Old news, but good news, nonetheless.
There’s much more significance to this than meets the eye. Of course it is a joyous, wondrous occasion that our clans are having their property returned to them. Our clans. Even though these artifacts are technically being returned to the Tlingit Tribe, actual possession is going to our clans where these items rightfully belong. So for instance, while Sealaska Heritage Institute was technically the entity that backed the Teeyhittaan clan’s (my clan) NAGPRA hearing for the return of our at.oow, when it is returned it will go to the Teeyhittaan clan leader and into ownership of the clan. The state and federal governments don’t officially acknowledge our clans as legitimate entities with rights and responsibilities of their own. However, through our persistence our clans are returning slowly but surely to their rightful place in Tlingit Society.
Earlier this year I was on a conference call with representatives of the state government regarding the return of the Teeyhittaan’s clan hat. Even though it was an informal setting, those representatives acknowledged the Teeyhittaan and our clan leader. It was a proud moment for the Teeyhittaan.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts returned a Kingfisher Fort Headdress (late 19th – early 20th century) to the Lúkaaxh.ádi clan of the Tlingit tribe of Alaska in March. This was the first repatriation of a Native American object by VMFA in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.
The repatriation ceremony took place at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resource Center in Suitland, Md. During the ceremony, members of the clan shared stories about the headdress and its importance to the Tlingit tribe.
“As a museum, we are merely caretakers of art,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said, “and now we are honored to be able to return this headdress to the Tlingit tribe.”
Lee Anne Chesterfield, PhD., VMFA’s assistant curator of ancient American art, said she thought the repatriation process was a positive experience. “We will continue to work with the Tlingit tribe to investigate the other objects in the museum’s collection.”