Everything From Afar Drifts Ashore
Protected by geographic isolation and a fierce reputation, the Chilkoot and Chilkat Tlingits of northern Southeast Alaska governed themselves in a realm of steep fjords and salmon-rich rivers. Last keepers of the Old Ways, the Chilkoot-Chilkat alliance forbade white settlement, maintained a force of a thousand warriors, and supported a powerful shaman who opposed any occupation of their traditional lands. This northern Tlingit stronghold, Jilkaat aani, posed a real or imagined threat to white people, so most left it alone. A century of Russian economic, religious, and military influence had familiarized the Tlingits with European ways and opened up trade with Spanish, French, and British sailing ships, but no outsiders had successfully made their way into the Tlingit territory.
In 1850 Tlingits removed five canons from a grounded Russian ship that had tried to reach Klukwan, the capital of the Chilkat Tlingits. Those canons are still in our community along with stories about those who raided the grounded ship. In 1852 Chilkat Chief Kohklux first warned, and then successfully raided Fort Selkirk and shut down their Hudson Bay Company operation, which was competing in the Chilkat’s traditional trade area in the interior.