The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak live throughout Alaska's Southeastern panhandle — the Inside Passage region — sharing many cultural similarities with groups along the Northwest Coast of North America, from Alaska to 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 Metlakatla, Alaska’s only reservation, and British Columbia, Canada. Eyak (EE-yak) are Alaska Natives related to the Athabascans but influenced greatly by the neighboring Tlingit.
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.
Visit the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan to learn about traditional and modern carving techniques, and to see the craftsmanship of totems hundreds of years old. In Sitka, experience the drumming and hear traditional stories shared by the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers at the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House. The Sealaska Heritage Institute, in the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau, continues the arts, cultural, and language traditions of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples through workshops, classes, and collections.
The Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak have inhabited Southeast Alaska for more than ten thousand years. Southeast Alaska's maritime environment provides plenty. Salmon and halibut, sea plants, berries, moose, deer, and mountain goat remain important food sources today. The water supplies food and transportation, while wood from the tall trees of the temperate rainforest contributes housing and tools. The people of Southeast Alaska were accomplished boatmen and traders and built long canoes out of cedar for traveling.
Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak 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.
Learn more about Alaska Native Culture.