The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak live throughout Southeastern panhandle of Alaska sharing many cultural similarities with groups along the Northwest Coast of North America, a geographic region stretching from Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington state. The Haida (HIGH-duh) live on Prince of Wales Island as well as on Haida Gwaii in Canada. The Tlingit (CLINK-it) live throughout all of Southeast Alaska. The Tsimshian (SIM-shee-ann) people live primarily in Alaska’s only reservation, Metlakatla as well as in British Columbia, Canada. Eyak (EE-yak) are Natives related to the Athabaskans but influenced greatly by the neighboring Tlingit.
The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak have inhabited Southeast Alaska for more than ten thousand years.
The Southeast environment provided plenty, and the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak use the surrounding water for their food and transportation, and wood from the tall trees of the rainforest for their houses and tools. They were accomplished boatmen and traders, and built long canoes out of cedar for traveling. They fished for salmon and halibut, gathered sea plants and berries, and hunted moose, deer, and mountain goat.
Social systems are highly complex. Each group is organized into two equal halves, or moieties, which consist of several clans. The clans are matrilineal, meaning that children inherit through their mother. Traditionally, marriages were arranged between members of the opposite moiety.
Southeast Alaska Native peoples built permanent winter settlements, usually a row of plank houses facing a river or saltwater beach. Each clan lived together, with up to 50 people in one house. Seasonal camps were built as needed, near sources of food and water.
Southeast Alaska Native peoples are talented craftspeople. Intricate weaving techniques are used to create both functional and beautiful pieces-from baskets for cooking and storage to ceremonial robes, floor mats and room dividers to clothing and hats. Their carving can be seen on totems and canoes, as well as utensils and ceremonial objects.