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SHI receives grant to conserve, scan, old T’aḵdeintaan box drum

Infrared scans to unveil original formline design


The box drum with SHI History and Culture Director Chuck Smythe, Ron Williams of the T’a̱kdeintaan Clan and his wife Julie, and Robert Starbard of the T’a̱kdeintaan Clan.

Photo courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has secured a grant from Museums Alaska to conserve an old Tlingit box drum and to make infrared scans to reveal the original formline design.

The grant will allow SHI, with permission from the T’a̱kdeintaan Clan, Mt. Fairweather House, of Hoonah, to contract a professional conservator to perform a critical-condition assessment, do general cleaning and recommend conservation treatments, and to hire a photographer to make infrared scans on the sides of the large drum.

“The original formline is very faded with age but we know the technology exists to reveal the original design,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “This technology will allow Native artists to study the formline designs made by their ancestors.”

The box drum has a storied history. The design on the drum was copied as a sketch by the German geographer and author Aurel Krause during his visit to Hoonah in the late 1800s. Krause later published the sketch in his book Die Tlinkit-Indianer: Ergebnisse Einer Reise Nach Der Nordwestküste Von Amerika Und Der Beringstrasse, which translates as The Tlingit Indians: Results of a trip to the Northwest Coast of America and the Bering Strait.

In 1924, the drum was collected by Louis Shotridge for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The T’a̱kdeintaan Mt. Fairweather House—in partnership with the Hoonah Indian Association, Huna Totem Corporation, Huna Heritage Foundation, Sealaska and SHI—in the late 1990s launched a vigorous campaign to repatriate the drum and nearly 50 other items housed at the museum. The parties argued before the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Review Committee in 2010 that the 1924 transaction was illegal because the T’akdeintaan Clan never agreed to alienate the objects. The committee sided with the Native groups, and in 2011, the museum returned eight of the pieces, including the box drum. The people of the T’a̱kdeintaan Mt. Fairweather House are still waiting for the rest of their objects, more than 20 years after first filing to repatriate their at.óowu (clan treasures).

The drum currently is on long-term loan to SHI, which, if it can be stabilized, will place the object in its permanent exhibit, Enter the World of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples, in the Nathan Jackson Gallery in the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. It will also be made available to the T’akdeintaan Clan members, scholars, artists and other researchers.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
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