Tahltan culture is intricately woven into all aspects of language, art, governance, law and everyday life.
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Our stories and legends preserve our history, and guide our way of relating to all living things. As an example, our stories provide inspiration to talented Tahltan artists, who enshrine our stories into beautiful moccassins, drums, blankets and other valuables. These are just some of the ways in which Tahltan culture is preserved and shared with the world.
Our culture is organized through a matrilinear clan system. This means that crests and inheritance are passed down through the mother. Since time immemorial, this system has provided the basis of Tahltan law and governance. Despite the imposition of a settler society form of government (through the Indian Act), the matrilineal system remains the foundational governing structure of the Tahltan people.
The Tahltan Nation is divided into two clans, the Crow (or Tsesk’iya) and the Wolf (or Ch’ioyone). Each clan is further divided into several family groups. Legends about the Crow and Raven continue to guide the Tahltan people about the best way of living, for example, by the principles of determination, generosity and resourcefulness among others.
Raven Creation Story
As told by Rosie Dennis
This is a Raven story. How silly he could be? He could make himself into anything. Raven saw that one guy, a wife and daughter had daylight, sun and the moon. Only their place, a brush house, had light. And this whole earth was just pitch dark, yet people lived on it, and Raven thinks to himself, “How could I get the lights away from those people – how could I make myself so that girl could swallow me? Then she’ll bear me and I’ll cry for daylight first, then I’ll cry for the sun, and then I’ll cry for the moon.” So he made himself a little dust – that’s how crow does that, he made himself dust and this young girl eats it. He puts himself on that girl’s food so she could swallow him and have a baby. The girl spots it, and tells her mother to look at the dust on her food. They claimed that’s the story. Those people were so neat and clean that nothing would come near them because they were the only ones that had light. And the crow thinks, “Oh I don’t know what to do now – what could I make myself so that girl wouldn’t see me so she’ll swallow me? She has a wood cup.” And the crow thinks, “Oh, if I put myself around the rim of that cup, make myself a small little dust, I bet that way she’ll swallow me.” So he did! Sure enough the girl didn’t see it and she swallowed that little dust.
In a few months, it’s showing that she’s pregnant – and her mother and Dad ask how did she get pregnant, how could we find out? They couldn’t find out, nobody came around, it was just them. Finally she’s in labour; here it was the boy that was that crow! The way grandma and the old timers tell us, they say it’s a true story. So the mother of the girl tells her husband, put up your camp outside my daughter’s, she’s in labour. So her Dad put up a little brush house. He moved out of there, that’s our Indian way when a woman is going to have a baby. When a woman is in labour, the man has to move out till the woman has the baby – so that’s what they did.
Here it was that boy! That baby grew up fast, they figure he started creeping around in about a week. The grandfather and the grandmother loved that kid so much it isn’t funny! And when he figured that he was big enough to carry the daylight, sun and the moon, he cried for daylight. But first he cried to his grandpa. He points to that daylight, he can’t talk but he points to that daylight. So his grandpa asks his wife, “Shall we give to him? He wouldn’t spoil it.” The grandmother said “He might cry himself to death, give it to him.” So the grandfather brings it down, and hands it to him. He played with it so long, he cried for the sun. Then he pointed to the sun and he wanted that too. They both said the same thing, he might cry himself to death – we better give it to him, so they gave him that sun. When he bounced the daylight and sun together, the grandpa and the grandma just hollered! Then he started to cry for the moon. They tried to give him something else but he wouldn’t take it, he wouldn’t quit crying so they figured that again he might cry himself to death – so they gave him that moonlight. Now he had all three of them – he practised when they weren’t looking at him. He asked himself, “I wonder if I can fly out through that smoke hole – they have a big brush house! I wonder if I can lift it and fly out through that smoke hole?” No, he thought to himself. So he waits for another day, I don’t know how long after, then he start same thing again – daylight first, then sun, and moonlight. They give it all to him, and he plays with it and finally he tests himself again to see if he can fly with it. All of a sudden he could hold all three of them – that daylight, sun, and moon. “Caw, caw, caw,” and he flies out through that smoke hole. That’s the time all the animals holler, the first thing that hollers is the marten sitting on a tree, and the grizzly bear was at the foot of that tree, under that tree. He’s got no moccasins on. The marten hollers, “Daylight break, daylight break.” The goat runs to the bluff, the beaver dives in the water, the bear runs in a den. When the daylight broke, all the animals, wherever they settled, that’s where they are today. The grizzly bear sat under that tree where the marten was. He said, “Daylight break, daylight break, run away daylight break.” Grizzly bear put his moccasins on the wrong way, that’s why grizzly bear’s back foot is wrong you see – he was so excited he put his moccasins on the wrong way. When they heard daylight break, all the animals got so scared they ran to where they live. It’s that way right up to today – how does that grab you?
In July of 1976, at a First Annual Gathering of the Tahltan people, a collective decision was made to unite the people under a democratic system which would represent the interests of the Tahltan Nation, thus forming the Association of United Tahltans.
Tahltans at the meeting chose this system, and the constitution of the association was ratified.
Later in 1976, a comprehensive composite map was created and can be confirmed by the writing of early historians and anthropologists. Following the land piece, the structure of the association was formed to outline directors and executives.
In 1985, the Association of United Tahltans was renamed to the Tahltan Tribal Council (TTC). From 1990, the bands withdrew their support for the TTC and the organization dissolved from 1998 to 2001. From 2001 to 2002, the TTC was reinstated and changed its name to the Tahltan Central Council (TCC).
The Tahltan Central Government (TCG)
The TCG is the central administrative governing body for the Iskut Band and Tahltan Band located in Telegraph Creek. It represents approximately 5000 members of the Tahltan Nation living on- and off-reserve.
The purpose of the TCG is, among other things, to define and protect Tahltan inherent aboriginal rights and title, to protect the eco-systems and natural resources of Tahltan traditional territory through pursuing sustainable economic development, and to strengthen the cultural wellness of the Tahltan Community by promoting traditional values based on the concepts of caring, sharing, cooperation, truth, honour, fairness and above all, respect. The board of the TCG is comprised of one representative from each of the ten Tahltan families; the executive consists of a Chairperson, Vice-Chair, and Secretary-Treasurer. The executive is elected, for two year terms, at the annual general assembly (AGA) held each summer; the family representatives are nominated by the families each year and elected/ratified at the AGM.
The guiding principle of the Tahltan Central Government remains the Declaration of the Tahltan Tribe. In 1910, as part of a growing movement to assert First Nations rights on the coast and the southern interior of BC, the chief of the Tahltan Nation, Chief Nanok along with 80 other members of the tribe signed the declaration. The document claims sovereignty over Tahltan land and declares any land interests concerning the traditional territory of the Tahltan Nation to be settled directly with the Tahltan people. It represents a legal declaration of rights of Tahltan individuals to the Canadian government and British monarch. Tahltans have yet to extinguish their Aboriginal title by any other legal process.
Declaration of the Tahltan Tribe
We, the undersigned members of the Tahltan tribe, speaking for ourselves, and our entire tribe, hereby make known to all whom it may concern, that we have heard of the Indian Rights movement among the Indian tribes of the Coast, and of the southern interior of B.C. Also we have read the declaration make by the chiefs of of the southern interior tribes at Spences Bridge of the 16th July last, and we hereby declare our complete agreement with the demands of the same, and wit the position taken by the said chiefs, and their people on all the questions stated in the said Declaration, and we furthermore make known that it is our desire and intention to join with them in the fight for our mutual rights, and that we will assist in the furtherance of this object in every way we can, until such time as all these matters of moment to us are finally unsettled. We further declare as follow:
- Firstly – We claim the sovereign right to all the country of our tribe – this country of ours which we have held intact from the encroachments of other tribes, from time immemorial, at the cost of our own blood. We have done this because our lives depended on our country. To lose it meant we would lose our means of living, and therefore our lives. We are still as heretofore, dependant for our living on our country, and we do not intend to give away the title to any part of same without adequate compensation. We deny the B.C. government has any title or right of ownership in our country. We have never treated with them nor given them any such title. (We have only lately learned the B.C. government make this claim, and that it has for long considered as it property all the territories of the Indian tribes of B.C.)
- Secondly – We desire that a part of our country, consisting of one or more large areas (to be selected by us), be retained by us for our own use, said lands, and all thereon to be acknowledged by the government as our absolute property. The rest of our tribal land we are willing to relinquish to the B.C. government for adequate compensation.
- Thirdly – We wish it known that a small portion of our lands at the mouth of the Tahltan River, was set apart a few years ago by Mr. Vowell as an Indian reservation. These few acres are the only reservation made for our tribe. We may state we never applied for the reservation of this piece of land, and we had no knowledge why the government set it apart for us, nor do we know exactly yet.
- Fourthly – We desire that all questions regarding our lands, hunting, fishing etc., and every matter concerning our welfare, be settled by treaty between us and the Dominion and B.C. government.
- Fifthly – We are of the opinion it will be better for ourselves, also better for the governments and all concerned, if these treaties are made with us at a very early date, so all friction, and misunderstanding between us and the whites may be avoided, for we hear lately much talk of white settlement in this region, and the building of railways, etc., in the near future.
Signed at Telegraph Creek, B.C., this eighteenth day of October, Nineteen hundred and ten, by