Native Heritage

Posted: Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people have lived in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years, but Tlingits are the most numerous of the three in Juneau and the northern panhandle.

Though languages differ, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian (sim-shee-an) share common art, ceremonies and legends - all of which have been shaped by the land and sea. Descendents of the Tlingit and others from this region are prominent in the social and political fabric of modern day Juneau.

Native Art

Southeast Native art is generally described as formline or totemic art - characterized by fluid design units and images depicting creatures of the natural and spiritual worlds.

Because of the region's rich resources and constant food supply, Southeast Natives were able to develop a sophisticated social and cultural life. Wealthy enough to support full-time artists, Southeast Native cultures developed an array of art forms, such as totem poles, masks, ceremonial objects, canoes, boxes, blankets and baskets. Without a written language, Southeast Native societies developed a sophisticated oral tradition and used visual documents to pass on cultural and historical information.

Fishing & Hunting

Salmon were a staple of Southeast clans and were traditionally caught using a fish weir, a trap that restricts fish movement upstream and herds them to accessible locations. On larger rivers, weirs would span the entire width of the river, housing platforms for fishermen to stand on. Sometimes a gillnet was used to trap fish by their gills. Native fishermen caught halibut with a specially decorated V-shaped wooden hook, weighted down by a rock.

In addition to fishing, Southeast Natives frequently hunted for animals such as Sitka black-tail deer, rabbits, mountain goats, black and brown bears, beavers and moose.

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