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Tlingit/Haida/Tsimshian

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The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian live in Southeast Alaska and Western Canada. The Tlingit live the furthermost, occupying the majority of the Alaska Panhandle as well as the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island. The Tsimshian occupy the Nass and Skeena Rivers, on Milbanke Sound and Metlakatla. The Tlingit and Haida people traditionally occupied these areas, while the Tsimshian moved to their present location from Canada. The cultures of these three groups exhibit many similarities, e.g. the complex social organization. Each societal division has its own songs and stories, which are passed down from elders within the group. Some of these are not shared with members of other divisions. Such stories tell the origins of the different groups, how and why they got their name, how they came to occupy their present location, why there is fresh water, as well as many other origin stories.

Potlatches were given for many purposes. They could last for several days and involve the redistribution of vast wealth of the higher divisions of the clan. They were often hosted by one clan, often one individual in particular. Such a person typically had spent a great deal of time saving wealth for the occasion. During the potlatch, goods were distributed to guests who were usually members of other clans. Potlatches were typically held in honor of someone living, to honor and mourn for the deceased, to demonstrate one’s right to a chiefdom, to remove a shameful incident or to demonstrate wealth and prestige.

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