IC Magazine



The Tahltan (also Nahanni) are a Northern Athabaskan people who live around the upper reaches of the Stikine River in what is now northwestern British Columbia.

The Tahltan's relationship between the people and the land, as with many indigenous peoples, is one marked by a deep respect for the land as provider and a strongly held belief that the people are keepers of the land. The Tahltan belong to the land. This prevailing attitude has led to a symbiotic relationship in which the Tahltan people look to the land for sustenance, guidance, and healing. Traditional Tahltan governance was organized around the family/clan system. All decisions affecting Tahltans were made through meetings and councils, and every Tahltan was allowed to express their views and concerns.

Primarily a hunting and trapping people, the Tahltan fostered inter-tribal trade with neighbouring tribes exchanging items such as fish, furs and obsidian, useful for making tools and weapons. In fact, the Tahltan people held a significant position in as middlemen in the pre and post-contact trading industry of northern BC. The Stikine River supported trade that took place between coastal nations and interior nations. The first contact with Europeans came in 1838 when Robert Campbell of the Hudsons Bay Company arrived with intentions on setting up operations in the territory.

In the early 1900s, the population of the Tahltan Nation was devastated by smallpox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis; diseases introduced by European explorers to which the Tahltan people had no natural immunity. At its lowest point, the Tahltan population numbered under 300 people. This extreme population decrease, coupled with the new enforcement of governmental policies, forced the Tahltan people to leave their established villages sites for a more central location along the Stikine River.

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. 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. 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.

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A publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (cwis.org).