Juneau, AK (June 7, 2022) – Nine objects of cultural patrimony removed from Wrangell, Alaska in the 1940s are now back home in the hands of the Naanya.aayí clan after a years-long process.
These objects include a Killerwhale Hat from the original Chief Shakes House Flotilla of Killerwhale Hats (pictured right); Killerwhale Flotilla Chilkat Robe; Killerwhale Stranded on a Rock Robe; Mudshark Hat; three Mudshark Shirts; Killerwhale with a Hole Fin; and a Storm Headdress.
The Sxh’at Kwaan (Wrangell People) once had 31 clan houses, 7 of which were from the Naanya.aayí clan. These objects are from X’átgu Naas’i Hít (Mudshark Intestines House), one of the Naanya.aayí’s clan houses which once stood on Shakes Island in Wrangell.
The late Arnie Dalton (1944-2001), Yaxhgoos, shared that his mother Betty Carlstrom (1925-1994) remembered as a child when several of these objects were taken away. “She was six years old when her great-grandma died and she remembered the Wrangell police coming in the house and just grabbing the trunks with the objects,” he shared during an interview in 1986.
Arnie was a carver and refurbished the totem pole at Auke Rec in Juneau, Alaska in 1993 after it was burned by vandals. He often talked about how the objects should be returned.
The Portland Art Museum acquired these objects and five others when it purchased the Axel Rasmussen Collection of more than 800 objects in 1948. Rasmussen had been the superintendent of schools in Wrangell (1921-1937) and in Skagway, Alaska (1937-1944).
Following extensive research and documentation, Tlingit & Haida submitted a repatriation claim to the Portland Art Museum on behalf of the Naanya.aayí clan under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 2002. After years of staff changes at the museum and other issues, including delays caused by COVID-19 restrictions, the claim was approved and the objects were formally deaccessioned from the museum’s collection and repatriated to the Naanya.aayí clan.