SHI ESTABLISHES FIRST-EVER REGISTRY OF TLINGIT CLAN CRESTS
Institute publishes book about six clan crests based on knowledge from clan leaders, spokespersons; more crests to follow
April 12, 2023
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has established the first-ever registry of Tlingit clan crests— the most important symbols of the history and identity of Tlingit people—and published a book presenting the initial six clans and crests documented for the project.
The book, The Crests of Tlingit Clans, features clan narratives that were prepared from transcripts of oral histories, interviews, videos and speeches given by clan leaders and clan spokespersons representing the clans whose crests are described in the volume.
The book also features imagery of the six crests, which were acquired by ancestors in the ancient past and represent crucial encounters with supernatural beings that determine the unique identity and character of clan members.
The book is based on the registry, and SHI will continue to expand the resource as more crests are added, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“This initial version of the registry presents one crest for each of six clans. There are many Tlingit clans, and SHI will continue to raise funds to document additional clans and crests,” Worl said. “Furthermore, most clans have more than one crest, and the registry will also be expanded to include as many crests as can be documented.”
The book includes short narratives describing the acquisition of the following crests developed from accounts provided by clan leaders and historians:
- Kaawashag̱i G̱ooch (Panting Wolf) Crest of the Kaagwaantaan clan
- Tl’anaxéedáḵw (Wealth-Bringing Woman) Crest of the L’eeneidí clan
- X̱’áakw (Fresh-Water-Marked Sockeye Salmon) Crest of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan
- Xeitl (Thunderbird) Crest of the Shangukeidí clan
- Ḵ’eiḵ’w (Kittiwake) Crest of the T’aḵdeintaan clan
- Tóos’ (Shark) Crest of the Wooshkeetaan clan
The book was edited by SHI’s Senior Ethnologist Chuck Smythe, Ph.D. and published through the institute’s Box of Knowledge series. The book is available through the Sealaska Heritage Store. The registry is posted online on SHI’s website.
This project was supported in part through a grant from the Grants to Indian Tribes, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian Organizations Program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior.
About Tlingit Crests
Crests are the most important symbols of the history and identity of Tlingit clans, acquired by ancestors in the ancient past and representing crucial encounters with supernatural beings that determine the unique identity and character of clan members. Other significant events in clan histories are also memorialized in crests, and they may encapsulate more recent historical events that have shaped the life experiences of clan ancestors and descendants. Crests were acquired by clan ancestors and held in perpetuity by clan members through the generations as sacred clan property. The right to depict the visual representation of the encounter was often acquired as payment for the life of an ancestor, usually the ancestor who was involved in the event. The payment also bestowed on the clan an ownership claim on the crest animal or non-human being and on the place where the encounter occurred, and an exclusive relationship with the supernatural entity involved in the event. Crests embody the supernatural entities depicted on at.óow (sacred property belonging to the clan) including material objects and the stories, songs, and names which represent them. Crests are living beings and their spirits reside in at.óow, which are regarded as alive. (Excerpted from The Crests of Tlingit Clans)
About Box of Knowledge
SHI’s Box of Knowledge Series consists of essays, reports, and books that the institute considers should be made available as a contribution to studies on Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures, history, and languages. They may be based on work carried out by researchers working in collaboration with SHI, contributions prepared by external experts, and work by staff. Publications in the Box of Knowledge Series are available for sale through SHI’s website at www.sealaskaheritage.org.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.