Tlingit Chief with Tlingit people, mannequiin of Chief's costume to right
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Tlingit Chief.
Nobility and rank are prominently displayed in the clothing and accoutrements of this Tlingit chief, seen with his ceremonial staff as he might look presiding at a potlatch. His robe, a prestigious Chilkat blanket, is woven from cedar bark and mountain goat wool. His apron and leggings are of similar make. His spruce root hat is ornamented with animal totems. Outside contacts and trade are indicated by his abalone shell nose ring.

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map showing Tlingig northwest Coast territories in Alaska
The Tlingit are the northenmost of the Northwest Coast peoples (which also includes, among others, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Nootka, Salishan, Chemakum, Chinook, and Makah) who lived traditionally by fishing and hunting marine animals and built large plank houses, totem poles, and ocean-going dugout canoes. They were skillful traders and utilized their excess wealth on luxuries given away at splendid feasts (potlatches) which served to honor the dead and to maintain or elevate the rank of aristocrats. The Tlingit comprised four groups or tribes: Southern, Northern, Gulf Coast, and Inland Tlingit.

Tlingit history has been one of movement and mixing of peoples. Archeological evidence indicates an occupation of the islands and mainland of southeastern Alaska for many centuries, even millenia. According to linguists, the Tlingit language may have split from common roots with Athapaskan about 5,000 years ago. Tlingit traditions tell of small family groups venturing in boats or rafts down the rivers under the glaciers that once arched over the waters, suggesting how early migration might have come from the interior, to mix with resident coastal populations.

Native history indicates changes in coastal populations as far back as 300 years, when Haida from the Queen Charlotte Islands moved north, displacing Tongas Tlingit, and when Northern Tlingit expanded north across the Gulf of Alaska, intermarrying with Athapaskans and exerting strong Tlingit influence on the Eyak.

- Frederica de Laguna
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