Tlingit Children in Yakutat Tell Oral Histories
Summary by Julia O'Malley


Kaakutkeich Yoo xat du wasaakw Tlingit tleina.
Kwaash kikwaan naa aya xat Tiskw Hit dax.

My name is Kai Monture. My clan is the Kwaashkikwaan.
My house is the Owl house. My land is from Icy Bay down to Yakutat.
Yakutat Bay and the area around it was part of the 263 miles of land owned by the Tlingit people. The area they owned was from Katalla to Lituya Bay.

The land was owned by five clans. Each clan had their own area and they each knew from what mountain to what mountain, from what river to what river they owned. Each clan was under one of the two moieties, Raven and Eagle. They all had their own crests and each clan had houses under it. The northernmost clan, the Beaver Clan, owned from Katalla to Icy Bay. The Beaver Clan's Tlingit name is Galyax Kaagwaantaan. They were always there, and they take Mt. Roberts as their crest.

The area from Icy Bay to Yakutat Bay and out to the Airport was owned by the Kwaash kikwaan or the Humpy Salmon Creek Clan. The Kwaash kikwaan or Gineixkwaan came from the Chitna and the Copper River area. They're called the copper diggers. They brought copper or tin to the area. Their houses are the Owl House and the Half Moon house.

From Lost River and on up to Situk and the headwaters of the Aantlaan is owned by the Teikweidei or the Brown Bear Clan. They migrated up from the Ketchikan area. They saw the fire on Mt. Edgecombe when it erupted 950 years ago and claimed it.

The Silver Salmon Clan or the L'uknax.adi owned from Akwe River to Lituya Bay. That is my grandfather's clan. They have seven houses. The Far Out House, the Canoe Prow House, the Frog House, the Mountain House, the Sea Lion House, the Whale House, and the Sleep House.

The area right above them, the Alsek River area, was owned by the Shangukeidee or the Thunderbird Clan. The Thunderbird is their crest because they left a boy behind while they were coming down through the Alsek River. When they went back feathers were growing on him. The Thunderbird had claimed him.

That is the five clans and their territories. Each clan was protective of their land. Land ownership is one of the biggest laws in the Tlingit culture. You did not fish or hunt on somebody else's land without their permission. If you did your and you were caught your equipment would be broken and you would have to leave. Two areas in Yakutat were purchased because of these incidents.

Hunting & Fishing
The Tlingit people subsisted in seasonal rounds. In the Yakutat area, they hunted black and brown bear with spear and deadfall. For wolf, coyote, and fox they used snares. They used traps to get mink, weasel, and land otter. With bow and arrow, they hunted the mountain goat. They fished Halibut, King salmon, Silver salmon, and Humpy salmon. To fish Halibut they used wooden hooks or nawk in Tlingit. They gathered roots and plants for medicines, and picked berries.

The jobs of young children long ago depended on the mental and physical capabilities. They had to do whatever they could. They had to pick berries, gather roots and plants, and clean fish. The older they got the harder the tasks became. This is how they learned.
From the time a boy was six or seven he went to stay with his paternal uncle to be trained in the Tlingit culture. He learned how to hunt, trap, set snares, and fish. He also learned the many stories, dances, songs, and the Tlingit laws.

Dances & Stories
The Tlingit people had many songs and dances for medicine, competition, stories, religion, and to make you happy. In Yakutat our dance group is the Mount St. Elias Dancers. We perform many songs and dances for ceremonies and competitions.
The Tlingit have many stories. They have stories of the creation of the land, stories of animals, great heroes, parables, and Kooshdakaa (Tlingit monsters).

Yakutat Now
This is Yakutat now, 102 years later. It is a modern, developed subsistence community. We still have our traditions. We have a dance group. The elders pass on the stories. We hold Potlatches to honor those who have passed on. We still hunt and fish but we use modern equipment like rifles. We go out into the bay to pull nets on steel skiffs instead of kayaks. We have a school with computers. We have an airport with daily flights. It's still a Tlingit subsistence town 102 years later.

I'd like to say gunacheech (thank you) my grandfather, mother, grandma, and everyone else who helped me write this essay.


Kaa too wu kin yoo xat du wasaakw
Shugkeidee aya xat
Xeitl hit dax
Kwaashi Kwaan yadi aya xat

My name is Lydia Bogren.
My clan is shungukeidee
I come from the Thunderbird House
I am the grandchild of Kwaashki Kwaan

The little boy who was left behind

The people were at the head of the Alsek River. This river runs very swift so our people pulled canoes with a rope. Along the way they stopped at a camping spot to have lunch. During this time a 4-year-old boy wandered off to go hunting for little birds. The clan finished with lunch and decided to move on, forgetting that the little boy was still out hunting. The clan didn't miss the little boy until they reached the foot of the Alsek River. It would take at least four days, fighting swift currents, to get back to where the boy was. After much discussion and deliberation the clan decided that the by the time they would get back, the boy would not longer be alive. The Shungukeidee decided that it would be dangerous to go back only to find that the boy had perished so the made the difficult decision to remain there and let him go. The Shuggukeidee had a big potlatch when they knew they wouldn't have the boy return to them. Everyone in the clan felt sad that they had lost the boy and had heavy hearts. To heal their hearts and so they wouldn't forget, they composed a song about this sad event.

Many years later they found out that the Thunderbird took care of the boy. When the boy could not find his family he cried. The Thunderbird heard the boy crying, turned himself into a human being and raised the boy in a cave near the mountains. The Thunderbird was very proud of the boy that grew into a strong man, but the Thunderbird realized the boy was very lonesome. The Thunderbird decided to return this man to the Shungukeidee. When he returned to his people, he noticed that he had grown quill on his legs down to his ankles and from his elbows to his wrists. After he returned to his people, he wanted them to belong to the Thunderbird. That is how the Shungukeidee got the Thunderbird Crest.


Yaan Duein yoo xat duwsasakw
Shungukeidee aya xat
Xeitl hit dax
Kwaashki kwaan yadi aya xat

My name is Carl Bogren
My clan is shungukeidee
I come from the thunderbird house
I am the grandchild of kwaashi kwaan

My great great grandfather was Lituya Bay George. He was the last to leave Lituya Bay. Lituya Bay George had such strong feelings about not wanting to lose it, he had laid claim to it. Later on he moved on to Dry Bay. There, he and his daughters worked in the cannery. Lituya Bay George packed mail for miners. His daughter Jennie worked in the cannery from the time she was eleven years old. In order for her to work there they said she was older than she really was. During that time the first house was built in Dry Bay in 1909. When the cannery shut down the children were required by the Territory of Alaska to get an education. My great great-grandmother Jennie was sent to Sheldon Jackson school to get an education but didn't stay very long because they forbid her from speaking her own language.
Dry Bay was pretty much abandoned after the shut down of the cannery, and then the people migrated to Yakutat. In Yakutat, John Peterson and others set out to build one of Yakutat's first tribal houses, which was the Thunderbird house. Before the people moved from Dry Bay to Yakutat, they traveled along the beaches in the summer, and inland over frozen lakes during the winter. When they covered new territory they would drag a stick behind them to mark the trail or make carvings in the trees to keep from walking in circles.


The Tlingits of the Yakutat area occupied all of the Gulf of Alaska, from Cape Fairweather to between Dry Bay and Lituya Bay. The Galyix Kagwantan claimed Controller Bay and the shore almost to Icy Bay. Icy Bay was an important hunting area for the Galyix Kagwantan. They hunted mountain goat, seal and sea otter. The Galyix Kagwantan originally spoke Eyak and settled the Kaliakh River after the flood. Chugach Eskimos claimed Controlled Bay during the 18th century but they were driven off by Tlingits. The Galyix Kagwantan got the name Galyix from their villiage called Galyix at Kaliakh River, and the name Kagwantan was attached to them when a Galyix man married the Kagwantan Chief's daughter. The Galyix Kagwantan is in the Eagle Clan and their crest is the beaver and the wolf.


Chash'tlaa yooxaat dooisaak Yei'l ayaxaat Luk'na-axdi axaat
Gulyeil'Kaagwaataan yatgee

My name is Martha Mallott. I am raven from the frog house and the child of Gulyeil'Kaagwaantaan

Long ago Luk'na-axdi people lived in a big clan house in the Gusex village. Around the 1800s the Luk'na-axdi people stayed in Dry Bay for some time and made a clan house.

Gusex is an Athabascan name. Athabascan people came from the interior and traveled the Alsek River into Dry Bay. They were known as the Gunana people or "foreigners" or "Stick Indians." The Guanana people from the interior were one of the first to settle in Gusex.

The Gunana people were Luk'wa-axdi's, Sockeye people. Because the Luk'wa-axdi were only seasonal people, the Luk'na-axdi's migration into the area was permanent and they eventually acquired Gusex as their own. Gusex grew into the largest Luk'na-axdi village in the Gunaaxoo area.

The Luk'na-axdi people would mainly fish for sockeye, silver salmon, and chum. The main berries that they would pick were salmon berries, strawberries, blueberries, high-bush cranberries and chalk berries. The furs that they would collect were lynx, mink, marten, and land otter. The main crests that they would use were the Frog, Mt. Fairweather, Coho and Boulder.

This is how life was for the Luk'na-axdi in Dry Bay. After the Luk'na-axdis migrated to Yakutat. Life in Yakutat was much different; there were canneries and schools for the children. But they managed to adjust to the change and life in Yakutat was great.

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