Moieties & Clans

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“For a long time we have been pushed into this non-Native culture which destroyed a lot of people.  They taught everyone to be for themselves, only selfish.  I believe this is where we lost it, the “none of your business” attitude.  To be a successful Tribe, it’s all of our business what our family do and how they act.”

—Katherine Wickersham Wade

To maintain balance with one another, the Ahtna Dene (Athabascan) society is divided into two complementary moieties. These moieties are Saghani (Raven) and Nalbaey (Seagull), which share reciprocal roles and responsibilities. This dual organizational structure extends to embrace all things in this life, into the future, and beyond, bringing balance and ensuring ‘good luck,’ wealth distribution, trade and familial stability to the Ahtna Dene. 

Within moieties are clans, small local familial groups who are related to one another through matrilineal descent; based on actual or perceived kinship. Most Tribal citizens of Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax (Chickaloon Native Village) are from one of two clans: Udzisyu (Caribou People) of the Nalbaey moiety or Taltsiine (Water People) of the Saghani moiety. Each clan has its own origin story and symbols. Ahtna Tribal citizens are encouraged to marry someone from the opposite clan to prevent intermarriages of close family members and to maintain close relationships between the clans.  

Ahtna children traditionally receive much of their education and training from their maternal uncles, who are treated with great respect. While a significant emphasis of life experiences is learned from within one’s mother’s clan, it is the father’s clan from which marriage partners and hunting partners are often selected. Additionally, potlaches (ceremonies) are often hosted to show respect and honor for the opposite clan during major life events. Clans that are linked through marriage will help each other with daily and seasonal activities and also provide for one another in times of crisis. This dual clan system offers the Ahtna nuclear family a larger circle of relations, creating an elaborate system of support.

Beginning in the early 1900’s, with the introduction of outside non-native influences, the Ahtna clan teachings were often discouraged or even prohibited. Traditional potlatch ceremonies became outlawed, and it wasn’t until the passage of the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, that Clans could celebrate potlatch without fear of legal repercussions. Consequently, many Tribal citizens are relearning about the Ahtna clan system including their roles and responsibilities and the rules governing traditional marriage. Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax has hosted several potlatches since 1992 and continues to honor Tribal citizens and educate others about the importance of the moieties and clan system for ensuring future ‘good luck’ for Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax. 

  • Simeone, William E. Ahtna The People and Their Land. Glennallen: Ahtna Incorporated, 2018