Native Objects Donated to Sealaska Institute

Native Objects Donated to Sealaska Institute


An anonymous donor who wanted his collection of Native cultural objects to go home has given 15 pieces that date at least to the early 1900s to Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The collection includes some very important ceremonial pieces, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“I was absolutely stunned at the collection. I did not know that it would have these very significant pieces – a clan hat, three rattles – very magnificent pieces.”

The institute was not able to obtain provenance on the pieces, but the hat may be a couple of hundred years old. The only piece that has a date on it is a very unusual wall hanging apparently made of ducks with beading that reads “Sitka 1909.”

The donor was from Michigan and gave the collection to a Native woman in the Lower 48 with instructions to send it home – to the Native people of Southeast Alaska, Worl said.

“We have absolutely no information other than what the collector said – that it was from Southeast Alaska, they were Tlingit objects and he wanted them to be returned home.”

It’s unusual for private donors to return objects to Native people because such collections often fetch large sums of money at auction. The objects – especially the ceremonial pieces – are important to Native people and are considered to be much more than art, said Worl, noting ceremonial or sacred objects are called at.óow in Tlingit.

“It’s a real tangible tie for us to our ancestors.”

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a regional nonprofit serving the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

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