Culture & Heritage

About KIC's Totem Poles

KIC Dance Group Photos


Ketchikan Indian Community is composed of three main indigenous groups. They are the people of the Haida, Tligit and Tshimsian nations. Below is a snapshot of their history and cultures taken from Wikipedia. Links for further information about these people have been provided below each section.

The Haida are an indigenous nation of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The Haida territories comprise the archipelago of the Queen Charlotte Islands, known in the Haida language as Haida Gwaii ("land of the Haida"), and the southern half of Prince of Wales Island in the southernmost Alaska Panhandle, which is the home of a subgroup called the Kaigani Haida. Haida territories lie in both Canada and the United States, as do those of the Tlingit, and Tsimshian.

The term "Haida Nation" refers both to the people as a whole and also to their government on Canadian territory, the Council of the Haida Nation; the government for those in the United States is the Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Their ancestral language has been classified as one of the Na-Dene languages, but today is usually considered to be a language isolate. In addition to those Haida residing in the Queen Charlottes and Prince of Wales Island, there are also many Haidas in various urban areas in the western United States and Canada.

Haida society continues to be very engaged in the production of a robust and highly stylized art form. While frequently expressed in large wooden carvings (totem poles), Chilkat weaving, or ornate jewelry, it is also moving quickly into the work of populist expression such as Haida manga. Haida art is a leading component of Northwest Coast art.

Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay




The Canadian Museum of Civilization offers a detailed look at the Haida, who were known for their seamanship, their martial inclination and their practice of slavery. Museum anthropologist Diamond Jenness has compared the tribe to Vikings. The Museum indicates that the Haida also "created notions of wealth", and credits the Haida with the introduction of the totem pole and the bent box.

According to the Museum, like other groups on the Northwest Coast, the Haida defended themselves with fortifications, including palisades, trapdoors and platforms. They took to water in Pacific Northwest canoes, large enough to accommodate as many as 60 paddlers, each created from a single Western Red cedar tree. The aggressive tribe were particularly feared in sea battles, although they did respect rules of engagement in their conflicts. The Haida developed effective weapons for boat-based battle, including a special system of stone rings weighing 18 to 23 kilograms (40 to 51lb) which could destroy an enemy's dugout canoe and be reused after the Haida pulled it back with the attached cedar bark rope. The Haida took captives from defeated enemies. Between 1780 and 1830, the Haida turned their aggression towards European and American traders. Among the half-dozen ships the tribe captured were the Eleanor and the Susan Sturgis. The tribe made use of the weapons they so acquired, utilizing cannons and canoe-mounted swivel guns.

In 1856, an expedition in search of a route across Vancouver Island was at the mouth of the Qualicum River when they observed a large fleet of Haida canoes approaching and hid in the forest. They observed these attackers holding human heads. When they came to the mouth of the river, they came upon the charred remains of the village of the Qualicum people and the mutilated bodies of its inhabitants, with only one survivor, an elderly woman, hiding terrified inside a tree stump. Also in 1856, the USS Massachusetts was sent from Seattle to nearby Port Gamble, where indigenous raiding parties made up of Haida (from territory claimed by the British) and Tongass (from territory claimed by the Russians) had been attacking and enslaving the Coast Salish people there. When the Haida and Tongass (Cape Fox tribe Tlingit) warriors refused to acknowledge American jurisdiction and to hand over those among them who had attacked the Puget Sound communities, a battle ensued in which 26 Native Americans and one government soldier were killed. In the aftermath of this, Colonel Isaac Ebey, a US military officer and the first settler on Whidbey Island, was shot and beheaded on 11 August 1857 by a small Haida fleet, in retaliation for the killing of a respected Haida citizen during similar raids the year before. British authorities demurred to pursue or confront any northern indigenous nations as they passed northward through waters the British nevertheless claimed authority over and Ebey's killers were never caught.

For further information about the Haida people, please visit:


The culture of the Tlingit, an Indigenous people from Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon, is multifaceted and complex, 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.

Potlaches (Tl. koo.éex' ) were held for deaths, births, naming, marriages, sharing of wealth, raising totems, special events, honoring the leaders or the departed.

The memorial potlatch is a major feature of Tlingit culture. A year or two following a person's death this potlatch was held to restore the balance of the community. Members of the deceased family were allowed to stop mourning. If the deceased was an important member of the community, like a chief or a shaman for example, at the memorial potlatch his successor would be chosen. Clan members from the opposite moiety took part in the ritual by receiving gifts and hearing and performing songs and stories. The function of the memorial potlatch was to remove the fear from death and the uncertainty of the afterlife.

A large group dancing at a totem pole raising celebration in Klawock, Alaska, 2005

The greatest territory historically occupied by the Tlingit extended from the Portland Canal along the present border between Alaska and British Columbia, north to the coast just southeast of the Copper River delta. The Tlingit occupied almost all of the Alexander Archipelago, except the southernmost end of Prince of Wales Island and its surroundings, where the Kaigani Haida moved just before the first encounters with European explorers. Inland, the Tlingit occupied areas along the major rivers which pierce the Coast Mountains and Saint Elias Mountains and flow into the Pacific, including the Tatshenshini, Chilkat, Taku, and Stikine rivers. With regular travel up these rivers, the Tlingit developed extensive trade networks with Athabascan tribes of the interior, and commonly intermarried with them. From this regular travel and trade, a few relatively large populations of Tlingit settled around Atlin, Teslin, and Tagish Lakes, whose headwaters flow from areas near the headwaters of the Taku River.

Delineating the modern territory of the Tlingit is complicated by because they are spread across the border between the United States and Canada, by the lack of designated reservations, other complex legal and political concerns, and a relatively high level of mobility among the population, as well as overlapped territory with various Athabascan peoples such as the Tahltan, Kaska and Tagish. In Canada, the modern communities of Atlin, British Columbia (Taku River Tlingit), Teslin, Yukon (Teslin Tlingit Council), and Carcross, Yukon (Carcross/Tagish First Nation) have reserves and are the representative Interior Tlingit populations. The territory occupied by the modern Tlingit people in Alaska is however not restricted to particular reservations, unlike most tribes in the contiguous 48 states. This is the result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) which established regional corporations throughout Alaska with complex portfolios of land ownership rather than bounded reservations administered by tribal governments. The corporation in the Tlingit region is Sealaska Corporation which serves the Tlingit as well as the Haida and Tsimshian in Alaska. Tlingit people as a whole participate in the commercial economy of Alaska, and as a consequence live in typically American nuclear family households with private ownership of housing and land. Many also possess land allotments from Sealaska or from earlier distributions predating ANCSA. Despite the legal and political complexities, the territory historically occupied by the Tlingit can be reasonably designated as their modern homeland, and Tlingit people today envision the land from around Yakutat south through the Alaskan Panhandle and including the lakes in the Canadian interior as being Lingít Aaní, the Land of the Tlingit.

Hoonah, Alaska, a traditional Tlingit village near Glacier Bay, home of the Xúnaa Kháawu

The extant Tlingit territory can be roughly divided into four major sections, paralleling ecological, linguistic, and cultural divisions. The Southern Tlingit occupy the region south of Frederick Sound, and live in the northernmost reaches of the Western Redcedar forest. North of Frederick Sound to Cape Spencer, and including Glacier Bay and the Lynn Canal, are the Northern Tlingit, who occupy the warmest and richest of the Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock forest. The Inland Tlingit live along the large interior lakes and the drainage of the Taku River as well as in the southern Yukon territory, and subsist in a manner similar to their Athabascan neighbors in the mixed spruce taiga. North of Cape Spencer, along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska to Controller Bay and Kayak Island, are the Gulf Coast Tlingit, who live along a narrow strip of coastline backed by steep mountains and extensive glaciers, and battered by Pacific storms. The trade and cultural interactions between each of these Tlingit groups and their disparate neighbors, the differences in food harvest practices, and the dialectical differences contribute to these identifications which are also supported by similar self-identifications among the Tlingit.

For further information about the Tlingit people, please visit:


The Tsimshian (Sm'algyax: Ts’msyan) /'sɪm.ʃi.æn/ are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Tsimshian translates to Inside the Skeena River. Their communities are in British Columbia and Alaska, around Terrace and Prince Rupert and the southernmost corner of Alaska on Annette Island. There are approximately 10,000 Tsimshian. Their culture is matrilineal with a societal structure based on a clan system. Early anthropologists and linguistics grouped Gitxsan and Nisga'a as Tsimshian because of linguistic affinities. Under this terminology they were referred to as Coast Tsimshian, even though some communities were not coastal. The three peoples identify as separate nations. There are many other ways to spell the name, like Tsimpshean, Tsimshean, Tsimpshian, and others, but this article will use the spelling "Tsimshian".


In 1862 smallpox annihilated 80% of Tsimshian population over three years time. Further epidemics ravaged their communities for many years.

In the 1880s the Anglican missionary William Duncan, with a group of Tsimshian, requested settlement on Annette Island from the U.S. government. After being approved, the group founded New Metlakatla in Alaska. William Duncan later requested the community gain reservation status, which after approved, makes this the only Native reservation. They maintained their reservation status and holdings exclusive of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and thus do not have an associated Native Corporation, although Tsimshian in Alaska may be shareholders of the Sealaska Corporation. The Annette Island reservation is the only location in Alaska allowed to maintain fish traps, which were otherwise banned when Alaska became a state in 1959. The traps are used to provide food for people living on the reservation.

In British Columbia, the governments of Canada started engaging in the British Columbia Treaty Process with First Nation bands in the province. Originally the Tsimshian First Nations pursued negotiations until late 2005 when the Tsimshian Tribal Council, the organization for representing each of the First Nations in treaty negotiations, dissolved amid legal and political turmoil.


Like all Northwest Coastal peoples, they thrived on the abundant sea life, especially salmon. It was a staple for many years and continues to be, despite large-scale commercial fishing. This abundant food source enabled the Tsimshian to live in permanent towns. They lived in large longhouses, made from cedar house posts and panels. These were very large, and usually housed an entire extended family. Cultural taboos centered around women and men eating improper foods during and after childbirth. Marriage was an extremely formal affair, involving several prolonged and sequential ceremonies.

Tsimshian religion centered around the "Lord of Heaven", who aided people in times of need by sending supernatural servants to earth to aid them. The Tsimshian believed that charity and purification of the body (either by cleanliness or fasting) was the route to the afterlife.

As with all Northwest Coastal peoples, the Tsimshian engage in the potlatch, which they refer to as the yaawk or "feast." In Tsimshian culture today, the potlatch centers primarily around death, burial, and succession to name-titles.

The Tsimshian were a seafaring people, like the Haida.

The Tsimshian live on in their art, their culture and their language, which is making a comeback. In a highly controversial agreement, the Nisga'a people recently gained autonomy from Canada by the government of British Columbia.

Like other coastal peoples, the Tsimshian fashioned most of their goods out of Western red cedar, particularly from its bark, which could be fashioned into tools, clothing, roofing, armor, building materials and canoe skins. They used cedar in their Chilkat weaving, which they are credited with inventing. The Tsimshian had the misfortune of being the nearest and most favored victims of Haida depredations, though particular Tsimshian chiefs were close allies of certain Haida chiefs.

The Tsimshian were attacked by the Tlingit, Haida, the Athapaskan groups in the north, the Dunne-Za in the east, and the Kwakiutl groups in the south.

For further information about the Tsimshian people, please visit: