Tlingit artifact repatriation: A time for healing

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2001

An historic event was celebrated in Ketchikan July 23 with the return of the clan treasures, the at.oow, of the Saanya Kwaan people. It was a time of healing and rejoicing; a time of forgiveness and peace. For me, especially as a member of the Tolerance Commission and the Alaska Historical Commission, it was a time to remember.

A century ago the original Harriman Expedition ended its voyage along with coast of Alaska with the removal of precious possessions of the Saanya Kwaan of Cape Fox Village. Now these clan objects have come home.

I had the great honor of witnessing the return of these treasures and, on behalf of all Alaskans, want to congratulate those involved in the repatriation effort: the elders, tribal leaders, Cape Fox Corporation, Irene Shields, Diane Palmer, Joe Williams, and Rosita Worl.

Thanks to all of the people who provided music, dance, story telling and food to make the repatriation a joyful event.

Special thanks to clan mother, Esther Shea, for extending the hospitality of her home to all of the repatriation guests; and to those Alaskan Natives and non-Natives alike who came to join in the celebration.

My personal thanks to Rosita Worl who invited me to participate in the call and response exchange during the ceremony.

The repatriating museums are also to be thanked. The Smithsonian Institute, Peabody Museum, Field Museum, Burke Museum, and Cornell University all returned clan objects. Tom Litwin of Smith College, Harriman Expedition Retraced leader, and Phoebe Wood, formerly of ARCO, were also instrumental in the repatriation effort.

This repatriation was unique for a number of reasons. It was a testimonial to cooperation among the groups involved and was the largest single repatriation in Alaska's history. The returned clan objects are substantial, not only in size, but also in the value they have to the descendants of the Cape Fox community.

Most important, the Saanya Kwaan were extremely gracious. They extended hospitality to the descendants of Edward Harriman, leader of the 1899 expedition that took the clan objects, and to the museum representatives.

Further, they demonstrated good will and reciprocity by donating cedar trees to the museums for replacement totems.

Thanks to the Saanya Kwaan for allowing me the great honor of participating. It was an uplifting experience that helped us to understand a little more about Tlingit culture. Congratulations and gunalcheesch.

Fran Ulmer is a second-term lieutenant governor.

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