Manuscript to be key element of clan conference
September 23, 1992
The Southeast Tribal Council voted in August to sponsor a Conference of Clans in April 1993. SEATC is a consortium of tribal governments, most of which are organized pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act. The conference will be hosted by the Chilkat Indian village and will take place in Klukwan.
I initially proposed the idea for a clan conference in late 1989, at the time the Southeast Subsistence Commission was organized. The original premise for the conference was to reaffirm the customs and traditions of the Alaska Tlingit and Kaiganii Haida clans.
I reaffirmed the call for the Conference in December 1991. Shortly afterward members of the SEATC expressed interest in sponsoring the conference. In the meantime, the list of invitees expanded to include all those surrounding tribes that are organized “Tlingit-style,” includlng the Southern Tutchone, the Tagish, the Tahltan (all Athabaskan tribes), and the Alaska Tsmishian of Metlakatla.
From time immemorial there have been a number of large-scale memorial ceremonies, potlatches and other tradition-based gatherings. In contemporary times, large-scale church, cultural and political gatherings are not uncommon. There has never been a meeting like the proposed clan conference, in which representatives of all respective Tlingit clans will be invited and encouraged to participate.
The conference will have a working format, with formal presentations and a series of workshops on specific topics. A steering committee consisting of representatives of SEATC, Huna Totem Heritage Foundation, Kake Tribal Heritage Foundation and Klukwan Heritage Foundation will meet in early October to begin the conference plannmg process. Over the course of the next few months, I will write in this column about various aspects of the conference.
There are some 75 clans among the Tlingit of Alaska, British Columbia and Yukon. These clans are divided about evenly between the two sides or moieties, the Raven and the Wolf. The clans have about 250 clan house subdivisions. George Emmons lists 18 tribes in his book on the Tlingit, from Galyax Kwaan (Tribe/People of Galyax, the Kalkiakh River or the Yakataga-Controller Bay area south of Cordova) to Taanta Kwaan (Sea Lion Tribe/People – also known as Taangaash Kwaan) at the extreme southern tip of Southeast Alaska.
The 250 clan houses were documented in the late 19th century and early to mid 20th century by a number of different individuals, including John Swanton, Louis Shotridge, Ronald Olson, Frederica deLaguna and George Emmons. Though there are only a handful of clan houses still physically standing in the communities mentioned above the following principie of Tlingit law applies. It was documented by Emmons in his 1916 article “The Whale House of the Chilkat.
“A name once given (to a clan house) survives the mere structure,”
Emmons came to Alaska in 1882 as a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Adams. He had an active interest in ethnography and studied TIingit customs and history and collected Native artifact, (mostly Tlingit). Emmons began writing a book on the Tlingit in the late 1880s, working on it until his death in 1945, but never completing it.
DeLaguna began editing the Emmons manuscript in the mid 1950s on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. She completed the job in the late 1980s and the Emmons manuscript was formally published by the University of Washington Press last fall.
“The Tlingit Indians” is certainly a major contribution to the literature of the Tlingit, though the parts left out of the book certainly are at least of equal value. The guts of the manuscript was the chapter “The History of Tlingit Tribes and Clans,” which inexplicably was left out of the book. I say this because I believe that without an understanding of Tlingit clan relations, one will never have a true appreciation of the Tlingit.
I had been aware of the Emmons manuscript for years; indeed, I had obtained a copy from University of Victoria archives in the late ’70s, though it was stolen shortly after I received it. I tried to secure a copy of the Emmons papers from the American Museum of Natural History in the early 80s, but was told they weren’t available because deLaguna was editing them for publication.
I renewed my request after publication of “The Tlingit Indians.” With the cooperation and support of deLaguna, the museum provided me a copy of the manuscript in July of this year.
“The History of Tlingit Tribes and Clans” portion of the Emmons manuscript runs some 200 handwritten pages. The first part is composed of historical outlines of the 18 tribes of the Tlingit, with narratives of how the communities were settled. It also includes clan and clan house listings. He provides explanations of the Tlingit names of these tribal communities:
“SheeAtika (People of or on Shee) Baranof Island, their territory was named Shee from Shee.ee (the limb of a tree) because of its shape, a length of land decreasing in width from the north to its termination at Cape Omaney and cut on both sides by deep arms, suggesting a great limb with numerous branches. In later years, tika (outer edge) was added, making the name SheeAtika Kwaan, which would seem to refer to the people or tribe living on the seaward or outside of the island, as all the permanent settlements were on the western shore.”
The second part of this chapter contains more detailed histories of clans, clan houses and clan crests. The Raven clans are grouped together, as are the Wolf clans. Emmons groups the Wolf clans with the river systems on which they migrated to Southeast Alaska, which provides a rare, comprehensive picture of clan relations.
The Emmons manuscript will serve as an important source document for the clan conference steering committee. Though a number of anthropologists and ethnographers have documented Tlingit clan and clan house names, the Tlingit have never done so themselvees. The clan conference will provide the Tlingit with an opportunity to build upon documentation left by people like Emmons.
Andy Hope is president of Before Columbus Foundacause lion, a nationwide group organized in 1976 to pro- mote and disseminate American multi-cultural litera- ture.