Tlingit Artists

Teri Rofkar

Charles Skultka Jr





"There is an old story that says how some strange people came from the western ocean. Among them were two sisters. They landed on Dall Island in Southeastern Alaska. There the sisters met and married men whose people were coming down the rivers from interior North America. One sister went with her family to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Her children grew and multiplied into the Haida Nation. The other sister went with her family to Prince of Wales Island. She became the ancestress or Mother of the Tlingit Nation." (The Proud Chilkat by Brendan and Lauri Larson. 1977) The origin of the Tlingit people is not certain. It is possible the people came from the coast of Asia and Japan migrating north and east across the Aleutians and Gulf of Alaska into Southeast Alaska. Art forms and physical features of the Tlingit are similar to some Pacific groups. Over 300 years ago, a few Tlingit clans from Prince of Wales Island, the Stikine River Valley, the Nass River Valley and Kupreanof Island came north and established villages at Klukwan--the Mother Village: Kalwaltu; Yandestaki; and Chilkoot Lake. Other camps were Taiyasanka Harbor, Tanani, the mainland near Sullivan Island and Dyea.

The ocean provided not only food, but also a transportation corridor. Highly skilled navigators with seaworthy canoes, the Tlingit thought nothing of paddling for days in any direction. The Chilkats and Chilkoots also had overland routes to the interior. A great trade empire was established from interior Alaska/Canada south to northern California. In the Americas, this trade empire was rivaled in size only by the Incas. The Chilkat Valley and Lynn Canal inhabitants (Chilkats and Chilkoots) had trade access with the Athabascan Indians over the Chilkat, Chilkoot and White Pass routes. These trade routes were jealously guarded, especially with the coming of the Russian and Hudson Bay Co. fur traders in the 1700's. Highly skilled traders, the Chilkats and Chilkoots would meet the Russian and English ships towards the end of the Chilkat Peninsula to trade far away from the overland trade routes. They would then take the goods over their trails to trade with the interior Indians.

Source: Sheldon Museum.

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