The Łingít (Tlingit), meaning “people of the tides,” are an Aboriginal people of the Pacific northwest coast of North America, who define themselves as sharing a common cultural heritage. As of September 2015, there were 600 registered Łingít in Canada.

Early Economy

Łingít (coastal) traditional territory.
(courtesy Victor Temprano/Native-Land.ca)

The resources of the coastal regions and the boreal forest around the large lakes forming the headwaters of the Yukon River have always been important to the Łingít livelihood. In the 19th century, most of their ancestors, some of whom had come from the coast, lived on the upper reaches of the Taku River that flows into the Pacific Ocean near Juneau, Alaska. Inland Łingít depended heavily on annual salmon runs in the Taku Basin, but also hunted caribou, moose, sheep and goats, as well as small game, especially marmots and birds.

During the late 1800s, the Łingít moved to the Yukon as a means of accessing its rich fur resources, but also because of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897–99. Their semi-nomadic subsistence pattern was equally adapted to the Yukon, where furbearers were more numerous, but salmon resources were less dependable. Their technology, like that of neighbouring Athapaskans (see Tutchone), was well suited to the hard conditions of the subarctic Cordillera.

The Łingít sometimes feuded with the Tahltan over rights to fish salmon and to control the flow of fine furs from the interior to the coast. Both groups coveted fur of the Liard River Kaska, but were themselves dominated by Łingít living on the coast who monopolized access to European fur traders.

Social Organization

Traditional territory of Teslin and Inland Łingít.
(courtesy Victor Temprano/Native-Land.ca)

Łingít are a matrilineal nation divided into moieties or groups; each moiety consists of many clans. The moieties of the Teslin Łingít or Inland Łingít, for example, include the Raven and the Eagle. The clans belonging to these moieties include: Kùkhhittàn (Raven), Ishkìtàn (Frog), Yanyèdi (Wolf), Dèshitàn (Beaver) and Dakhl’awèdi (Eagle). Łingít in other regions could have different clans. These groups structured rank, marriage and naming practices.

Social relations rested on reciprocal obligations between members of clans in opposite moieties, the most important being associated with death and memorial feasts or potlatches that followed a year or so afterwards and were the occasion of rich oratory, singing and dancing as well as symbolic visual display (see Potlatch). Łingít living inland or on the coast often married one another, and also intermarried with surrounding groups, such as the Athapaskans and Tahltan.

With authority limited to each clan, there were no band chiefs until after the Second World War, when the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Department) instituted elected band chiefs and councils. Today the Łingít in Teslin have their own judicial system.

Culture

Although increasingly acculturated to European society following an early 20th-century gold rush and the development of mining activity near Atlin, BC, and especially after the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942, the Łingít have reclaimed traditional arts and have set up commercial enterprises, such as canoe and snowshoe manufacturing. The Łingít also have a rich oral literature. Poets and writers Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer have edited classic collections of Łingít literature, including: Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives (1987); Haa Tuwunáagu Yís, for Healing Our Spirit: Tlingit Oratory (1990); Haa Kusteeyí, Our Culture: Tlingit Life Stories (1994); and Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká/Russians in Tlingit America: The Battles of Sitka, 1802 and 1804 (2015, edited in association with Lydia T. Black).

Language

Tlingit (or Łingít) is the name of the language spoken by the Nation. Łingít is primarily spoken in Teslin and Carcross, Yukon. The Łingít dialect is part of the Na-Dene language, which is part of the Athapaskan language family. The dialect is spoken mostly in Atlin in northernmost BC and Teslin in adjacent Yukon.

Land Claims

The Inland Łingít signed no treaties. In 1993, the Council of Yukon Indians (now the Council of Yukon First Nations) successfully negotiated a land claims settlement. They have also joined the Council of Yukon First Nations (which succeeded the CYI in 1995) in an effort to bring about a First Nation government to operate in the Yukon along with the territorial and federal governments.

In 1995, after more than two decades of negotiations, the federal and Yukon governments’ Teslin Tlingit Council Final and Self-Government agreements came into effect. The agreements govern more than 10,000 km2 of Teslin Łingít territory and incorporate aspects of the traditional clan culture.