August 11, 2009

Yakutat Tlingit Clan System


AUTHOR: Kai Monture, age 11
     Kaakutkeich Yoo xat du wasaakw Tlingit tleina.
     Kwaash kikwaan naa aya xat Tiskw Hit dax.
     My name is Kai Monture.
     My clan is the Kwaashkikwaan.
     My house is the Owl house.
     My land is from Icy Bay down to Yakutat.

Yakutat Bay and the area around it was part of the 263 miles of land owned by the Tlingit people. The area they owned was from Katalla to Lituya Bay.The land was owned by five clans.

Each clan had their own area and they each knew from what mountain to what mountain, from what river to what river they owned. Each clan was under one of the two moieties, Raven and Eagle. They all had their own crests and each clan had houses under it. The northernmost clan, the Beaver Clan, owned from Katalla to Icy Bay. The Beaver Clan’s Tlingit name is Galyax Kaagwaantaan. They were always there, and they take Mt. Roberts as their crest.


Humpy Salmon Creek Clan

The area from Icy Bay to Yakutat Bay and out to the Airport was owned by the Kwaash kikwaan or the Humpy Salmon Creek Clan. The Kwaash kikwaan or Gineixkwaan came from the Chitna and the Copper River area. They’re called the copper diggers. They brought copper or tin to the area. Their houses are the Owl House and the Half Moon house.

Brown Bear Clan

From Lost River and on up to Situk and the headwaters of the Aantlaan is owned by the Teikweidei or the Brown Bear Clan. They migrated up from the Ketchikan area. They saw the fire on Mt. Edgecombe when it erupted 950 years ago and claimed it.

Silver Salmon Clan

The Silver Salmon Clan or the L’uknax.adi owned from Akwe River to Lituya Bay. That is my grandfather’s clan. They have seven houses. The Far Out House, the Canoe Prow House, the Frog House, the Mountain House, the Sea Lion House, the Whale House, and the Sleep House.

Thunderbird Clan

The area right above them, the Alsek River area, was owned by the Shangukeidee or the Thunderbird Clan. The Thunderbird is their crest because they left a boy behind while they were coming down through the Alsek River. When they went back feathers were growing on him. The Thunderbird had claimed him.

That is the five clans and their territories. Each clan was protective of their land. Land ownership is one of the biggest laws in the Tlingit culture. You did not fish or hunt on somebody else’s land without their permission. If you did and you were caught your equipment would be broken and you would have to leave. Two areas in Yakutat were purchased because of these incidents.

Hunting & Fishing

The Tlingit people subsisted in seasonal rounds. In the Yakutat area, they hunted black and brown bear with spear and deadfall. For wolf, coyote, and fox they used snares. They used traps to get mink, weasel, and land otter. With bow and arrow, they hunted the mountain goat. They fished Halibut, King salmon, Silver salmon, and Humpy salmon. To fish Halibut they used wooden hooks or nawk in Tlingit. They gathered roots and plants for medicines, and picked berries.

Duties of Children

The jobs of young children long ago depended on the mental and physical capabilities. They had to do whatever they could. They had to pick berries, gather roots and plants, and clean fish. The older they got the harder the tasks became. This is how they learned.

From the time a boy was six or seven he went to stay with his paternal uncle to be trained in the Tlingit culture. He learned how to hunt, trap, set snares, and fish. He also learned the many stories, dances, songs, and the Tlingit laws.

Dances & Stories

The Tlingit people had many songs and dances for medicine, competition, stories, religion, and to make you happy. In Yakutat our dance group is the Mount St. Elias Dancers. We perform many songs and dances for ceremonies and competitions.

The Tlingit have many stories. They have stories of the creation of the land, stories of animals, great heroes, parables, and Kooshdakaa (Tlingit monsters).

Yakutat Now

This is Yakutat now, 102 years later. It is a modern, developed subsistence community. We still have our traditions. We have a dance group. The elders pass on the stories. We hold Potlatches to honor those who have passed on. We still hunt and fish but we use modern equipment like rifles. We go out into the bay to pull nets on steel skiffs instead of kayaks. We have a school with computers. We have an airport with daily flights. It’s still a Tlingit subsistence town 102 years later.

I’d like to say gunacheech (thank you) my grandfather, mother, grandma, and everyone else who helped me write this essay.

Bands, Gens and Clans
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