Writing and “papers” were first encountered by the Tlingit through contacts with European explorers and traders in the late eighteenth century. Euro-American traders subsequently developed a system of papers of introduction for high-ranking indigenous leaders. These papers became objects of great importance to the leaders, who held them closely and brought them out to show to other important Euro-American visitors. After 1867, US military officers observed that when they encountered Tlingit leaders, they were regularly shown papers from traders in exceptional condition. US military commanders adopted the system, and provided Tlingit leaders with papers recognizing their position and authority, which were likewise carefully preserved. This essay contends that papers of introduction and recognition were conceptualized by Tlingit leaders with the “reverence” accorded in traditional cultural practice to at.óow, thereby instantiating a hybrid bridge of relationship rooted in Tlingit conceptualization of reciprocal and sustained respect for the claims of others. The reverence bestowed by the Tlingit on these instruments was not reciprocated by later agents of US governmentality, notably Governor John Brady, and Tlingit efforts to sustain traditional cultural practices in regard to political leadership through mutual construction of an articulation with US governmentality were repudiated in the early 1900s.

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