Lesson 5: Tlingit

Tomorrow we will discuss Tlinglit society and culture. We are going to focus most of our time on the unique sociopolitical structures seen among Northwest Coast societies, like the Tlingit, and the subsistence strategy. We will also spend time discussing some of the better known (but not always accurately known) parts of Northwest Coast cultures, such as totem poles and potlatches.

Part of the subsistence discussion will center on an article written by Eugene Hunn and colleagues entitled Huna Tlingit Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Conservation, and the Management of a “Wilderness” Park. In this work the authors discuss the application of traditional environmental knowledge to modern conservation issues. They summarize the two critiques against using traditional knowledge, the postmodernism and the conservation-biology. They proceed to argue for a middle ground in which traditional Tlingit knowledge of gull populations is a form of conservationism and should be taken into account when decisions are made about allowing the Tlingit to harvest gull eggs in Glacier Bay National Park. Several important questions arise from this work:

What is conservation? Is it rare for people, in general, to conserve?

Does conservationism exist among small-scale societies or are sustainable practices simply a consequence of low population densities and technology?

Can indigenous environmental ideas be incorporated into modern policies being made by Western societies? Or are the worldviews too different to allow for this?

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