Clans Seek Compensation

Tlingit property rights include both tangible and intangible property. A clan’s intangible property includes clan crests, names, designs, songs, and oral traditions. When a clan member was insulted, injured, or killed, whether intentionally or accidentally, and if the offending clan failed to pay the liability resulting from the injury, the clan suffering the injury could take and hold the offending clan’s crest or property until the debt was repaid. This law applied to non-Tlingit. During encounters with the American military, Tlingit clans sometimes took the name or uniform of the military officer responsible for an offense.

Alaska State Library, Three head-men of the Chilkat Tribe (1907), ASL-PCA-39, Case and Draper, Photographs, 1898-1920

Shwáatgi with Sx’andu.oo and Ka-sh-ak


In this photograph, Shwáatgi is on the right with Sx’andu.oo (a shaman) in the middle and Ka-sh-ak on the left.

In 1883, Lt. Frederick Schwatka led an exploring expedition over the Chilkoot Pass to the Yukon River. He hired Yindayáank’ of the Shangukeidí clan from Klukwan as a guide and packer.

When Lt. Schwatka failed to adequately compensate Yindayáank’ for his service, his clan took the explorer’s military uniform and name as payment.

The Shangukeidí transformed his name to “Shwáatgi” meaning “My Schwatka,” a name which is held today by living members of the clan. Clan members also occasionally wear military-style uniform to commemorate this liability.

Military Jackets

This coat is another example of a military-style jacket appropriated by a clan as compensation for an unpaid debt incurred by the US military. This jacket is owned by a member of the Shangukeidí clan and refers to the underpayment by an Army officer, Lt. Schwatka, to Yindayáank’, a Shangukeidí man who was hired as a packer for Lt. Schwatka on his travel over the Chilkoot Pass. Besides the coat, Yindayáank’ took the name of Schwatka, transforming it to Shwáatgi (“My Schwatka”) in recognition of the underpayment.

According to clan history, this military jacket was acquired by three young Kaagwaantaan men who set off in pursuit of a naval ship after a crewman stepped on the blanket worn by their clan leader, tearing the valuable garment.

Several young clan members took off after the sailing vessel and tracked it down in another village. They fired upon a small boat carrying the captain and crew as it approached their hiding place. They boarded the boat, taking the military jacket as compensation for the insult to their leader. They brought the jacket back with them to Sitka as proof that they achieved their mission to avenge the insult to their clan leader.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Collection

Yanwaasháa S’áaxu (Hat of the Kaagwaantaan Women)


Military uniforms were taken by the Deisheetaan, Kaagwaantaan, and Shangukeidí clans for debts owed them by the military. In one case, four Kaagwaantaan were killed by sailors in the late 1800s.  The Kaagwaantaan retaliated and took their uniforms and sailor hats. In a 1904 Sitka Potlatch, Yaakwáan gave the Kaagwaantaan women the name Yanwaasháa and sailor hats.  He gave kerchiefs to the Kaagwaantaan men.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Collection

The ku.éex’ (Potlatch) is still an important ceremonial occasion being practiced by the Kaagwaantaan Yanwaasháa today.

Military Naval Hat


This hat is replicated from a military naval hat and is a navy blue, round, felt hat with glass beads and shell tassels hanging around the edges.  The glass beads are of many different colors strung in a line with a shell at the end of each tassel.  The shells resemble the fluke of a whale.  The hat is Tsimshian in origin.

Felt, glass beads, shell. |  Sealaska Heritage Institute Collection