Indigenous Peoples Literature


The Tlingit (/ˈklɪŋkɪt/ or /ˈtlɪŋɡɪt/; also spelled Tlinkit; Russian: Тлинкиты) are indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Their language is the Tlingit language (natively Lingít, pronounced [ɬɪ̀nkɪ́tʰ]), in which the name means ‘People of the Tides’. The Russian name Koloshi (Колоши, from a Sugpiaq-Alutiiq term kulut’ruaq for the labret worn by women) or the related German name Koulischen may be encountered referring to the people in older historical literature, such as Grigory Shelikhov‘s 1796 map of Russian America.

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How Raven Brought Light and Why Seagulls Cry

Before humans, the animals lived on the Earth. Each were given a cedar box from the Great Spirit, and when they opened the boxes mountains, rivers, trees and everything nice came out. (It’s the reserve Pandora’s Box!) Thus, the geography of the Earth was made. However, there was a problem. Why was it so dark?! The animals were walking into each other. Birds were flying into mountains. All in all, it was a bad time. So, where was the box full of light? Oh shit. Seagull had it. Not good. Seagull is like it’s MINE! No one is allow to touch it. Then he holds the box protectingly under his wings. But what is a trickster if they don’t have a plan? So, Raven flew up the Seagull and was like, can’t you open the box? Seagull is like mine. Raven flattered Seagull. He begged Seagull. He lied to Seagull. He tried every trick up in his arsenal. And what does Seagull do?

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In Alaska, in the early 19th century, the Tlingit – an indigenous people of Northwest America – built a final physical barrier to block the advance of the invaders. This place, in fact, was the scene of the last bloody battles between the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Russian soldiers, before Russia colonized the land in 1804. The Russians first invaded Alaska in 1799 and the Tlingit clans successfully repulsed their colonization attempts. However, the indigenous people he had to give in to Russian attacks in the attack on October 1, 1804, forever abandoning the last fort – nicknamed Shiskinou (meaning “village fortress”). Historical descriptions of the location of the fort were based on the features of the nearby landscape, offering only a general suggestion where the fort was located. However, the exact location has always remained uncertain. All this until new research found the fort’s unusual perimeter shape in Sitka National Historical Park, at the mouth of Kasda Heen (Indian River).

Indigenous Peoples Literature


Shark, Raven, Bird, Human. What does it mean to find these life forms intermingled within a singular piece, in the shape of a rattle? In Tlingit society, the interactions among these beings and the mythologies associated with them represent cultural interpretations of individual and clan relationships. Specific aspects of these relations and beliefs led to the amalgamation of stylized versions of marine animals, birds, and other enigmatic figures in this hand-held rattle carved from wood. This “Dance Rattle”—aptly described as the “Shark on Raven” rattle—was an object purchased by art collector and ethnologist Louis Shotridge (Tlingit) during the 1927 Wanamaker Expedition to acquire Northwest Coast Native objects. During the late 1800s to early 1900s, the Canadian and American governments began pressuring Native people to set aside their cultural objects and adopt aspects of Western culture. Shotridge observed that many Tlingit objects were leaving their communities of origin, and landing in museums. The Free Museum of Science and Art (forerunner to the Penn Museum) had only a small collection of Northwest Coast Native objects, but Shotridge was determined to improve the representation of Tlingit culture at Penn. He persuaded Museum Director George Byron Gordon to fund travel expenses to Southeastern Alaska to collect objects for the Museum. According to Associate Curator Lucy Fowler Williams, these were the first University Museum expeditions led by a Native person, and Shotridge “found the Museum to be a safe haven for Native materials.”

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Tlingit ‘Raven’ story

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ONE DAY, MY SON asked me, “How do we know if history is true?” He was 9 years old at the time, and his question shocked me. I explained to him that there are those who remember what happened, there is the evidence of what happened, and there are those who write it down. I told him that if enough of the stories match, then we all agree — that is what happened. I reminded him that this is how it “easily” works when the written word is the documentation for history, and that when it comes to Native history, we have to get the story right every time we tell it. High-level discussion with a 9-year-old. But his question has immediate relevance to this exhibition. There are countless Raven stories in the Tlingit community, and there are many versions of how Raven came to bring the light to the world. The stories are not necessarily contradictory, but they do emphasize different points and have different details, depending on whom the caretaker of that story was and how he or she was taught to tell the story. During the four years that glass artist Preston Singletary and I have been working on an exhibition with Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, he and I have continuously wrestled with questions at the intersection of oral history, the defining nature of art and the universal elements contained within this particular Raven story.

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Culture of the Tlingit

The culture of the Tlingit, an Indigenous people from Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon, is multifaceted, a characteristic of Northwest Coast peoples with access to easily exploited rich resources. In Tlingit culture a heavy emphasis is placed upon family and kinship, and on a rich tradition of oratory. Wealth and economic power are important indicators of status, but so is generosity and proper behavior, all signs of “good breeding” and ties to aristocracy. Art and spirituality are incorporated in nearly all areas of Tlingit culture, with even everyday objects such as spoons and storage boxes decorated and imbued with spiritual power and historical associations.

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According to the folklore of the Tlingit people in what is now the northwestern USA, sailors who disappear at sea are said to be tricked and killed by the Kushtaka. These malicious creatures can switch between the form of a man and the shape of an otter. They can imitate the sound of a crying baby to lure innocent people and then tear them apart. However, the species is not inherently evil and there are many tales of Kushtaka saving people from a frozen death. Some stories tell of Kushtaka finding travelers who are freezing to death, and who are beyond help. Knowing that they cannot warm the human in time to save him, they turn him or her into a fellow Kushtaka, which allows the person in question to survive the horrible cold. This is a mixed boon: while the newly transformed Kushtaka is saved from death, they can no longer live among the humans.

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Tlingit Myths

“No one knows just how the story of Raven really begins,” says Dekinā’k of the Box House people in Sitka, Alaska, “so each starts from the point where he does know it.” Could there be a more perfect way of introducing a creation myth than this? The importance of Raven to the stories of the Tlingit — who settled in southeastern Alaska around 10,000 years ago — would be hard to overestimate. Raven is a culture hero and trickster (like Prometheus), a shape-shifter (like Proteus), but he is also the creator of the earth. Back when there was no light in the world because a rich old man on the Nass River kept it all to himself, Raven “thought over all kinds of plans for getting this light into the world and finally he hit on a good one.” The rich old man who kept all the light to himself had a daughter, whom Raven impregnated by transforming himself into a small piece of dirt in a drop of water, which she swallowed.

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The Tlingits didn’t wear long headdresses. Instead, both men and women sometimes wore basketry hats made of finely woven spruce root. The designs and patterns of these hats often displayed a person’s status and family connections. The Tlingits painted their faces with different colors and designs for different occasions, and often wore Indian tribal tattoos. Tlingit women often wore their hair in two long braids, while men usually left theirs long and loose. Like other Northwestern Indians, Tlingit men often wore mustaches and beards.


Tlingit Myths and Texts: Online book about the mythology of the Tlingit tribe.

Tlingit Creation Story:

Raven: Tlingit myths about the life and deeds of Raven.

How Mosquitos Came To Be: Tlingit folktale about the origin of mosquitoes.

Tlingit Transformation Tales: Tlingit legends of Salmon Boy and the Bear Mother.

Katlian and the Iron People: Early 19th-century legend of a brave Tlingit chief’s encounters with the Russians.

Inviting The Bears: Tlingit legend about a man who threw a feast for the bear people.

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The Star Shooter

The Arrow Chain: Tlingit stories about a boy who rescued his friend from the moon.

Raven and the Tides: Tlingit myth about the origin of the tides.

The Woman Who Married A Frog: Tlingit legend about a woman turned into a frog for her vanity.

Natsilane: Tlingit legend about the origin of the killer whale.

Beaver and Porcupine: Tlingit legend about a friendly rivalry between two animals.

Native Alaskan Stories: Eight Ahtna, Tlingit, and Eskimo legends presented by a Native Alaskan educational organization.


Raven Tales are unique to Tlingit culture. Although the tales are associated with the Raven moiety, most are shared by any Tlingit regardless of clan affiliation and make up of the stories told to children. Raven Cycle stories are often shared anecdotally, the telling of one inspiring the telling of another. Many are humorous; some are serious, imparting Tlingit morality and ethics, and others belong to specific clans and may only be shared with permission. Some of the most popular are Pacific Northwest tribal creation myths. The Raven Cycle stories have 1 Raven characters, although most storytellers do not clearly distinguish them. One character is the creator, Raven, who is sometimes identical to the Owner of Daylight. The other is the childish Raven: selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. Comparing several stories reveals logical inconsistencies between the two, which is usually explained by their setting in a mythical place and time in which the rules of the modern world did not apply.

Tlingit Myths

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>