Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Tlingit: The Water Way of Life

For 12,000 years the Tlingit (Klin-kit) people have resided in Southeastern Alaska along the shores of the coastline. Their homeland encompasses the temperate rainforest where the weather is much milder than in Northern parts of the state. The Tlingit relied on the easily obtained abundant seafood. They used canoes for transportation, and killed seals for food and fur.

The language of the Tlingit has existed in written form for only 100 years, so the regalia they wore and the artwork they created have told their stories for thousands of years. The colorful regalia was used for ceremonies and also served as a means of identification.

Tlingit art can be seen everywhere in Southeastern Alaska.
Their stylized art forms are used for decorations.
Many ads use Tlingit artwork as part of their advertising.
The Tlingit are the people who created totem poles. The poles were not used for worship, but rather to tell their history. While American students have always had books from which to learn history, the Tlingit used totem poles as a means of sharing their stories.

Look at the various pictures of totem poles. How are they different? How are they alike? What stories do you think they tell?

Native peoples who cared deeply for the earth, the Tlinglit lived by three simple rules:
1.   Do not waste anything.
2.   Work together harmoniously.
3.   Take only what you need.
These rules would be good for all of us to follow today as we continue to use up Earth’s dwindling resources.

After thousands of years living in harmony with each other and nature—as happened with most native tribes across North America—
eventually Western cultures arrived, changing forever how the Tlingit live. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the government began imposing Western ideals on the Tlingit who were forced off their ancestral lands. Alaska is filled with great riches—gold and other valuable natural resources—and Western leaders wanted them. To gain access to these rich natural resources, the Tlingit were displaced and their lands were seized. Later, when Alaska became the 49th state in 1959, the American government again forced the natives to move promising to provide the Tlingit with citizenship. But the price was high. The Tlingit were expected to give up their language and their cultural identity. For many, this price was simply too high.

Today there are only about 800 Tlingit still living in Southeastern Alaska. As with many other native tribes, for many reasons their numbers have dwindled.

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