For generations, the Native peoples of Southeast Alaska lived in communal clan houses. These houses were the social centers of the communities and intrinsically tied to the people, their ancestors, and their heritage. Early missionaries and government representatives failed to appreciate the importance of the clan houses to the Native cultures. The break down of the clan house system signaled major changes to the Native cultures of Southeast Alaska.
Over time, the Native peoples of Southeast Alaska developed sophisticated art forms. Even many tools that were used every day were decorated with art forms. Stories, songs, and drama were also important art forms. The traditional regalia of the Southeast Natives can show power, wealth, and lineage. Native peoples respect the opposite clan and their ancestors in the making and handling of the regalia. Importance is placed on the maker of the regalia. Members of the opposite clan are asked to make the regalia. Regalia in Native culture are an acknowledgment of all ancestors who came before.
Traditionally, the tools used by Native people were also works of art. These tools included stone adzes and axes, drills, and carving knives made from stone, bone, or shell.
This unit explores the use of the spruce tree. The roots provided containers for cooking, hats to keep people dry and lashings for many of the tools used. The trunk gives us canoes, paddles and temporary shelters, and the pitch was melted down and used as an antiseptic on cut and burns. Many atóow--clan treasures--are carved from the trunks of spruce trees or woven from the roots.
Although many needs are now met with commercially produced plant products, Tlingit people continue to gather plants for nutritious food, herbal medicine and to create cultural treasures. Tlingits believe everything has a spirit. Respect and thanks are expressed when gathering what nature provides.
We perpetuate, enhance and share Southeast Alaskan Native culture through our Institute, our store, and our True Southeast visitor experience.