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Their explorations filled in many of the blank spaces on Europeans' maps document marrier and document The infamous Nootka Controversy demonstrated the extent to which Europeans and Indians had become invested in each other's lives. After the location of these lands had been determined, no one yet dreamed of a nation that stretched from sea to sea.


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The history of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the Pacific Northwest is in many ways a story of convergence. It is the story of two groups of people—one European and one Indian—converging on the land that we now call home. Each group possessed its own social and political structures, economies, and ways of interacting with the natural environment.

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Alaskan tlingit and tsimshian

Browse Images. Browse Documents. Coastal Alaska is spectacular, if rain-drenched, with rugged mountains and fjords. An archipelago of islands, 80 miles wide and scraped up by continental plates, protects the mainland shore. Covered by forests of spruce, hemlock, cedar, and brush, these lands were home to marten, beaver, mink, deer, bear, Dall sheep, and mountain goat, while the sea teemed with seal, sea otter, and many kinds of fish, particularly salmon and halibut.

In native belief of both Alaska and Siberia, the present world owes much of its form and features to an immortal being called Raven, who combined attributes of spirit, human, bird, genius, and fool.

A god often known as Heaven had a diffuse and distant interest in the world. Among Tlingit, this being is called Shagoonwith a complex meaning that includes ancestors, heritage, origin, destiny, and supreme deity. Throughout the North Pacific Coast, except at the far north, red cedar trees provided natives with logs for posts and molded canoes, or straight grained planks for house sides, bentwood boxes, and essential tools.

Travel was mostly by water because dense undergrowth, thickets of berries and brambles, obstructed land routes, except along river banks. In early spring, rivers run with smelt-like candlefish, so named because their bodies were full of oil that was boiled out for use as food.

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All summer, runs of five different salmon species were processed for storage as winter supplies. Area resources were generally abundant but varied from one local to another. These fluctuations became evened out by towns working together through elaborate kinship networks, social units like houses and clans, and complex international or intertribal relations expressed through rituals.

Expanding northward for centuries, the Tlingit nation most recently consists of three language subdialect regions with 16 component "tribes" which they call qwaaneach with a primary village.

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Neighbors to the south were the Tsimshian, to the west were the Haida, and to the east were Athapaskans who call themselves Dine of Interior Alaska. Further north were the Eyak, remotely related by language ancestry but adopting Tlingit speech and culture over past centuries. The basic unit of Tlingit society was the household, a "house" in the same sense as the House of David or House of Windsor that was a home with three resident social classes of nobles, commoners, and slaves See also: "Slavery among the Indians of Northwest America".

An actual house, the visible form for vital economic, social, political, and religious bonds, was a large rectangle with cedar planks set along the sides and upon a low-sloping, peaked roof held up by four decorated corner posts and a ridge beam.

Inside, the floor was dug down so the sides of the house could hold two or more levels of benches, a platform where people sat and a higher one divided by wooden partitions into sleeping compartments. On the beach in front of the house were canoes, sheds for smoking fish, drying racks, and work areas. At the rear of each house, before or inside its secluded storeroom holding sacred treasures, lived the members of the nobility who owned that house. Their eldest man was the leader of the household, but his mother and sisters provided the links among all the members.

Along the sides lived families of commoners who attached themselves to that house as kin or labor. Beside the oval front door slept slaves, taken in war or the children of such captives, whose lives belonged to their owner, along with all their efforts. Along the sides of the house where they lived, families kept their own open fires for cooking and heating.

In the middle, however, was a large public hearth used to cook meals for the noble owners or Seeking married Potlatch or hispanic woman guests attending a celebration. Houses owned stories epics, sacred histories naming the past people, places, and resources used and thus claimed by clan ancestors. Some of these histories reflect regional patterns over two thousand years old, involved with fishing, berrying, seaweeding, and hunting at locales owned by a specific house. Most stories in the Northwest, therefore, are "copyrighted" by households within clans.

Only a few are phrased in such general terms that they were widely known and used to teach a moral. Each house was like a corporation that held a of these inherited art forms known as "crests", broadly including myths, names, des, songs, dances, carvings, masks, costumes see also "Louis Shotridge, Museum Man: A Visit to the Nass and Skeena Rivers"and the locations of houses, graves, and camps near food resources such as berries, beaches, seaweeds, shellfish, fish, and game.

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Sometimes known as "treasures", each one was "purchased" by a death or other drastic payment. In the famous history of Glacier Bay, a careless girl started a glacier moving that destroyed much of her town until her grandmother sacrificed herself. Since then, descendants in their house and clan have used Glacier as a crest concept and image.

Leaders of houses and clans could be wealthy and generous because they had several wives and slaves to process food and luxury goods needed to maintain a healthy community of contented people. Important knowledge was personally or corporately owned in this region, such that the most important information could be "whispered" only to very close kin. Several corporations may appear to have the same epic, but seemingly minor details or variations featuring a clam, sea urchin, or crab, for example were sufficient in the native view to make them different properties, if not completely different myths.

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For each tribe, its winter towns had a row of big plank houses facing a beach on a sheltered bay. Some towns were surrounded by a wooden palisade for protection, or nobles had a nearby fort where they could flee for safety and defense. In each plank house, several families lived because they were related through women belonging to named houses, clans, and moieties halves, sides, pairs. Steeped in the symbolism of everything having at least two sides, these halves were never political or cohesive entities. Instead, both provided the highest, most general category for organizing their universe as pairs.

Tlingit moieties were either Raven and other Wolf, sometimes also called Eagle. These images could properly appear on backdrops, posts, canoes, feast dishes, ladles, pipes, clothing, blankets, armor, helmets, drums, staffs, rattles, and graves. Members of clans in one moiety were expected to marry into clans of the other, with children inheriting the clan and side of their mother. All through life and at death, the father's side helped, served as witnesses, and then buried the children of their wives. Brothers, therefore, more than fathers were vital to the raising of children, as sisters were much more closely related than wives.

Tlingit law was based in the moiety, clan, and house so any injury to members on the other side had to be made good by payment of goods, services, or property. To settle major disagreements, particularly after a war, a crest might change hands.

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If a low-ranking person killed a chief and the criminal could not arrange compensation from his or her clan, then their own chief might be killed to even the score. Sometimes, hostages known as "deer" were exchanged for eight days as proof of sincere intent to settle differences peacefully. These "deer" rested quietly while all of their needs were anticipated. Tlingits regard a person as a series of layers around a core of mind, soul, and inner feelings.

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The outer body has eight sections, counted by upper and lower limbs twice two arms and two legs. Each birth was a rebirth, a reincarnation of some relative of the mother, to carry on her house and clan. When a boy was about eight he went to live with his mother's brother to learn how to fulfill responsibilities to their house. He came of age when he hunted and killed his first game animal. A girl came of age at puberty, when her father's sister, representing his house, closely supervised her eight-day seclusion, while her own mother and grandmother taught her house traditions.

A girl of high rank was secluded for two years, then ready for an arranged marriage. The birth of each child was celebrated according to family rank. Finally, at death, the opposite moiety took care of the body, wake, and cremation, while the mourners gave full expression to their grief in dirges. Burning the body released the soul to leave the town through the cemetery and forest before climbing a mountain to go to "the other side".

A month later, the mourners potlatched their others in gratitude, expecting the widow or widower to remarry into that house or clan after a year. The bodies of slaves and shamans were treated in other ways.

A Tlingit leader could display the deeds of his predecessors or of himself by hiring a carver. He carefully selected some crest des from those of his elite ancestors to decorate a log which Henry Schoolcraft first called a "totem pole" using an Ojibwa concept. Examples of this beautiful art were done in what is called the form-line style because a flowing black frame outlines each figure.

Such a sculpted pole could serve as a portal into a house, a supporting pillar for the remains of a deceased relative, or a memorial standing on the beach. When it was finished, a huge celebration known as a potlatch, meaning "to give" was held. A crowd of guests helped to set up the pole and then were fed and entertained with food and the epics telling about the figures shown on this artwork. Potlatches were the most distinctive feature of the Northwest, helping to share local bounty, keep track of the shifting loyalties among commoners, and legalize claims to nobly entitled names.

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Each one involved a formal display of crests, privileges, members, foods, and resources in the presence of elite witnesses and guests, who accepted meals and gifts in return for supporting these changes in the social fabric. During this feast and elaborate give-away, a noble family dramatized their clan crests via songs, dances, masks, effigies, and natural rarities. Later, guests would host their own potlatches to share what they had with their former hosts. Throughout the Northwest, each nation held its potlatches at various critical life junctures.

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Tlingit held three major potlatches for piercing the ears of noble children, for funerals, and for memorials when an heir took the place of his mother's brother uncle. Tsimshian held them to mark the death of a leader, while Haida celebrated the house dedication of a mature leader and then his death.

During winter, houses hosted potlatches and other events that were primarily religious, bringing together spirits, ancestors, and the living to celebrate changes in the status, ranking, and lives of kin. Side partitions were removed from inside the house, converting it into an amphitheater holding guests from near and far. Since everything had a soul, these ritual gatherings showed them respect and asked their help in feeding, clothing, and healing people. Each house and clan should have the spiritual, medical, and psychological protection of a native specialist technically known as a shaman, or, more usually among natives, as a doctor.