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Tahltan Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Tahltan tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Tahltan website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Tahltan pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Tahltan Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Tahltan"? What does it mean?
Tahltan is pronounced similar to "tall-tun." This is the native name for the river that runs through their traditional territory-- the word refers to salmon swimming upstream. In their own language they call themselves Dena, which means "the people." Since many different Athabascan languages share a similar word, they often refer to themselves as Tahltan Dena to differentiate themselves from their kinfolk.

Where do the Tahltans live?
The Tahltan Indians are original people of British Columbia, Canada. Here is a map showing the location of traditional Tahltan lands.

How is the Tahltan Indian nation organized? Do the Tahltans live on a reservation?
The Tahltan Nation in Canada is organized into two bands, known as the Tahltan band and the Iskut band. Each band has its own reserve, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. Tahltan bands have their own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Tahltans are also Canadian citizens and must obey Canadian law.

In the past, each Tahltan band was governed by a headman, or village chief. The headman was always male, and was chosen by clan leaders, usually on the basis of his leadership skills or medicine power and his family's prestige. Today, Tahltan bands are governed by tribal councils. Councilmembers are elected and can be either male or female.

What language do the Tahltan Indians speak?
Tahltan people speak English today, but some Tahltans, especially elders, also speak their native Tahltan language. Tahltan is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Tahltan word, "meeduh'" (sounds similar to may-doo) means "thank you" in Tahltan. You can also read a Tahltan picture dictionary here.

Today Tahltan is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Tahltan people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Tahltan culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to an online museum exhibit about Tahltan culture. There you can find information about the Tahltans in the past and today.


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How do Tahltan Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Tahltan children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. Tahltan mothers traditionally carried their babies in bags on their backs, using a decorated hide strap called a baby belt to hold them in place.

What were Tahltan homes like in the past?
The Tahltans lived in earth houses. Athabaskan earth houses were made by digging an underground chamber, surrounding it with poles and brush, and then packing the whole structure in layers of earth to insulate it. Since Tahltan houses were partially underground, they were often larger than they appeared. Many of these houses had multiple rooms and could provide shelter for several families. Here are some pictures of Native American earth houses like the ones Tahltan Indians used. Athabaskan people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than other Americans live in log cabins. Tahltan people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Tahltan clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Tahltan men and women wore very similar clothing: a caribou-skin tunic, trousers or leggings, and moccasins. In winter, Tahltan people sometimes wore a one-piece combination of boots and trousers to keep out the snow. In cold weather they added mittens and fur cloaks. All of these clothing articles were frequently decorated with colorful beadwork in floral patterns. Here is a website with images of Athabascan clothes, and some photos and links about Native American Indian dress in general.

The Tahltans didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Sometimes men would wear fur caps with feathers at the crown. The Tahltans did not usually paint their faces. Both men and women wore shell and bead jewelry, and wore their hair long.

Today, some Tahltan people still wear traditional beadwork designs, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of hide trousers... and they only wear fancy regalia for special occasions like a dance.

What was Tahltan transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Tahltans didn't travel much by river, but when they did, they used spruce-bark canoes. Most of the time, Tahltan people traveled overland, using tools like snowshoes and toboggans to travel across the snow. Today, of course, Tahltan people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes and snowshoes.

What was Tahltan food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Tahltan Indians were hunting people. Tahltan men hunted caribou, moose, and small game, and caught salmon and other fish in the rivers. Tahltan women gathered roots, berries, and other plants. Here is a website with more information about traditional Native American food.

What were Tahltan weapons and tools like in the past?
Tahltan hunters used bows and arrows, spears, and snares. Fishermen used nets and basket traps. In war, Tahltan men fired their bows or fought with war clubs. Here is a website with pictures and information about American Indian weapons.

What are Tahltan arts and crafts like?
Like other Athabaskan peoples, Tahltan artists are known for their beadwork and quillwork. Here is an online photo gallery of Tahltan artwork.

What other Native Americans did the Tahltan tribe interact with?
The Tahltans traded often with neighboring Athabaskan tribes, especially the Kaska and Sekani. Sometimes they fought with other tribes such as the Tlingit, although at other times they were peaceful trading partners.

What kinds of stories do the Tahltan Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Tahltan legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Tahltan Indian culture. Here is one Tahltan legend about how the seasons came to be. Here's a website where you can read more about Tahltan mythology.

What about Tahltan religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Athabascan spiritual beliefs or this site about Native spirituality in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Tahltan tribe. You may enjoy Come and Learn with Me, an excellent book for kids about the life of a contemporary Slavey girl. The Slavey culture is very similar to the Tahltan culture. Older readers may be interested in Recording Their Story: James Teit and the Tahltan, a biography of an ethnographer who lived among the Tahltan which includes a lot os cultural and historical information about them. Younger kids might like The Girl Who Swam With The Fish, a picture book based on an Athabascan legend. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended books about Native Americans in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Tahltan Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Tahltan Tribe

Tahltan Indian Tribe
An overview of the Tahltan people, their language and history.

Tahltan/Kaska Language Resources
Tahltan Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Tahltan Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Tahltan Native Americans past and present.



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