Raven and Eagle: DNA Tracking Of Indigenous Clans in Southeastern Alaska
Wolf Button Blanket by Allen Ederza & Eileen Sembsmoen
The image above represents the Wolf Clan of the Pacific Northwest peoples, sewn into a traditionally inspired button blanket and used as a wall hanging. This one was displayed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The buttons are made from the shells of local sea life and sewn on by hand. Many clans exist, based on founders that possess dual personas, usually an animal-human duo, although some founders are nearly human at the beginning, like Wild Man of the Woods.
You may be familiar with the phenomenon in which modern non-tribal seekers find their "power animals" or "totem animals" or "spirit guides" in a spiritual or religious quest. Clan Founders are often used for these animals, although in many Indigenous origins, these founders are respected as shape shifters that live in a spiritual and human world simultaneously and can change shape from human to animal and back. They were not worshiped in the manner that some groups worship idols and neither are their "totem" poles.
Clan founders include dozens, but some of the more familiar are Raven, Killer Whale, Thunderbird, Eagle, Sea Bear, Grizzly Bear, and Cedar Man.
Four groups of people are indigenous to Southeastern Alaska and these include Eyak,Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. The last native speaker of Eyak died in the late 2000s and no full-blooded Eyak have been found since that time to date (June 2012). A teacher of the Eyak language is active, but he is French, so the Eyak language is officially "extinct", because it has no full-blood Eyak speakers.
Various DNA research studies are arriving at more clearly delineated relationships between Pacific Northwest peoples, based on genetics. One interesting case concerns whether the Eagle or the Raven (who brought the sun to humankind) clan arrived in Southeastern Alaska first.
Power animals are sometimes depicted on traditional button blankets.
Origins and Creation Stories
Each clan of the Pacific Northwest maintains its own foundation story about how and when it was begun by a legendary animal or spirit-person.
Probably to the non-native, the most famous of the clan founders are Wolf, Turtle, Eagle, and Raven. Their images are seen on T-shirts for sale across the United States, Canada, in casinos and state fair tents, and online.
The Kwakiutl groups have the greatest number of foundation stories among any nation or tribe I have known about so far. These stories are specific and distinguish each small group (band or community) within the Kwakiutl from the others.
Clan founders are also present among Native American Nations all the way to the East Coast. Entire workshops and study groups make a business of aiding individuals in finding their "spirit guides" from among these founders.
The Alaskan Panhandle and BC
The Genographic Project: Molecular Genetic Analyses of Indigenous Populations of North America
The Sealaska Heritage Institute, concerned with Indigenous Peoples and cultures in Alaska as well as the environment, agreed to support a DNA study of aboriginal descendants of the Eagle and Raven clans in Southeastern Alaska.
Some anthropological opinions at Sealaska Heritage Institute are that the Ravens came to Southeastern Alaska (the Panhandle) first. I think that if the opposite is true, then foundations stories may be altered to explain why Eagle lived in darkness and how he did so until Raven brought the sun.
In conjunction with or parallel to the efforts of National Geographic researchers in a grand long-term DNA study, the Alaskan study includes people from three Indigenous Nations: Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. This is all controlled under the auspices of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania and began during annual Celebration of the Native Alaskan peoples in June 2012.
The Genographic Project: Molecular Genetic Analyses of Indigenous Populations of North America—University of Pennsylvania is directed by Dr. Theodore G. Schurr. The study will help to determine the migration patterns of Raven and Eagle clans from the Eastern Hemisphere across the Bering Strait and down into Southeastern Alaska or through whatever paths they actually took in history.
Further, results of the study will be applied to a recent theory that the Raven and Eagle clans are not related (other than by distant ties). All this makes researchers wonder more than ever about the origins of Pacific Northwest peoples that arrived first. Who are they and where did they come from?
Dr. Schurr has been writing about the link with the people of Altai that I supposed was true some years ago and he has provided convincing evidence for that link and many others that outline the migration of humankind around the world. See the links below for more information.
Follow the Studies: Related Links
- Native American Nations Around The World
Genetic research has shown evidence of specific Native American DNA structures throughout the Western Hemisphere as being closely related to Siberian nations in Altai that advanced to South Korea and other Siberians, some Scandinavian groups, and eve
- Home | Sealaska Heritage
Celebration - an Alaska Native festival showcasing the traditions and customs of the Tlingit, Haida.
- Theodore G. Schurr | Population Studies Center
Nearly 100 studies in genetic links.
More About Clans and Power Animals
- A Totem Pole Is a Person: Master Carvers, Indigenous Traditional Arts
Carved cedar poles have often been misunderstood and misrepresented globally. Such a pole is traditionally a person - a respected story teller. Here is part of the story.
- Totem Poles in the Vancouver, Alaska, Japan, Siberia, New Zealand, and Elsewhere
In-depth research and interviewing from 1700 to the 21st C. have revealed a history of totem poles globally that was previously unknown or discounted.
- Ketchikan - Greatest Place in America (US) to Stand Amolng Totem Poles
KETCHIKAN, ALASKA: First City founded in Alaska by European-Americans.
© 2012 Patty Inglish MS