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James Teit Medicine man.jpg
James Teit, Tahltan medical practitioner, ca. 1932
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia)
English, Tahltan
Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Kaska, Tagish
Tahltan men on boat to go hunt (early 20th century)

Tahltan (also Nahanni) are a First Nations people of the Athabaskan-speaking ethnolinguistic group who live in northern British Columbia around Telegraph Creek, Dease Lake, and Iskut. The Tahltan constitute the fourth division of the Nahane (People of the West).[1]


Unknown Tahltan artist, Beaded knife sheath, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Ralph T. Coe.

The Tahltan customs and livelihoods varied widely as they were often widely separated and would have to endure varying conditions depending on their locality.[2] In Tahltan culture it was believed that some of their ancestors had knowledge that others did not from times before a great flood.[3]:232 Some of these ancestors used that knowledge for the good of the people, while others used it for evil and to the disadvantage of others. Raven is considered to be the protagonist hero against these evil ancestors.[4]

Social organization[edit]

Tahltan social organization is founded on matriarchy and intermarriage between two main clan designations. The two main clans of Tahltan people are Tses' Kiya (pronounced Tses-kee-ya) (Crow) and Chiyone (pronounced Chee-oanah) (Wolf). These two clans are further subdivided into four parties:[5]

  1. Kartchottee (Raven) - This family originated in the Interior toward the headwaters of the Taku River. This is the most numerous family of the tribe, also represented by the frog.
  2. Nanyiee (Wolf) - Also represented by the brown bear, the killer-whale, and the shark. This family originated near the headwaters of Taku River, moved towards the ocean and settling among the Stikine Tlingit; and then ascended the Stikine River and became a family of the Tahltan.
  3. Talarkoteen (Wolf)' - Originating near Peace River in the Interior, these peoples followed Liard River to Dease Lake and then crossed to the Tuya.
  4. Tuckclarwaydee (Wolf) - Also represented by the brown bear, the eagle, and the killer-whale. This family is credited as being the founders of the Tahltan tribe, originating in the interior near the headwaters of Nags river.


Contemporary Tahltan society constitutes itself as the Tahltan Nation, which comprises the membership and governments of the Tahltan First Nation and Iskut First Nation.


Tahltan dancers and shaman (early 20th century)

Ten-thousand years ago, the Tahltan people used obsidian from Mount Edziza to make tools and weapons for trading material. This is the main source of obsidian found in northwestern British Columbia.[6][7]

Coal-bed methane conflict[edit]

Since 2005, a group of elders from the Tahltan people called the Klabona Keepers have watched the road leading through Tahltan territory towards the Sacred headwaters (Klappan Valley) in opposition of development there, specifically a coalbed methane mining project planned by Royal Dutch Shell.[8] The Sacred Headwaters (Klappan Valley) is home to the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers. Not only do these rivers provide a home to an important salmon stocks, Tahltan oral history holds that these headwaters are the place where the earth was first created and where Talhtan culture began.[8] According to the Klabona Keepers, the valley is used for fishing, hunting and trapping. It is the site of a Tahltan burial ground and a cultural camp where Talhtan youth can learn their culture in the summer.

In 2004, Shell was awarded the oil and gas rights to the Klappan valley, one of British Columbia's largest coal deposits and an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet (230 km3) of methane.[8] That year, Shell drilled three exploratory wells at the headwaters, but in 2005 four Shell employees who arrived at the band office in Iskut were turned away by a group of elders, and no drilling occurred that summer. Non-violent blockades in 2005 and 2006 delayed development efforts and led to the arrests of 13 protesters. Talhtan territory was the site of half of all the mining exploration in British Columbia during 2006.[8] Protests in Smithers have been as large as 600 people. David Suzuki and Wade Davis have both criticized plans for coal-bed methane mining in the headwaters, and in June 2007, 14 different environmental groups sent a joint letter to Shell opposing the project.[8]

Coal-bed methane extraction has already been the subject of protests in the Bulkley Valley, against a project planned near Telkwa, British Columbia. In a unanimous 2003 resolution, the Union of B.C. Municipalities asked for a moratorium on coal-bed methane mining in the province.[8]

Representatives from Shell assert a determination to reach consensus in the community, and note that the elected Tahltan Central Council (TCC) agreed to the exploration.[8] The TCC's Chief Jerry Asp was forced to resign in 2005 after protests from Tahltan members accused him of a conflict of interest because of his involvement with two pro-development organizations.[8]

On December 18, 2012 it was announced by the B.C. government that Shell will be withdrawing its plans to explore and drill for coalbed methane gas in the Tahltan Territory.[9]

According to the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Shell has launched a lawsuit against Talhtan elders for loss of revenue.[8] The Klabona Keepers have filed a counter-suit for failure to consult.

Employment opportunities have come from natural resources development in recent years. Because of various concerns over the lands, the parties involved balance between development and the environment.

Talk of an Alaska-Canada railroad traversing Tahltan lands recurs every so often with feasibility studies being done.


Tahltan is a poorly documented Northern Athabaskan language. Some linguists consider Tahltan to be a language with 3 divergent but mutually intelligible dialects (Mithun 1999). The numbers below are according to Poser (2003):

  • Tahltan  (approximately 35 speakers)
  • Kaska   (approximately 400 speakers)
  • Tagish   (approximately 2 speakers)

Other linguists consider these to be separate languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Emmons, George Thornton (1911). The Tahltan Indians. Philadelphia: The University Museum. Retrieved 2014-03-29.
  2. ^ editor, William C. Sturtevant, general (1978). Handbook of North American Indians. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. p. 463. ISBN 9780160045783. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  3. ^ Teit, James A. "Tahltan Tales". The Journal of American Folklore. 32 (124). doi:10.2307/534980. JSTOR 534980.
  4. ^ "The Raven cycle". SAMS Anthology. Society for Ancient & Medieval Studies. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  5. ^ Hodge, F.W. (1906). Handbook of American Indians
  6. ^ Journey & Transformations: British Columbia Landscapes Archived 2007-10-11 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2007-10-12
  7. ^ Catalogue of Canadian volcanoes - Stikine Volcanic Belt: Mount Edziza Archived 2008-06-10 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2007-10-12
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Native Group Opposes Mining on Sacred Site, Joan Delaney, The Epoch Times (Toronto Edition), December 6, 2007.
  9. ^ http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/12/18/b-c-calls-off-oil-and-gas-development-plan-in-tahltan-territory/

External links[edit]