Alaska Native works coming home after decades down South

A number of cultural objects, including a finial most recently displayed at the Birmingham Museum of Art, are coming home to Southeast Alaska.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Department of Native Lands and Resources coordinated with the Alabama museum to return the objects in a proces that began in 2017, according to a Tlingit and Haida.

The objects include a patterned hat, a cane taken from a grave and a finial called the “Kéet Koowaal,” or “Killerwhale With a Hole In Its Fin,” according Tlingit and Haida.

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“Our clan is very grateful for this return,” said William Willard (Shéeshgaaw), member of the Kayáashkéedítaan clan, to which the finial belongs, in a news release. “We can rest assured the Kéet Koowaal was returned where it’s supposed to be.”

The finial was made in the mid-1800s, according to Tlingit and Haida, and replaced an older example. It was sold without permission of the clan in the 1970s and was displayed in a number of galleries before ending up at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

A recent vote by the Birmingham City Council cleared any roadblocks to returning the artifacts north, according to the Associated Press, allowing the museum to return any items that might not have been acquired legally.

“So, we want to be able to operate ethically and in accordance with all laws,” said BMA director Graham C. Boettcher, according to WBHM.

The “Kéet Koowaal” was determined to belong to the group, not an individual, according to Tlingit and Haida, and will not be exhibited. A cultural ceremony to mark its return is set for a future date yet to be determined by the Kayáashkéedítaan clan, according to Tlingit and Haida.

“Not only are we bringing home this object, but we are also bringing home our ancestors,” said Luella Knapp (Aanshaawasnook) of the Naanya.aayí clan, in the news release. “For all of us, it means a lot to have it back for future ceremonies.”

Specialists in artifact repatriation within Tlingit and Haida could not be reached for comment.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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