Tlingit, Haida, Eyak & Tsimshian

The Haida (HIGH-duh) are an Indian group that emigrated from Canada and now live primarily in Southeast (Inside Passage) Alaska and Prince of Wales Island. The Tlingit (CLINK-it) population is about 11,000 strong. Tlingits are an Indian group living mostly in Southeast. Tsimshian (SHIM-shee-ann) is a small group from Metlakatla living in Alaska’s only reservation. Eyak (EE-yaks) are Natives related to the Athabaskans but influenced greatly by the Tlingits. The Eyak language is nearly extinct with only one known living speaker.

The Tlingit and Haida were among the first groups to migrate from Siberia over a huge land bridge, revealed during an Ice Age tens of thousands of years ago, that connected Asia with North America. They settled throughout the Southeast and in parts of British Columbia.

Dependent on their environment, the Tlingit and Haida used 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 outside of one's own group.

The Tlingit and Haida built permanent winter settlements, usually a row of plank houses facing a river or saltwater beach. Clans often lived together, with up to 50 people in one house. Seasonal camps were built as needed, near sources of food and water.

The Northwest Coast Indians 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.