"Not to be confused with the Turkic Telengit people."

Infobox Ethnic group

popplace=USA (Alaska), Canada (British Columbia, Yukon)
rels=Christianity, other
langs=English, Tlingit

The Tlingit (pronEng|ˈklɪŋkɪt in English, also IPA|/-gɪt/ or Tlinkit IPA|/ˈtlɪŋkɪt/, which is often considered inaccurate) are an Indigenous people of northwestern America. Their name for themselves is Lingít (IPA2|ɬɪŋkɪt) , meaning "people". The Russian name "Koloshi" (from an Aleut term for the labret) or the related German name "Koulischen" may be encountered in older historical literature.

The Tlingit are a matrilineal society who developed a complex hunter-gatherer culture in the temperate rainforest of the southeast Alaska coast and the Alexander Archipelago. An inland subgroup, known as the Inland Tlingit, inhabit the far northwestern part of the province of British Columbia and the southern Yukon Territory of Canada. The Tlingit language 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.


The maximum territory historically occupied by the Tlingit extended from the Portland Canal along the present border between Alaska and British Columbia north to the coast just southeast of the Copper River delta. The Tlingit occupied almost all of the Alexander Archipelago except the southernmost end of Prince of Wales Island and its surroundings into which 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 Mountains and Saint Elias Mountains and flow into the Pacific, including the Alsek, Tatshenshini, Chilkat, Taku, and Stikine 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 the Atlin, Teslin, and Tagish lakes, the headwaters of which flow from areas near the headwaters of the Taku River.

Delineating the modern territory of the Tlingit is complicated by the fact that 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 Athapaskan peoples such as the Tahltan, Kaska and Tagish. In Canada, the modern communities of Atlin, British Columbia ( [ Taku River Tlingit)] , Teslin, Yukon (Teslin Tlingit Council), and Carcross, Yukon (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 reservations, 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, Inc. which serves the Tlingit as well as the Haida 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 Yakutat south through the Alaskan Panhandle 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 Sound, and live in the northernmost reaches of the Western Redcedar forest. North of Frederick Sound to Cape Spencer, and including Glacier Bay and the Lynn Canal, 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 Alaska to Controller Bay and Kayak Island, 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.


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.

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, most of the 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 ancestors believed, for inspiration, security, and a sense of identity. This causes some friction in Tlingit society, because most modern Tlingit elders are fervent believers in Christianity, and have transferred or equated many Tlingit concepts with Christian ones. Indeed, many elders believe that resurrection of heathen practices of shamanism and spirituality are dangerous, and are better forgotten.


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. 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 can't 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.

ee also

* Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast
* Taku people

* "Alaska" (1988) a historical novel by James Michener

External links

* [ Anash Interactive] - An online destination where users create comics, write stories, watch webisodes, download podcasts, play games, read stories and comics by other members, and find out about the Tlingit people of Canada.
* [ "Tlingit Myths and Texts"] , John R. Swanton, "Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 39", 1909


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