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Northernmost group of Northwest Coast Indian peoples who inhabit the islands and coast of southern Alaska, U.S. The Tlingit language is thought to be related to Athabaskan. Traditionally the basic social unit was the lineage, based on maternal lines of descent; clans and larger units (moieties) were also important. Each lineage had its own chief, owned and exploited lands of economic importance, and functioned as a ceremonial unit. The Tlingit economy was based on salmon fishing, though sea and land mammals were also hunted. Wood, often decorated with stylized designs, was used for houses, totem poles, canoes, dishes, and other objects. The potlatch marked a cycle of rituals mourning the death of a chief. Early 21st-century population estimates indicated some 22,000 Tlingit descendants.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Tlingit, visit Britannica.com.