Canalmarker along the present border between Alaskamarker and British Columbiamarker, north to the coast just southeast of the Copper River delta. The Tlingit occupied almost all of the Alexander Archipelagomarker, except the southernmost end of Prince of Wales Islandmarker and its surroundings, where the Kaigani Haida moved just before the first encounters with European explorers. Inland, the Tlingit occupied areas along the major rivers which pierce the Coast Mountainsmarker and Saint Elias Mountainsmarker and flow into the Pacificmarker, including the Alsekmarker, Tatshenshinimarker, Chilkatmarker, Takumarker, and Stikinemarker rivers. With regular travel up these rivers, the Tlingit developed extensive trade networks with Athabascan tribes of the interior, and commonly intermarried with them. From this regular travel and trade, a few relatively large populations of Tlingit settled around Atlinmarker, Teslinmarker, and Tagish Lakesmarker, whose headwaters flow from areas near the headwaters of the Taku River.

Delineating the modern territory of the Tlingit is complicated by because they are spread across the border between the United States and Canada, by the lack of designated reservations, other complex legal and political concerns, and a relatively high level of mobility among the population, as well as overlapped territory with various Athabascan peoples such as the Tahltan, Kaska and Tagish. In Canada, the modern communities of Atlin, British Columbiamarker ( Taku River Tlingit), Teslin, Yukonmarker (Teslin Tlingit Council), and Carcross, Yukonmarker (Carcross/Tagish First Nation) have reserves and are the representative Interior Tlingit populations. The territory occupied by the modern Tlingit people in Alaska is however not restricted to particular reservation, unlike most tribes in the contiguous 48 states. This is the result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) which established regional corporations throughout Alaska with complex portfolios of land ownership rather than bounded reservations administered by tribal governments. The corporation in the Tlingit region is Sealaska Corporation which serves the Tlingit as well as the Haida and Tsimshian in Alaska. Tlingit people as a whole participate in the commercial economy of Alaska, and as a consequence live in typically American nuclear family households with private ownership of housing and land. Many also possess land allotments from Sealaska or from earlier distributions predating ANCSA. Despite the legal and political complexities, the territory historically occupied by the Tlingit can be reasonably designated as their modern homeland, and Tlingit people today envision the land from around Yakutatmarker south through the Alaskan Panhandlemarker and including the lakes in the Canadian interior as being Lingít Aaní, the Land of the Tlingit.

The extant Tlingit territory can be roughly divided into four major sections, paralleling ecological, linguistic, and cultural divisions. The Southern Tlingit occupy the region south of Frederick Soundmarker, and live in the northernmost reaches of the Western Redcedar forest. North of Frederick Sound to Cape Spencer, and including Glacier Baymarker and the Lynn Canalmarker, are the Northern Tlingit, who occupy the warmest and richest of the Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock forest. The Inland Tlingit live along the large interior lakes and the drainage of the Taku River as well as in the southern Yukon territory, and subsist in a manner similar to their Athabascan neighbors in the mixed spruce taiga. North of Cape Spencer, along the coast of the Gulf of Alaskamarker to Controller Bay and Kayak Islandmarker, are the Gulf Coast Tlingit, who live along a narrow strip of coastline backed by steep mountains and extensive glaciers, and battered by Pacific storms. The trade and cultural interactions between each of these Tlingit groups and their disparate neighbors, the differences in food harvest practices, and the dialectical differences contribute to these identifications which are also supported by similar self-identifications among the Tlingit.

Tribes or kwaans

Tlingit tribe International Phonetics Alphabet Translation Village or Community location Anglicized, archaic variants or adaptations
Galyáx Kwáan Salmon Stream Tribe Yakataga-Controller Bay area
Xunaa (a.k.a. Káawu) Kwáan Tribe or People from the Direction of the North Wind Hoonahmarker Hoonah people
S'awdaan Kwáan Dungeness Crab Town Tribe Sumdum
Takjik´aan Kwáan: Coast Town Tribe Prince of Wales Islandmarker
Laaxaayík Kwáan: Near The Ice People Yakutat areamarker
T'aaku Kwáan: Geese Flood Upriver Tribe Takumarker Taku Tlingit, Taku people
Xutsnoowú (a.k.a. Xudzidaa) Kwáan Brown Bear Fort a.k.a. Burnt Wood Tribe Angoonmarker Hootchenoo people, Hoochenoo
Hinyaa Kwáan Tribe From Across The Water Klawockmarker
Gunaaxoo Kwáan Among The Athabascans Tribe Dry Bay Gunahoo people, Dry Bay people
Deisleen Kwáan: Big Sinew Tribe Teslinmarker Teslin Tlingit, Teslin people, Inland Tlinkit
Sheey At'iká (a.k.a. Sheet'ká) Kwáan Outside Edge of a Branch Tribe Sitkamarker
Shtax'héen Kwáan Bitter Water Tribe Wrangellmarker Stikine people, Stikine Tlingit
Jilkaat Kwáan Chilkat Tribe Klukwanmarker Chilkat people
Áa Tlein Kwáan Big Lake Tribe Atlinmarker Taku River Tlingit, Inland Tlinkit
Keex' Kwáan The Opening of the Day (Dawn) Tribe a.k.a. The Town That Never Sleeps Kakemarker Kake people
Taant´a Kwáan Sea Lion Tribe Fort Tongass (formerly) & Ketchikanmarker (today) Tongass people
Jilkoot Kwáan Chilkoot Tribe Hainesmarker Chilkoot people
Aak'w Kwáan Small Lake Tribe Auke Baymarker Auke people
Kooyu Kwáan Stomach Tribe Kuiu Islandmarker Kuiu people
Saanya Kwáan Southward Tribe Saanya Kwaan (formerly) & Saxmanmarker (today) Saanya Kwaan, owns Saxman Corporation, which owns Cape Fox Corporation


The Tlingit culture is multifaceted and complex, a characteristic of Northwest Pacific 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. Wealth and economic power are important indicators of status, but so is generosity and proper behavior, all signs of "good breeding" and ties to aristocracy. Art and spirituality are incorporated in nearly all areas of Tlingit culture, with even everyday objects such as spoons and storage boxes decorated and imbued with spiritual power and historical beliefs of the Tlingits. The Tinglits were very skilled hunters.

Philosophy and religion

Tlingit thought and belief, although never formally codified, was historically a fairly well organized philosophical and religious system whose basic axioms shaped the way Tlingit people viewed and interacted with the world around them. Between 1886 and 1895, in the face of their shamans' inability to treat Old World diseases including smallpox, many Tlingit people converted to Orthodox Christianity. Russian Orthodox missionaries had translated their liturgy into the Tlingit language. After the introduction of Christianity, the Tlingit belief system began to erode.

Today, some young Tlingits look back towards what their traditional tribal religions and worldview for inspiration, security, and a sense of identity. While many elders converted to Christianity, contemporary Tlingit "reconcile Christianity and the 'traditional culture.'"


The Tlingit language (pronounced /ˈklɪŋkɨt/ in English, Lingít IPA: [ɬɪŋkɪ́t] in Tlingit) is spoken by the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska and Western Canada. It is a branch of the Na-Dené language family. It is well known not only for its complex grammar and sound system, but also for using certain phonemes which are not heard in almost any other language.

Tlingit is highly endangered, with fewer than 140 native speakers still living, all of whom are bilingual or near-bilingual in English. Extensive effort is being put into revitalization programs in Southeast Alaska to revive and preserve the Tlingit language and its culture.


Food is a central part of Tlingit culture, and the land is an abundant provider. A saying amongst the Tlingit is that "when the tide goes out the table is set". This refers to the richness of intertidal life found on the beaches of Southeast Alaska, most of which can be harvested for food. Another saying is that "in Lingít Aaní you have to be an idiot to starve". Since food is so easy to gather from the beaches, a person who cannot feed himself at least enough to stay alive is considered to be a fool, perhaps mentally incompetent or suffering from very bad luck. However, though eating off the beach would provide a fairly healthy and varied diet, eating nothing but "beach food" is considered contemptible among the Tlingit, and a sign of poverty. Indeed, shamans and their families were required to abstain from all food gathered from the beach, and men might avoid eating beach food before battles or strenuous activities in the belief that it would weaken them spiritually and perhaps physically as well. Thus for both spiritual reasons as well as to add some variety to the diet, the Tlingit harvest many other resources for food besides those which are easily found outside their front doors. No other food resource receives as much emphasis as salmon; however seal and game are both close seconds.

Fish were the primary source of food for the Tlingit. Large numbers of halibut, salmon, herring and candlefish were caught and eaten fresh or dried and stored for later use. The Tlingit also hunted sea mammals such as seals, sea lions and sea otters for use as food and clothing materials. In the forests near their homes, they hunted deer, bear, mountain goats and other small mammals.

See also


  1. Shelikhov, Gregorii Ivanovich & Richard A. Pierce. 1981. A Voyage to America 1783–1786. Kingston: Limestone Press.
  2. de Laguna, Fredericæ. 1990. Tlingit. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 7: Northwest Coast, ed. by W. Suttles, 203-28. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian.
  4. Boyd, Robert Thomas. The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999: 241. ISBN 978-0295978376.
  5. Kan Sergei. "Shamanism and Christianity: Modern-Day Tlingit Elders Look at the Past." Klass, Morton and Maxine Wiesgrau, eds. Across The Boundaries Of Belief: Contemporary Issues In The Anthropology Of Religion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999: 42. ISBN 978-0813326955.

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