North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World
We Talk to the Trees
Dense evergreen forests rise up immediately behind the narrow strips of beach
in southeast Alaska.
The forests of the Pacific Coast stand ready to supply many daily needs.
Once, the raw materials from the forest provided the basis for nearly everything
that the Tlingit used. Women constructed their baskets from materials harvested from conifer
trees—Sitka spruce roots and the inner bark of the western red cedar. They acheived fame for
these finely twined baskets decorated with dyed grass applied in a technique termed "false
Northwest Coast men are renowned for their tradition of wood carving and painting.
They carve everything in wood, from monumental totem poles and canoes, to
delicate face masks.
Image 1: Spruce Root Hat
Tlingit, collected 1904
Conifers cover over 50 percent of southeast Alaska. Western hemlock
and Sitka spruce are the most abundant. The Sitka spruce, Alaska's
state tree, grows to 225 feet in height and to eight feet in diameter,
and it can live to be 700 years old.
Tlingit women devised a technique for weaving containers and hats
from the roots of the Sitka spruce tree. Both women and men wore this
type of common work hat, particularly for canoe travel.
Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) root, cedar?; H 22.0 x D 44.0
Image 2: Frontlet
Tsimshian, collected 1904
This type of frontlet is worn as a headdress, usually with a
trailer of ermine skins. As a dancer shakes his head from side to
side during the dance, white bird down floats out from the crown of
sea lion whiskers.
Maple? (Acer sp.), mineral paints; L 9.8 x W 16.6 x H 16.2