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Tahltan, The southwestern most tribal division of the Nahane Indians of the Athapascan family. Their hunting grounds include the drainage basin of Stikine river and its tributaries as far as the mouth of Iskut river, Dease lake, and the river halfway to McDanes creek (but according to the old law the head of Dease lake, was Kaska territory, and this assumption of rights has never been acknowledged by the Kaska people, the northern sources of the Nass, and some of the southern branches of the Taku, in Alaska arid British Columbia. In early days the salmon streams flowing into the Stikine from the north, from 4 miles below Glenora to, but not including, Telegraph creek, were claimed and fished by the Stikine tribe of Tlingit, but this overlapping of the two peoples seems to have produced little friction, possibly because the Tahltan had no living places hereabouts, and in the matter of the exchange of the products of the coast and the interior it was of mutual advantage to keep on friendly terms.
The Tahltan have always lived on the upper reaches of the Stikine and near by on the Tahltan and Tuya rivers. In early days their living places were used more as storage depots and were resorted to through the summer months for salmon fishing, which was also the season of ease and feasting, when the pursuit of the furbearing animals was without profit for the Tahltan people have always been hunters and trappers, living in the open throughout the year, meat eaters through necessity and choice, and accepting fish diet only as a change.
The primitive houses were similar to those found in the fishing camps to-day; they were constructed of stout saplings stuck upright in the ground and bound together with bark rope or tree roots and roofed over with slabs of spruce bark. But in camp the typical shelter was a lean-to of bark and brush laid over poles, two being placed opposite each other, with a central fire. Today, throughout most of the year, they live in the same manner, except that canvas has superseded the bark and brush covering.
After the Cassiar gold excitement in 1874 they built a substantial log village on level space upward of a mile and a half from the junction of the Tahltan with the Stikine, which is generally known as Tahltan, though its native name is Goon-tdar-shaga (‘where the spring water stops’). The only other native settlement is at Telegraph Creek, where a number of small log houses have been built to keep pace with the growth of the white settlement.
The social organization of the Tahltan without doubt has developed from association with the coast Tlingit. It is founded on matriarchy and is dependent on the existence of two exogamous parties who intermarry. These parties may be designated, from their totemic emblems, as Cheskea (Raven) and Cheona (Wolf). These are subdivided into families, which assume all the functions of the party and supplement each other at all meetings and on all occasions of ceremony. The family is the unit of social and political life, in which all individuality is merged, succession follows, and inheritance is secured. The families are:
(1) Tuckclarwaydee, of the Wolf party, which, besides having the wolf emblem, is represented by the brown bear, the eagle, and the killer-whale. It originated in the interior about the headwaters of Nags r. This family is credited with having been the first to settle in this country and the founders of the Tahltan tribe.
(2) Nanyiee, of the Wolf party, which, besides having the wolf emblem, is represented by the brown bear, the killerwhale, and the shark. The original home of this people was in the interior, about the headwaters of Taku river, which they descended to salt water and settled among the Stikine Tlingit; in later years they ascended Stikine river and became a family of the Tahltan, while others crossed the trail in still more recent times and joined their brethren.
(3) Talarkoteen of the Wolf party, represented by the wolf crest. They originated in the interior, about Peace river, and followed down Liard river to Dease lake and then crossed to the Tuya. They are nearly extinct.
(4) Kartchottee, of the Raven party, represented by both the raven emblem and that of the frog. This family originated in the interior toward the headwaters of the Taku. Some of the family married among the Tahltan in early days. Another branch descended Stikine river long ago, affiliated with the Kake tribe of the Tlingit people, and generations later their descendents followed up the Stikine and became Tahltan. This is now the most numerous family of the tribe.
The Tahltan live by hunting and trapping. The country is rich in fur-bearing animals and big game. In late years, since hunters have been attracted thither, they have earned considerable as guides, besides working for the trading companies’ pack-teams. They are an adaptable people, who are fast giving up the traditions of the past for the luxuries of civilization, with which their earnings supply them, and in the course of a few years there will be little left of their more primitive life. They numbered 229 in 1909, and have reached that stage where they are holding their own. They are of medium stature, spare rather than stout, and have high cheek-bones, full mouth, aquiline nose rather broad at the base, small hands and feet, coarse black hair, and mild and pleasant expression. On the whole they are an honest, agreeable, kindly people, hospitably inclined and dignified in bearing. In many instances their admixture with the Tlingit is expressed in their features, producing a much less pleasing type.
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