North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

AlaskaThe Tlingit of the Northwest Coast

The coastal Tlingit people live on the beaches and islands in the southeastern Alaska Panhandle, tucked between the tidewater and the rugged coastal mountains. Heavy rainfall creates a luxurious rainforest environment and a temperate climate more like Seattle than Anchorage. The numerous islands create a protected waterway, called the Inland Passage, that permits travel and communication by water.

The Tlingit are the northernmost nation of the Northwest Coast peoples, who range from southern Alaska to the coast of Oregon. These coastal groups created luxurious societies founded upon the abundant resources of the forest and the sea.

To this day, the livelihood of the Tlingit continues to be linked to the bounty of the natural world. The people maintain interests in both fishing and forestry, industries that have supported the Tlingit for centuries.

Image 1: Map
Southeast Alaska: The coast of southeast Alaska, with its islands, inlets, estuaries, fjords, and rivers, is the home of the Tlingit people.

Image 2: Baskets, left to rightBaskets

Trinket Basket
Tlingit, pre-1923
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) root, unidentified grass, pebbles?, dye; H 14.5 x D 17.2 cm; 8946-11a & b, gift of H.J. Heinz

Ernestine Hanlon, Tlingit, Leineid (Raven-Dog Salmon) Clan, Hoonah, Alaska, 1995
Sitka spruce root (Pisea sitchensis), unidentified grass, natural dyes; H 15.5 x D 14.0; 35989-1

Tlingit, collected 1904
Sitka spruce root (Pisea sitchensis), unidentified grass; H 27.3 x D 28.2; 3167-57

Berry Basket
Tlingit, collected 1904
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) root, unidentified grass, commercial cotton, dye; H 17.4 x D 13.8 cm; 3167-16

Tlingit women acheived fame for their finely twined spruce root baskets decorated with dyed grass applied in a technique termed "false embroidery." Wealthy basket collectors sought to augment their collections with Tlingit examples.

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