Dance shirts were made with crests representing the house or matrilineage of their people. Elders wore dance shirts while singing and dancing at potlatches. Elders would dance or sing the stories of their matrilineal house telling others of their special history and how they came to have special ties to the animal or spirit power represented in the crest. This Tlingit dance shirt represents the Killer Whale House of Teslin, a community close to the Yukon-British Columbia border.
The Inland Tlingit of Southern Yukon typically had larger and more elaborate clan systems like that of British Columbia and Coastal Alaska. The crests of the Tlingit represented an extended family group. They were usually represented by animals such as the crow, beaver, whale, eagle, bear, and so on. The larger and more significant moiety system (society clan) encompasses the family crest system in which each Tlingit is identified as either Crow or Wolf. Therefore the owner of this shirt would be identified as a Killer Whale-Crow or a Killer Whale-Wolf, depending on the affiliation. Both traits were passed down from the female to her children, while the father had to be of a different moiety, their crest could be the same.
The dance shirts were elaborately embroidered with the crest, flowers and other adornment. The red dance shirt has the family crest represented by two whales on the chest of the shirt. The Tlingit represent killer whale imagery in the same way. The whale sports a dorsal fin that generally has a circular hole through it and a face at the base. Typically the image also has a large blunt head, blowhole and teeth. The bead work on the rest of the dance shirt is done in the distinctive Tlingit style. This style is seen on most Tlingit outfits including coastal Tlingit, but it is widely accepted as an Inland beading pattern. Originally, the patterns were probably copied from trade items that passed from inland to coastal Tlingit.
George Johnston Museum, Teslin