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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)
Executive Summary
Assessment of Tlingit Objects Requested for Repatriation as Objects of Cultural Patrimony and Sacred Objects in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Region: Alaska
Associated Cultures: Kootznoowoo Inc., Angoon Community, Kluckwan Inc., Chilkat Indian Village, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska

2005
This report is an evaluation of 11 cultural objects in the ethnological collections of the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) to determine if they are eligible for repatriation under the National Museum of the American Indian Act (20 U.S.C. 80q et seq.). The report provides an analysis of available documentation of the items in NMNH records, in conjunction with additional historical and cultural information from archival and published sources, and information provided by the requesting Native Alaskan tribes, relevant to the assessment of their cultural affiliation and status as sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony under the law. For objects confirmed by the assessment process as objects of cultural patrimony or sacred objects, the report also considers the history of acquisition of each item as it bears on the right of possession of the object.

A total of 11 cultural objects listed in museum records as Tlingit were requested for repatriation in six formal claims and claim addenda. The initial request was received in December of 1997 from Kootznoowoo Cultural and Education Foundation and the most recent request letter was received in March of 2003 from the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). Documentation and assessment of the items in response to the initial request was begun in 1998, but due to personnel changes in the Repatriation Office and the complexities of the cases, formal evaluation of the requests was delayed until 2003.

This report documents 11 cultural objects in 11 catalog numbers from southeastern Alaska and British Columbia. These items were collected by five individuals between 1875 and 1904. In 1875, James Swan purchased a dancing blanket of the type commonly known as a 'Chilkat blanket' from an unknown person in Wrangell, Alaska. In 1881, John J. McLean purchased a wooden helmet from the Northwest Trading Company at an unknown location in southeastern Alaska. In 1893, Herbert G. Ogden received a wooden helmet in trade from the leaders of the Ishkeetaan clan from the Upper Taku River area of British Columbia. In 1903, Lieutenant George T. Emmons purchased an iron dagger from a member of the Teikweidi clan in Killisnoo or Angoon, Alaska. In 1904, Emmons purchased a tunic woven in the 'Chilkat style' from an unknown person at an unknown location in Alaska. In 1904, John R. Swanton purchased a wooden hat from the son of Gushdeiheen, in Sitka, Alaska. Gushdeiheen was the leader of the Killer Whale House of the Dakl'aweidi clan of Angoon. Also in 1904, Swanton purchased a pair of painted wooden screens and a wooden drum from Mrs. Robert Shadesty in Wrangell, Alaska.

The preponderance of evidence indicates that the cultural item identified as the Keet Saaxw, Killer Whale clan hat, is culturally affiliated with the present-day Dakl’aweidi clan of Angoon , Alaska . The evidence indicates that the hat is both an object of cultural patrimony and a sacred object of the Dakl’aweidi clan of Angoon. The preponderance of the evidence also indicates that the museum lacks the right of possession because it was alienated by an individual that did not have the authority to do so under Tlingit common law at the time. Furthermore, the item was requested for return by Mark Jacobs, Jr., who, according to the Tlingit systems of kinship and political inheritance, is a lineal descendent of the former owner of the item. According to the amended NMAI Act (20USC80q-9a, Sec. 11A,(b)(1)), when the requesting party is a direct lineal descendant of an individual who owned the sacred object or object of cultural patrimony, the Smithsonian Institution shall expeditiously return such object. Therefore, it was recommended that the cultural item identified as the Keet Saaxw Killer Whale hat be offered for return to Mark Jacobs, Jr., Gushdeiheen, as leader of the Dakl’aweidi clan and lineal descendent of the former owner.

While this report was under curatorial review, the Repatriation Office received word that Mark Jacobs, Jr., was in the hospital and was gravely ill. Because the Killer Whale Hat is recognized as an object of cultural patrimony and a sacred object of the Dakl’aweidi clan, the Repatriation Office, Ethnology Division Curators, and the Department of Anthropology joined in requesting that the administrative review of the recommendation for repatriation of the Killer Whale Hat be expedited in an effort to return the hat as rapidly as possible. The Director of the National Museum of Natural History concurred with the recommendation and instructed the Repatriation Office and the Department of Anthropology to arrange for the return of the Killer Whale Hat to Mark Jacobs, Jr., and the Dakl’aweidi clan as quickly as possible. The Killer Whale Hat was repatriated to Mark Jacobs, Jr., and the Dakl’aweidi clan in his hospital room in Sitka, Alaska on January 2, 2005. Unfortunately, Mark Jacobs, Jr., passed away on January 13, 2005.

The preponderance of evidence does not support a cultural affiliation between most of the cultural items documented in this report and the requesting clans. The preponderance of the evidence indicates that the iron dagger claimed by the Dakl’aweidi clan of Angoon as a sacred object and object of cultural patrimony is actually culturally affiliated to the Tei kweidi clan. The evidence is insufficient to support a cultural affiliation between the Dakl’aweidi clan of Angoon and the Chilkat blanket and box drum claimed by the clan. The wooden helmet claimed as an object of cultural patrimony by the Big House of the Yanyeidi clan of Taku actually belonged to the Ishkeetaan clan of Teslin in the Yukon Territory of Canada. There is insufficient evidence to support a cultural affiliation between the Chilkat tunic and the Big House of the Yanyeidi clan of Taku claiming it as an object of cultural patrimony. Although the painted screens were requested by the Deisheetaan clan of Angoon as objects of cultural patrimony, the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the screens did not originate in Angoon and are not culturally affiliated with the Deisheetaan clan of Angoon. Because only the culturally affiliated group can provide information in support of assertions of the significance and use of particular objects as they relate to that group , it is recommended that these objects, representing nine items in nine catalog entries be retained at the NMNH.

Lastly, although the evidence supports a cultural affiliation between the Frog House of the Gaana xteidí clan of Klukwan and the wooden frog helmet claimed as an object of cultural patrimony, the evidence is insufficient to support that this hat was commissioned and dedicated in accordance with Tlingit tradition of creation of clan crest objects, or that it was considered a valid clan crest object at the time it was alienated. I t is recommended that this helmet be retained at the NMNH.

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