Oral tradition is a precious source of Teslin Tlingit knowledge, and suggests the presence of Tlingit people in the Yukon further back in time than written history. It is the stories told by our Elders that provide knowledge of Inland Tlingit history and tradition.
The Journey from the Coast
The Teslin Tlingit people are descendants of the Taku Qwan who, in the early 18th Century, moved from the coastal region of Southeast Alaska and settled inland along the shores of the salmon-rich upper Taku River. Here, they started a way of life separate from that of their coastal relatives. By the mid-19th century, the Taku Qwan gradually expanded their contacts with the people who lived on the Yukon plateau while maintaining their social and economic ties with the coast. Trading furs from the interior with coastal Tlingit, the Taku Qwan introduced the first Russian, American and European trade goods to the Yukon.
Life on the Yukon Plateau
At the turn of the 20th century, Tlingit people continued to move their way inland, trading goods at posts first at the southern end of Teslin Lake and later, up the lake, on the west shore of Nisutlin Bay. The construction of the Alaska Highway and Canol Road in the early 1940s brought drastic changes and prompted the semi-nomadic Tlingit population to permanently settle in what today is the Village of Teslin on the shores of bountiful and scenic Teslin Lake. Firmly established in their new geography as a distinct society, they became collectively known as Inland Tlingit.
Though Inland Tlingit people integrated with their Athapaskan neighbours, Tlingit traditions, culture and social patterns have remained largely intact and alive today. Political traditions distinguished Inland Tlingit from other Yukon First Nations: Tlingit people look back to a time when they adhered to strict laws rooted in a sophisticated Clan system. The five Clans still play a prominent role in contemporary Teslin Tlingit society and, into the 21st century, have helped shape the implementation of the modern agreements
Teslin Tlingit Council: A Self-Governing First Nation
The Teslin Tlingit Council Final and Self-Government agreements were enshrined in settlement legislation in 1995, after two decades of negotiations with the governments of Canada and Yukon.
These agreements set the stage for a Teslin Tlingit self-government structure that incorporates traditional Clan culture into contemporary organizational and management principles. From these agreements, the Teslin Tlingit Council draws the authority to enact laws for the governance of 2,428 square kilometres of Settlement Lands located on 27,275 km2 in Yukon Territory and approximately 10,000 km2 in British Columbia of Teslin Tlingit Traditional Territory.
Follow the link below to hear Sam Johnston, past Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, talk about the road to Self-Governance.