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Thirty-Three Cultural Objects Repatriated



Sealaska Corporation has repatriated thirty-three cultural objects from a Massachusetts museum on behalf of Tlingit clans in Southeast Alaska.

Most of the objects were repatriated on behalf of the Yakutat Tlingit and title will be officially transferred to them at a future ceremony, said SHI President Rosita Worl, an anthropologist who assisted in the repatriation.

The collection underscores the creativity and talent of our ancestors, Worl said.

“I mean the pieces are extraordinary,” Worl said. “It demonstrates the sophistication and the uniqueness of our art--but more than that--really the cultural values that gave rise to this artistic tradition.”

The objects were collected in the 19th century by Edward G. Fast and purchased by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1869. The collection comprises a wide range of objects, including a wooden warrior’s helmet (above), masks, rattles, tools and pipes. Most of the objects were used by shamans, Worl said.

“The pieces are mostly shamanic items, and of course shamanic items are very sensitive to our people. We have strict rules and protocols about the handling of shamanic objects,” said Worl, adding Native people believe shamanic objects have powers that could harm people who do not respect the protocols.

Worl oversaw the repatriation at the museum with two Eagle and Raven members of the Council of Traditional Scholars, a panel founded by the institute to advise on programs. The objects, which arrived in Juneau in March, were repatriated through a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

The Yakutat Tlingit will decide whether to take the objects home or to sign a memorandum of agreement to leave them at Sealaska Heritage Institute, which has expanded its holding facility through grants and donations from Sealaska Corporation, the Rasmuson Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. SHI enlarged its facilities to accommodate a growing number ethnographic collections and archival materials acquired in recent years. The institute employs a professional staff to care for cultural objects and archival materials. Staff hopes to eventually have additional space for public exhibitions of its collections.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a Native nonprofit established in 1980 to administer educational and cultural programs for Sealaska, a regional Native corporation formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The institute’s mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

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