Tlingit - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tlingit hunted deer, bear, seals, and goats; fished for salmon, halibut, and herring; and gathered roots, berries, and shellfish. Runs of salmon choked the local streams each year as five species of salmon migrated to their spawning grounds. Fishnets and gaffing hooks were used to haul in large quantities of salmon for smoking and drying for winter consumption. The rapid depletion of the population by foreign diseases and Increased reliance upon proceeds from fur trapping reduced subsistence resources while increasing dependence upon foreign trade goods. Today, the Tlingit value education, resulting in many members working in business, industry, government, and the professions.

Industrial Arts. Carving, basket making, Chilkat blanket weaving, beading, and metalworking were sources of income. Gold and silver coins shaped into bracelets, pendants, and rings were embellished with clan symbols. The active arts and crafts trade that began with the arrival of the early steamship tourists has grown in volume over the years, and several Tlingit villages now have dancing groups that perform for local ceremonies and for tourists.

Trade. An aboriginal trade network flourished between the interior Athapaskans and the Tlingit, between coastal and island Tlingit, and with the neighboring Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian, and Kwakiutl. Native trade goods such as coppers, shells, slaves, canoes, carvings, oulachan oil, and furs were later replaced by European trade goods, including guns, ammunition, knives, axes, blankets, and food.

Division of Labor. Prior to the decline of the traditional culture around 1880, Tlingit men hunted, fished, and carved, and women cleaned fish, gathered food, tanned hides, and wove baskets and blankets. Today, men drive diesel-powered boats equipped with hydraulic hoists and large nets, and women work in modern canneries and make button blankets or beaded moccasins from commercial materials.

Land Tenure. The localized clan was the basic holder of rights to fishing streams, tidelands, and hunting grounds in traditional Tlingit villages. Today, clans own ceremonial and symbolic ritual items. The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act organized the Alaska Tlingit into one large regional corporation, called Sealaska. Sealaska received title to 330,000 acres of land and 660,000 acres of mineral rights; it had total assets of $216 million as of March 1988. Sealaska governs nine village corporations each of which received title to 20,040 acres of aboriginal land and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash payments, depending upon the number of tribal members.

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