Tlingit Barbie arrives complete with Chilkat blanket

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- She has long, straight black hair and brown skin. Her features are perhaps vaguely Alaska Native. She's got a long neck and a body that bears limited resemblance to any woman of any group.

But as Juneau doll collector Alison Caputo says, ''Barbie is Barbie,'' and Mattel's version of Tlingit Barbie steps out this month as part of the company's Dolls of the World series.

''They've gotten a lot more realistic,'' Caputo told the Juneau Empire. ''The early ones were totally gold lame and hot-pink versions of their ethnic costumes.''

Wrapped in a Chilkat blanket, the doll is marketed as a Northwest Coast Native Alaskan Barbie. The description on the box opens with: ''Yake'i ixw Sateeni -- it's good to see you. ... I am a Tlingit, sometimes called totem pole people.''

Pictures of totems, eagles and coastal mountains illustrate the package. The Barbie package goes on to say, ''My people live in the Northwest Coast and Panhandle area of Southeast Alaska. The Chilkat River runs through the area, and is the home to the largest gathering of bald eagles in the United States.''

Tlingit Barbie even describes what she eats.

''Today our lives are a blend of the modern and traditional. Our dinner may be salmon or seal meat ... or pizza. For fun, we play basketball or two-foot kick, a traditional Inuit game.''

Caputo ordered Tlingit Barbie through the Internet. She said Mattel issues three dolls each year in the Dolls of the World series, then discontinues them. The others this year are Swedish Barbie and Spanish Barbie, dressed as a bullfighter.

Tlingit Barbie's Chilkat blanket features a stylized Northwest Coast Eagle design. The blanket uses nontraditional colors and other fabricated designs.

Caputo posted a review of the doll on the World Wide Web. She said Mattel created a new face mold for the doll.

''There are certain face molds they'll use on many different races,'' she said. ''Now, they're actually using a lot more than they ever did in the past.''

Doll collector Vicki Soboleff, leader of the All Nation's Children dance group, and the mother of two daughters, said her initial reaction to the doll was anger.

''It's hard to accept that non-Native people copy the art of Native Alaskans,'' she said. ''We don't have the money to do that ourselves, and then we see tourist shops downtown with cheap imitations of Native art.''

But after her initial reaction passed, Soboleff was pleased that Mattel chose to make a Tlingit doll and even included a correct Tlingit phrase.

''I'm a Haida, not a Tlingit, but I've lived here a long time,'' Soboleff said. ''There should be a little pride they picked Tlingit people -- they could've chosen anyone along the Northwest coast.''

Summer Thompson at K-B Toys in Juneau said the store has two Tlingit Barbies left in stock.

''We've had people asking for them, collectors and grandparents that want to send an Alaskan Barbie as a gift,'' Thompson said.

The Christmas Store in downtown Juneau carries a few Barbies, dolls that owner John Farnan said will appeal to summer visitors. Farnan said he carried Eskimo Barbie when she first came out 10 years ago, and then picked her up again when they reissued her a few years ago as Arctic Barbie.

''We bought a batch before the series closed,'' he said. ''They sold well.''

Tlingit Barbie, like others in the series, retails for about $25.

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