Tlingit YTB-497 - History

Tlingit YTB-497 - History

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(YTB-497: dp. 345 (f.); 1. 100'0"; b. 25'0"; dr. 10'0";
s. 12 k. (tl.); cpl. 8; cl. Sassaba)

Tlingit (YTB-497)—a large harbor tug—was laid down on 15 December 1944 at Brooklyn, N.Y., by Ira S. Bushey & Sons, launched sometime early in 1945; and placed in service at the New York Navy Yard on 21 August 1945.

Few records of Tlingit's operations have survived but, in September, she was at Coco Solo in the Canal Zone, en route to Hawaii. At Pearl Harbor, she replaced Nahasho (YTB-535), when—or shortly before —that tug was placed out of service in November. By the summer of 1946, Tlingit had moved to the Far East and qualified for the China service medal between 11 July 1946 and 20 June 1947. Following that tour of duty, she returned to the west coast and, on 31 March 1948, she was placed out of service, in reserve

The tug remained at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard until she was reactivated on 17 November 1950 for service in the 17th Naval District. She arrived in Kodiak, Alaska, in February 1951 and served there until May 1957 when she returned south to San Francisco. She served in the 12th Naval District for the remainder of her career. In February 1962, she was reclassified a medium harbor tug and became YTM-497. In June 1963, Tlingit was placed out of service and her name was struck from the Navy list.

At Sealaska Heritage, we field a lot of questions from the public, researchers and the media about Northwest Coast cultures. SHI President Rosita Worl, who is from the Shangukeidí Clan and a Tlingit anthropologist, spends considerable time answering these. Because the answers to some of these questions are of general interest, we’ve launched “Q & A with Rosita Worl” on our blog to share them with the public.

This blog post stems from a question Rosita recently received from a cultural historian on one of the cruise lines.

Question: Did the Tlingits keep slaves and is there a tie-in to the Lincoln Totem Pole?

Rosita Worl:

In planning for an exhibit, I consulted with a number of Tlingit and reported that a section of the exhibit would focus on slavery. One of the community members emphatically stated that we didn’t have slaves, we had “servants.”

I’ve told my students that we are prone to romanticizing our culture and history, but to understand the reality and complexity of our culture, we need to assess both the positive and negative aspects of our culture. In this instance, the reality is that slavery was a common practice among the Tlingits and all the tribes of the Northwest Coast. Estimates suggest that one-third of the Tlingit population during the mid-1800s were slaves.

We did not fully understand the full contribution of slaves to the development of our society until Leland Donald’s 1997 study of slavery in the Northwest Coast of North America. His meticulously researched study revealed that slaves were important for their labor and their value in trade. He also found that slavery played a major role in the cultural forms such as potlatches, art production and ritual activities.[1]

The slavery system in the United States, including the indigenous systems, legally ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery in 1865. However, it persisted among the Tlingit until the early 1900s.

The Tlingit challenged the constitutional amendment in In re Sah Quah[2] arguing in court that as an aboriginal group, they retained internal governing authority exclusive of the laws of the United States. Because slave holding was permitted under Tlingit custom, and because they retained independent sovereignty, the Tlingits contended that federal laws prohibiting slavery did not apply to them.[3]

Sah Quah was a Haida who reported that the Flathead Indians abducted him as a child after his parents, who were in Washington at the time, were killed. The Flatheads made him a slave and then sold him to the Stikines who in turn sold him to the Chilkats. They in turn sold him to the Yakutats who then sold him to Nah-ki-klan, who was a resident of Sitka. Annahootz, a Sitka clan leader presumably of the Kaagwaantaan clan, testified that a male slave was worth fifty to sixty Hudson Bay blankets while women were worth about half as much. Annahootz reported that they had captured slaves through raids.[4]

The Alaska Federal District Court rejected the sovereign authority of Tlingit Indians to maintain the practice of slavery and held that the Tlingits, as residents of the United States, were subject to the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

William L. Paul, Sr., did extensive research on the so-called Lincoln Totem Pole in Ketchikan and refuted the claims made by Judge Wickersham that the first Lincoln totem pole was made to honor President Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves.[5] The image on the totem is certainly that of Lincoln since a drawing or a photograph of Lincoln served as the model for the artist carving the totem pole. However, the pole that was erected in 1883 at the Tongass Village was carved to commemorate the sighting of the “First White Man.”

In 1922 Paul interviewed the Tlingit who had migrated from the Tongass village to Saxman years earlier. None of them knew of any story of a Tongass pole being connected with the slavery issue. They did, however, speak of the Proud Raven Pole. The pole had a Raven at its base and a figure of a man wearing a stovepipe hat at the top. Yahl-jeeyi of the Gahn-nux-uddy [Gaanax.ádi] clan commissioned a Tsimshian artist to carve the pole with his clan crest, the Raven, to commemorate that he or one of his ancestors was the first Tlingit to see a white man. The carver needed an image of a white man and was given a photo of Lincoln that had been obtained from an officer of the Army stationed at Fort Tongass. The top of the deteriorated Tongass totem of the First White Man seen by the Tongass Tlingit is now held in the Alaska State Museum. A replica of the first Tongass pole was carved by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was erected in Saxman. Wickersham’s invented story that the pole represents Lincoln apparently persists despite Paul’s overwhelming evidence that the pole represents the first white man who was seen by the Tongass Tlingit. Paul also offers that freed slaves would not have had the resources to carve a totem pole honoring Lincoln as worthy as this effort might have been.

Although we honor our culture, we are not proud of all aspects of our history. The reality is that slavery was a part of our culture and played a critical role in its development.

[1] Leland Donald. Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America. University of California Press. 1997. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London.

[2] In re Sah Quah (1 Alaska. Fed. Reps 136 1886)

[3] David S. Case and David A. Voluck. Alaska Natives and American Laws Third Edition. University of Alaska Press. Fairbanks. (25)

[4] Paul, William L. Sr., ”The Real Story of Lincoln Totem.” Alaska Journal. Summer 1971. Vol 1:No 3. (2-16)

[5] See Worl Archives file, Paul, William L. Sr., “The Lincoln Totem Poles.” Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The contract for Manistee was awarded 14 January 1965. She was laid down on 9 August 1965 at Marinette, Wisconsin, by Marinette Marine and launched 20 October 1965.

On 23 November 1965, Manistee, in company with another newly constructed tug, Redwing (YTB-783) , departed the builder's yard for delivery to the Naval Station San Diego, California, where she was placed in service in June. Manistee, fitted with special fenders to allow work with the Navy's newer round-hulled nuclear power submarines, remained in the 11th Naval District, assisting larger Navy ships in docking and performing general towing services into the 1990s.

Sometime before 1999, Manistee was transferred to Naval Station Yokosuka, Japan where she remains in active status.

  • This article incorporates text from the public domainDictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
  • This article includes information collected from theNaval Vessel Register, which, as a U.S. government publication, is in the public domain. The entry can be found here.

This article about a specific ship or boat of the United States Armed Forces is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.

The History and Significance of Totem Poles

Alaskan Native communities heavily rely on animals for sustenance and inspiration, especially in regards to the bases of their social structure. The tradition of stories being passed through families and communities spans generations, leading to much of the various clans’ unique identities. Each animal holds its own story and spiritual meaning. These meanings have translated into the identities for several Alaskan Native clans in the Southeast region. The spiritual representation of an animal is often embodied and eternalized through a totem pole. The word “totem” is actually a misnomer that stems from totemism, which “was thought to be the primordial religion” of the communities which create totem poles. 1 While this name provides an appealing mystery to the carvings, it is entirely inaccurate. These totem poles are symbols of a community's history, values, and traditions, but not the base of a religion. Each aspect of a totem pole is as important and individualized as the animal it is based on. The four clans that have a particularly rich history involving the totem pole are the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. These communities are marked on the map below by a totem pole.

The use of animals in totem poles is not only traditional, but it is also highly important. The animals chosen to be in a specific totem pole carry great significance and demonstrate each culture’s interpretation of the spiritual meaning of the wildlife around them. The way a pole is constructed also holds importance. Different clans and regions will carve different types of poles depending on their inter-clan traditions. For example, “[t]he Coast Salish of the Lower Fraser [tend] to carve house posts rather than single stand-alone poles,” where most clans carve single poles that suit an occasion or family. 2 Most commonly, totem poles range from 9 to 59 feet tall, though height varies greatly depending on clan and culture. The Haida and Tsimshian generally carve taller poles, “often reaching over 100 feet.” 2 Every aspect of a totem pole holds cultural significance, even the wood it is carved from. Due to the coastal environment in which the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian have made their homes, totem poles are usually “made from a large red cedar tree. Some totem poles were also made from yellow cedar.” 2

The importance of the totem pole is marked before the carving even begins. After a careful selection process for discerning which tree is most suited for the particular totem pole, “many coastal First Nations [and Tribal] communities will perform a ceremony of gratitude and respect in honor of the tree. Several trees may be inspected before a particular tree is chosen for its beauty and character.” 2 The selection of trees is an honored and careful process, as it requires “an intimate understanding of cultural histories and forest ecology.” 2 One area of trees cannot be overharvested, and balance must be maintained throughout the community and local vegetation.

The carving process is also unique among tribes. Carving has traditionally only been done by men. However, women have occasionally done carvings as well. A totem carver begins honing their craft at a very young age, and it is seen as an honorable and important role in the community. 2 Each tribe has a specific style and process, with some carving “around the pole[,] and others would carve out the back of the pole.” 3

The Sealaska Heritage Institute hired two brothers to carve an Eagle and Raven totem pole to replace the older ones at Gajaa Hít. The two new totem poles will represent the first people of Juneau, the Auk Kwáan, which includes the Wooshkeetaan (Shark) and L’eeneidí (Dog Salmon) clans. 8

The general structure of a totem pole includes a main moiety, a clan animal, and passive and aggressive animals that are on the clan crest. They can communicate a narrative, but mostly they mark “a family’s lineage and validating the powerful rights and privileges that the family held.” 2 A moiety is defined in an anthropological lens by the Oxford Dictionary as, “each of two social or ritual groups into which a people is divided.” Each Alaskan moiety is represented by an animal, and the clans (and families within those clans) are represented as supporting animals to the main moiety. The two main moieties in which a people is divided into are based on lineage however, they are then divided into smaller clans based on location and more immediate family groupings. These divisions are based on maternal lineage, and “all people in a clan can trace their relatives to the same ancestor.” 3

A pole-raising ceremony in celebration of the first Tlingit totem pole carved by a female artist. The work was completed in honor of the artist’s grandfather. The artist, Alison Marks, carved a raven on the top (as seen in the picture) which was her grandfather’s clan, and beneath is a carving of her father holding his signature coffee thermos.

The Tlingits of Southeast Alaska are separated into the Raven Moiety and the Eagle Moiety (which was once the Wolf Moiety). The Haida moieties are represented by the same animals as the Tlingit moieties, but because they are a different people, they must be seen as an entirely separate unit. Within both the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, The Raven is a symbol of “creation, transformation, knowledge[, and] prestige as well as the complexity of nature and the subtlety of truth.” 4 The Eagle is seen as having the closest relationship with The Creator out of all the animals, and it represents “focus, strength, peace, leadership, and ultimate prestige.” 5 However, the Eagle can also be a symbol of the balance and coexistence of men and women, with its two wings representing the two genders in harmony. 5

The clan animals associated with the Tlingit’s Raven moiety are Frog, Beaver, and Salmon, while the Haida Raven’s crest animals are Wolf, Killer Whale, and Bear. The clan animals associated with the Tlingit’s Eagle moiety are Wolf, Killer Whale, and Bear, and under the Haida’s Eagle moiety are Frog, Beaver, and Hummingbird. 3 The Tsimshian people are separated into four moieties: Raven, Wolf, Eagle, and Killer whale. Raven and Eagle maintain similar meanings as those of the Tlingit and Haida moieties. Wolf is renowned for its incredible supernatural powers and hunting abilities, and it represents “loyalty, strong family ties, good communication, education, understanding, and intelligence.” 6 Killer whale, or Orca, is a protector of travelers and “symbolizes family, romance, longevity, harmony, travel, community and protection.” 7 Most Tsimshian people demonstrate their moiety through wearing a gwish’na’ba’la, or “button blanket,” that depicts their crest. 3

Cedar Tlingit totem pole in Sitka, AK. Photo courtesy of shakzu/Getty Images/Canva

Each clan has its own crest which incorporates their clan animal as well as their moiety. Balance, above all else, is the focus when carving totem poles and pairing animals together. This sense of balance is maintained through the binding of “passive and aggressive animals.” 3 Passive and aggressive animals can be fairly intuitively identified by whether or not they are predators in the wild. For example, Wolf is an aggressive animal, while Beaver is a passive animal, meaning that the two could potentially be compatible to pair together. The combination of moiety, clan animal, and a maintained equilibrium between passive and aggressive animals is usually how a totem pole is designed. However, the design differs depending on what, or who, it must represent.

This mural is on the side of a building in the Wooshkitaan Eagle Clan. The main image is a Thunderbird, capturing an orca, surrounded by sharks. The Thunderbird is marked with its totem animal on its chest, and the Orca has its own totem poles on either side. The Thunderbird, Orca, Shark, and Wolf are all animals representative of the Wooshkitaan Eagle Clan. Painting this mural on the side of a building signifies the power and protection the community has, and it depicts the clan’s communal history and lineage.

Opposing clans balance sports, debates, and land, and most aspects of life are divided by moiety and clan. The Tlingits maintain a delicate balance between Raven and Eagle members, and in order to not disrupt any part of their life, they organize their social structure very specifically. This historically extends to if a Raven member is killed by an Eagle member, a similarly ranked member of the Eagle moiety must also be killed. 3 However, the moieties are also harmoniously bound to one another. If one clan loses a member of its community, the other clans will provide comfort and aid.

The animals used in totem poles are incredibly significant in Alaskan Native culture, especially in regards to maintaining cultural and environmental balance. While not an act of religious discipline, the time and energy put into the carving of these huge structures demonstrates the significance specific animals have represented for Alaskan Native communities. The variation and specification in meaning and origin story for the wildlife in each clan acts as a reminder that animals have changed human interactions since the beginning of community development in Alaska. Without the constant presence and the involvement that animals have with humans, totem poles would be empty creations. With the ever-growing need for balance between humans and animal kingdoms, totem poles act as a constant reminder that humanity would be insignificant without their relationship to animals.

Family and Community Dynamics

Tlingit society is divided into two primary ("opposite") clans or moieties, subclans or clans, and houses. The moieties are Raven and Eagle, and all Tlingits are either Raven or Eagle by birthright. The structure is matrilineal, meaning each person is born with the moiety of their mother, which is typically the opposite of the father: If the mother is Eagle, then the father is Raven or vice versa. Traditionally moiety intramarriage was not allowed even if the two Ravens or two Eagles were not at all blood related. Today, although frowned upon, moiety intramarriage occasionally occurs without the social ostracizing of the past.

Clans exist under the Raven moiety and the Eagle moiety. Clans are a subdivision of the moieties each has its own crest. A person can be Eagle and of the Killer Whale or Brown Bear Clan, or of several other existing clans Ravens may be of the Frog Clan, Sea Tern Clan, Coho Clan, and so forth. Houses, or extended families, are subdivisions of the clans. Prior to contact houses would literally be houses or lodges in which members of that clan or family coexisted. Today houses are one of the ways in which Tlingit people identify themselves and their relationship to others. Some examples of houses include the Snail House, Brown Bear Den House, Owl House, Crescent Moon House, Coho House, and Thunderbird House.

Tlingits are born with specific and permanent clan identities. Today these identities and relationships are intact and still acknowledged by the tribe. Biological relationships are one part of the family and clan structure the other is the reincarnate relationships. Tlingit social structures and relationships are also effected by the belief that all Tlingits are reincarnates of an ancestor. This aspect of Tlingit lineage is understood by the elders but is not as likely to be understood and acknowledged by the younger Tlingit, although clan conferences are being held to educate people about this complex social system.

In Tlingit society today, even though many Tlingits marry other Tlingits, there exists a great deal of interracial marriage, which has changed some of the dynamics of family and clan relationships. Many Tlingit people marry Euro-Americans, and a few marry into other races or other tribes. Some of the interracial families choose to move away from the Tlingit communities and from Tlingit life. Others live in the communities but do not participate in traditional Tlingit activities. A few of the non-Tlingit people intermarried with Tlingit become adopted by the opposite clan of their Tlingit spouse and thereby further their children's participation in Tlingit society.

Traditionally boys and girls were raised with a great deal of family and community support. The uncles and aunts of the children played a major role in the children's development into adulthood. Uncles and aunts often taught the children how to physically survive and participate in society, and anyone from the clan could conceivably reprimand or guide the child. Today the role of the aunts and uncles has diminished, but in the smaller and dominantly Tlingit communities some children are still raised this way. Most Tlingit children are raised in typical American one-family environments, and are instructed in American schools as are other American children. Tlingit people place a strong importance on education and many people go on to receive higher education degrees. Traditional education is usually found in dance groups, traditional survival camps, art camps, and Native education projects through the standard education systems.

Tlingit Indians

The Tlingit are also known as Kolosh and are a Native Amercian people that belong to the Southeastern coast and coastal islands of Alaska. The Tlingit Indians and the Haida are closely related in culture. Both of these tribes are governed by CCTHITA or the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

The Tlingit's culture has been molded by the conditions of the Alaskan area. The coast of Alaska is covered with mountains. The climate is temperate and humid. The forests are populated with animal life and seas are bountiful as well. The Tlingit Indians survived by fishing, hunting, and gathering.

The Tlingit Indians lived in three groups including the Yehl or Raven, Goch or Wolf, and Nehadi or Eagle. Since the Nehadi were a small group, some researchers leave out this group of the Tlingit. Each of these groups usually consisted of over twenty clans. The clans may have contained two or more villages which was further divided into house groups which contained a number of families.

The clans of the Tlingit Indians and the family groups were given their status based on the wealth, character, and ancestors of their members. The oldest male was the head of the family group. The family head with the highest status was the leader of the clan. There were no village leaders and disputes were mediated by the clan heads.

The Tlingit Indians are known for their elaborate ceremonies. One of the more well known ceremonies was the potlatch which was usually performed out of respect for the dead. These ceremonies traditionally lasted for four days. They consisted of dances, songs, performances, gifts, and a feast which were hosted by one group for another.

The Tlingit commonly encountered explorers looking for the Northwest Passage. As the fur trade began to boom, Russian traders and trappers started to settle in the area around 1775. Throughout the next century the Tlingit Indians did not encounter any major conflicts with the Russians.

Sitka Indian Village: A History Unpreserved?

Sitka is in the Southeast panhandle of Alaska, also known as the Alexander Archipelago. It is on the outer coast of an island and you can only get there by ferry or plane. It is also within the traditional territory of the Tlingit, and known by the Tlingit as Shee Atika, or Sheet’ka. The Tlingit are nicknamed the people of the tides. Not a lot of archaeology work is conducted around Sitka, but local radiocarbon dating confirms humans were living near Sitka for at least 5,000 years. It was also the capital of Russian America from 1804 to 1867 and currently it’s an isolated fishing and tourist community with a year-round population of about 9,000.

As I was researching this topic, I found a National Park Service publication that described the National Historic Landmarks in Sitka. This is a fairly decent rundown of Sitka’s historic milestones, but it is missing recognition of the first people of this land: the Tlingit. Is this because the Tlingit have done nothing of national significance, or because the Tlingit history is under-represented in the National Register program?

Chronology of Sitka’s National Historic Landmarks

I think the Tlingit history in Sitka is nationally significant. When the Russians first arrived in Sitka in 1802, the Tlingit attacked the Russians and the Russians left. The Russians came back two years later and they battled again. In 1804, the history books say the Russians won. But, did the Tlingits lose? The Tlingit retreated. That 1804 battle was an important point and the Russians took over Sitka harbor. But, the Tlingit survived. From 1804 onward, the Tlingit people endured—first attack and occupation of their land by the Russians, and then, after 1867, the United States. Despite the attempts by the governments in power to eliminate the traditional ways of living of the Tlingit people, the Tlingit people and culture have endured, even if not recognized.

Typical Tlingit fish camp (circa 1890-1920).

After the 1804 battle with the Russians, the Tlingit traveled north on foot to a seasonal fish camp on the north part of the island at a strategic location. You can only get to Sitka safely at that time through the Inside Passage. They set up camp along one channel you need to pass to get to Sitka, and staged an embargo. They stopped all ships from entering or leaving Sitka. The Tlingit relied on the sea for food, travel, spirituality and clothing. They define a maritime culture.

In about 1825, the Tlingit returned to Sitka. The Russian approach to dealing with the Tlingit was a segregated approach. The Russians built a wall separating the Tlingit Village from New Archangel (the Russian name for Sitka). The wall had guards in blockhouses and cannons pointed at the Tlingit Village during the time of Russian rule (1825-1867).

Starting in 1867, the American government did not treat the Tlingit any better. When the United States government took over control of Alaska, the American way of life was brought to the Tlingit people. Sanitary laws were used to tell the Tlingit people that they needed to rebuild their houses. All the old houses were burnt, and new ones ordered to be reconstructed according to American standards.

In 1904, then territorial governor, John Brady allowed for what they called the last great potlatch. “In 1902, several members approached Governor Brady, a former Presbyterian missionary, and requested that he issue a proclamation that would command all Natives to change and that if they did not they should be punished. Like other missionaries and governmental officials, Governor Brady considered the potlatch a practice that perpetuated prejudice, superstition, clan rivalry and retarded progress. He was committed to breaking up the offensive clan system and replacing it with the independent family unit, but he was not eager to impose legal sanctions. Therefore, in a dramatic gesture, Brady decided to endorse one last potlatch at Sitka.”[2] From 1867 through 1924, the Tlingit were not permitted to own any land because they were not citizens. The Tlingit weren’t recognized as US citizens until 1924. They were not permitted to vote until 1945.

The Sitka Indian Village 1889.

The Tlingit culture is a matrilineal society that is built by clans, so you have parity, you have a raven and an eagle, and then a raven would marry an eagle and then you inherit your lineage through your mother. My husband is an eagle, so his father’s clan, the Kik.sadi, which is a raven clan, adopted me and then my children, who are Alaska Native, are part of that clan. We have all been adopted through traditional ceremony and given Tlingit names. My house is called Sh’teen Hit, which is the steel bar house. The house was so named because it had a steel bar. The Sh’teen Hit was located so close to the stockade wall, a steel bar was necessary to protect the house. The clan house in traditional Tlingit culture was the seat of traditional government. Traditional law was that you would bring things to the clan house and the clan leader, and they would decide things and use their own way of dealing with things. The village here is the location of the Sitka Clan houses.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska had a small historic preservation grant from the National Park Service. This is one of the many projects I worked on at Sitka Tribe. I put together the possibility of the village being a historic district. I did my best, but it was hard, because if you look at this picture, you can tell that there is all sorts of development there. You can see the traditional houses, but you can also see fish processing plants, and you can see lots of boats in the harbor and these other uses. I put together the district nomination, but it was definitely a discontiguous situation. It never felt like I was doing the right analysis. I knew in my heart this was a historic place that should be recognized and protected. I knew in my heart that I held a lot of history that was important to a lot of people. The words I had to use on the paper to match up with that history was a disconnect.

A Kaagwaantaan and L’uk’nax.adi Clan House.

Each of the clan houses in this photograph has been determined eligible for the National Register individually. They stand on what’s called restricted Indian property. These properties are transferred according to western inheritance rules—to your surviving children typically. That means the traditional clan people and the clan members of those houses are not the current owners. What you have is based the individual family unit. The house on the left suffered, the foundation had some issues, and so we had to do some repair work and during that time we went through the Section106 process and it was determined eligible. The house on the right was owned by a L’uk’nax.adi clan (raven) leader when the deed was issued in the 1950s. When he died, the house went to his children, who were Kaagwaantaan (eagle), they inherited it. As time went on, there are now 47 different owners who do not get along. They are not from that clan, and so it’s hard to get a mass of folks to agree that this is what we want. Some folks want to take it down and put something different up. Some folks want to preserve it as it was. Some folks don’t even want it. Originally, 43 clan houses were within the Sitka Indian Village. Due to lack of sufficient resources, and impending health and safety concerns, the Tribal Council has had to take down two clan houses since 1995. These houses are 2 of the last 9 standing clan houses in Sitka. It has almost become too complicated to save some of the most important history that still exists in Sitka.

In the end, it is clear to me that the village has significant historic resources. The historic district designation doesn’t feel like the right fit, but I can make it fit, by turning this word into that word and checking the boxes. I think a maritime cultural landscape should include the natural resources and the cultural resources, because where there is a herring house, there are people who associate with the herring. Even in the village, we have something that is a very old ceremonial place for the Kik.sadi people—herring rock. It is truly a maritime cultural landscape. It contains all the elements of ethnographic landscapes, as well as those of vernacular landscapes. It is also part of the larger Tlingit maritime cultural landscape.

A look at the bigger picture cultural landscape around Sitka.

There is also a larger cultural and natural landscape to be preserved. Alaska is still a lot like the new frontier. If you look at Tlingit country as a bigger picture, you have the area called the Sheet’ka K’waan (the traditional territory of the Sitka Tribe). Through the interviewing process of folks who still speak Tlingit, the anthropologist we had on staff at the time was able to collect place names. Every red dot on that map is a place name. To me, that documents a connection to the natural and cultural resources throughout the region. When I think about cultural landscapes and I think about scale, I think about how each of the rivers that flow out into the ocean was its own individual landscape, but, back in the day when you would go from place to place, it was one big landscape. We have evidence of oyster farming, canoe haulouts, and individual village sites throughout the area. There is a lot of development that folks think is still coming. Yes, it’s currently a national forest, but that does not mean it will always be a national forest. There is a small scale approach and a big scale approach. You can tie landscapes together, or you can look at them as small. I think in both cases, the types of resources there are important for preservation. Based on the tools available today, the Sitka Indian Village and the greater cultural landscape of the Sheet’ka Kwaan are difficult to preserve. But, with diligence and perseverance, I am hopeful the history of the Tlingit in Sitka is preserved for generations to come.

Tlingit geography and history

For the past 30 years, I’ve grown steadily more fascinated by Tlingit and Haida geography the history and migrations of k wáans, clans, and houses, and the ways in which natural and cultural history intersect. From February to May, 2013, I participated in a course for high school students by Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, entitled Why do we live here?

The name of the best-known winter village of Áak’w Aaní refers to the seasonal dynamic of going and coming from gathering places and resource camps.

Our essential question was What factors went into the selection of village sites for Áak’w and T’aa k u ancestors? One of the most powerful educational experiences of my career, it deepened my interest in the locations of ancient settlements. I now feel that these are the most important places in Southeast Alaska for all of us to study, understand and celebrate.

In coming years I hope to substantially expand this section of JuneauNature on Tlingit geography and history. Even from my limited perspective as a Southeast naturalist, the subject has so many fruitful avenues of investigation .

For example, consider the story of the Lost village of Gus’eix . In 1999, members of G unaaxoo K wáan, along with archeologists and friends from Yakutat and Glacier Bay, relocated an ancient village site that was well known in oral history but unvisited for many decades—so long that only trained eyes could find the clanhouse outlines. Finding this ancestral home was something the participants—and their descendants—will never forget.

Every Tlingit K wáan has a lost village. Many, in fact. Where, aside from Aanch g altsóow, were the homes of Áak’w and T’aa k u K wáans, in the depths of the Little Ice Age? Where were the homes of the microblade seal hunters, when these shorelines splashed hundreds of feet higher against hillsides clothed in wormwood and scrub alder?

Probably my most concise summary of Tlingit geography and history is a chapter in the Natural history of Juneau trails (2013). The full publication—a fund-raiser for Discovery Southeast underwritten by Juneau Community Foundation/Michael Blackwell fund—is not available for download, only for purchase in Juneau bookstores. But I have made that central chapter—People on the land—downloadable here.

In this section

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Special trees in Nettle Slide

New angles on Tʼóokʼ dleit ḵaadí, nettle snowslide (Behrends Slide) Late September, 2020 It’s probably time we stopped calling this&hellip

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 90 second slideshow

Digital Fish Creek

Hydrology in the point cloud. Maybe it’s all those years stippling scenes and species portraits, point by point with double-ought&hellip

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 2-minute slideshow

Outer Point Raven’s-eye

Kaalahéenak’u, inside a person’s mouth (Peterson Creek) For Clan Conference in autumn, 2015, I prepared a 7-minute animation exploring the&hellip

2015 | Richard Carstensen | 7-minute slideshow

Chilkat place names

Jilkáat and Jilkoot Aaní, land of Chilkat & Chilkoot people The 2012 cultural atlas edited by Tom Thornton and Harold&hellip

2020 | Richard Carstensen | geopdf, 17MB

Glacial & cultural history of northern Lingít Aaní

A fireside presentation My talk at the Visitor Center in February, 2020 explored the past 20,000 years of glaciation and&hellip

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 27 minutes

Blackwell City Walk: info packet

Another great idea from Mike Cathy Connor and I (Richard Carstensen) have inherited a tradition spearheaded by our friend Mike&hellip

2019 | Mike Blackwell, Richard Carstensen & Cathy Connor | 27 pages

Tsaa T’ei Héen (Admiralty Cove)

‘Lost village’ of Áak’w Kwáan Every Tlingit Kwáan in Southeast Alaska has at least one ‘lost village,’ known in oral history&hellip

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 33 pages

People on the land

The central chapter in my 2013 publication Natural history of Juneau trails, pages 29-36, is a summary of deep and&hellip

2013 | Richard Carstensen | 7 pages (full publication, 72 pages)

Áak’w & T’aakú Aaní: the natural history of resilience

Presentation for Evening at Egan On November 9th, 2018, I gave the second in a series of 4 lectures for&hellip

Nov, 2018 | Richard Carstensen | 36 minutes

Sen Brothers in Aangóon

Because our names both end in “sen,” Doug Chadwick began calling Bob Christensen and me the “Sen Brothers.” Our most&hellip

22012 | Richard Carstensen | 181 pages, 17MB

Teachers at Kanak’aa (Seymour Canal)

Since 2001, under the initiative of our friend John Neary (then with Admiralty Monument now at the glacier visitor center),&hellip

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 68 pages, 11 MB

Atlas of biogeographic provinces (draft)

Heart and edge: Biogeographic provinces of Southeast Alaska An atlas-in-progress for the 22 provinces of Lingít and Haida Aaní. This&hellip

2020 (draft) | Richard Carstensen | 26 page excerpt

1997 fall newsletter. Admiralty impressions: Xutsnoowú through time

Twenty million years on Xutsnoowú, bear fortress (Admiralty Island). Back to the days before glaciers turned it into an island,&hellip

5 | Richard Carstensen | 5 pages

Kids & porpoises

Sealaska Heritage is wrapping up a 10-day culture camp for middle school students. I came along to share information about&hellip

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 1 minute

Sesquicentennial slideshow

For the sesquicentennial year of the 1867 Alaska Purchase, Juneau-Douglas City Museum asked me to create 3 banners showing 150&hellip

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 28 minutes

1867-2017: 150 years of change

Background paper for 3 banners commissioned by the Juneau Douglas City Museum, showing changes to iconic landscapes of Áak’w Aaní&hellip

2017 | Richard Carstensen | 41 Pages

Why do we live here?

Factors in village site selection People on the land, yesterday, today and tomorrow. In early 2013, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation (GHF),&hellip

2014 | Richard Carstensen | 63 pages

Naming our home

Name as story name as narcissism Over the past decade, I’ve grown increasingly interested in cultural differences in the way&hellip

2013: update 2020 | Richard Carstensen | 5 pages

1999 fall newsletter: No Name Bay and other misnomers

My feature essay explores native and non-native places names †in Southeast Alaska. Another piece by Kathy Hocker discusses the importance&hellip

Tlingit History

Chief Anotklosh of the Taku nation. He wears a woven Chilkan blanket of cedar bark and mountain goat wool and a European-style cape, and holds a carved wooden bird rattle. Photograph by W.H. Case, ca. 1913, Juneau, Alaska

According to native tradition, some Tlingit families came into their present territories from the coast farther south while others entered from the interior. In 1741 Chirikoff and Bering discovered the Tlingit country, and they were soon followed by other Russian explorers as well as by explorers and traders from Mexico, England, France, and New England. Among the noteworthy events of this period was the visit of La Pérouse to Lituya Bay in 1786 and the tragic loss of two of his boats loaded with men in the tide rips at its entrance. In 1799 the Russians built a fort near the present Sitka. In 1802 the Sitka Indians rose upon this post, killed part of its inmates, and drove the rest away, but 2 years later Baranoff drove them from their fort in turn and established on its site a post which grew into the present Sitka, the capital successively of Russian America and Alaska Territory until 1906. Russian rule was so harsh that there were frequent outbreaks among the natives so long as the territory remained under their control. In 1836 to 1840 occurred a terrible epidemic of smallpox, brought up from the Columbia River, which swept away hundreds of Indians. In 1840 the Hudson’s Bay Company took a lease from the Russian American Company of all their lands between Cape Splicer and latitude 54° 40′ N. In 1867 the Tlingit were transferred will, the rest of the Alaskan people to the jurisdiction of the United States and since then they have been suffering ever more rapid transformation under the influences of western civilization.

Tlingit People of the Northwest Coast

The coastal Tlingit people live on the beaches and islands in the southeastern Alaska Panhandle, tucked between the tidewater and the rugged coastal mountains. Heavy rainfall creates a luxurious rainforest environment and a temperate climate more like Seattle than Anchorage. The numerous islands create a protected waterway, called the Inland Passage, that permits travel and communication by water.

The Tlingits are the northernmost nation of the Northwest Coast peoples, who range from southern Alaska to the coast of Oregon. These coastal groups created luxurious societies founded upon the abundant resources of the forest and the sea.

To this day, the livelihood of the Tlingit people continues to be linked to the bounty of the natural world. The people maintain interests in both fishing and forestry, industries that have supported the Tlingits for centuries.

Southeast Alaska: The coast of southeast Alaska, with its islands, inlets, estuaries, fjords, and rivers, is the home of the Tlingit people.

Tlingit women achieved fame for their finely twined spruce root baskets decorated with dyed grass applied in a technique termed "false embroidery." Wealthy basket collectors sought to augment their collections with Tlingit examples.

Baskets, pictured left to right

Trinket Basket
Tlingit peoples, Alaska, pre-1923
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) root, unidentified grass, pebbles? Dye H 14.5 x D 17.2 cm 8946-11a & b, gift of H.J. Heinz

Ernestine Hanlon, Tlingit, Leineid (Raven-Dog Salmon) Clan, Hoonah, Alaska, 1995
Sitka spruce root (Picea sitchensis), unidentified grass, natural dyes H 15.5 x D 14.0 35989-1

Tlingit peoples, Alaska, collected 1904
Sitka spruce root (Picea sitchensis), unidentified grass H 27.3 x D 28.2 3167-57

Berry Basket
Tlingit peoples, Alaska, collected 1904
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) root, unidentified grass, commercial cotton, dye H 17.4 x D 13.8 cm 3167-16

Watch the video: Ixsixán, Ax Ḵwáan I Love You My People