Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Smithsonian: Listening to Our Ancestors

While some readers may already know about the Smithsonian Museum project of last year; Listening to Our Ancestors, I wanted to revisit it and call attention to their current online resources from the project and the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s involvement. The Smithsonian’s online Listening to Our Ancestors exhibit offers some very interesting insight into various North Pacific Coast cultural items and art pieces. The excerpt below, from the Smithsonian’s website, provides a brief explanation about their online display.

“In this exhibition, representatives from 11 Native communities along the North Pacific Coast share their perspectives on more than 400 ceremonial and everyday objects that connect them to their lands, customs, and ancestors. Their words reveal the deeper meaning that lives within the objects, as well as the enduring lifeways of which they are a part.”

SHI and others from Southeast Alaska went to Washington, DC to help with the selection of these objects, which are housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian. Those who took part of this project include the Council of Traditional Scholars, Clarence Jackson, Peter Jack, and George Ramos with Anna Katzeek as translator, along with Donald Gregory and Delores Churchill. Dr. Rosita Worl, President of SHI, has served as adviser to the Listening to Our Ancestors exhibit and just finished reviewing and commenting on exhibit labels.

The Smithsonian has also been involved with SHI on a number of additional projects, including the current canoe carving project which is underway at the Sealaska Corporation building. Viewers can watch Doug Chilton, head carver, and his team work on the canoe live via this link or view pictures of the project here. Additional information about this project can be found via SHI’s press release of last fall.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Essay on Protecting Alaska's Native Population--With Federal Records

Over the weekend while doing some homework, I stumbled across a very interesting article entitled, “Protecting Alaska’s Native Population—With Federal Records,” by Thomas E. Wiltsey. Originally published in The Record in 1995, but now available online via the National Archives and Records Administration-Pacific Alaska Region, Anchorage website, this essay makes some great points about the valuable sources archives hold for Alaska’s Native peoples. Archival records serve as evidence of traditional land claims, for pension applications, for genealogy, for village histories, and much much more. I invite readers to look over this essay and offer their thoughts. I think the essay does a great job of explaining the value of archival sources and encouraging Alaska Natives to use these great resources.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Important Photograph Donation: Linn A. Forrest Photos

In December MRV Architects of Juneau generously donated a very significant photograph collection to SHI Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). MRV has a history of specializing and offering its services to the Southeast Alaska Natives, and are currently working with the Kasaan Haida Heritage Foundation to restore the Chief Son-I-Hat Whale House. MRV chose SCRC because they wanted to place these photographs with an organization that would preserve, protect, advocate the importance of, and allow patrons of all backgrounds to learn from these historic images. Amounting to around 150 black and white images, these photos document the work of architect and Alaska Native arts advocate Linn A. Forrest (part-founder of MRV Architects). To view a selection of these images click here.

In the late 1930s the U.S. Forest Service contracted regional architect Linn A. Forrest, based out of Juneau, and regional forester, B. Frank Heintzleman, to oversee various Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) operations to restore and preserve totem poles and traditional Native architecture. From 1937 to 1939, and via a $24,000 U.S. Government grant to the Alaska Native Brotherhood as a CCC project, Forrest oversaw the construction of the Shakes Island Community House and totems at Wrangell, Alaska (image above shows early construction on the Shakes Island Community House in 1939/1940). In 1939 he also oversaw totem pole restoration work at the Sitka National Park. Although Forrest was involved in a number of other similar projects, the photographs donated to SCRC document these two projects. The bulk of the photos show construction work on the Shakes Island Community House from beginning to finish and contain snapshots of the dedication celebration at the completion of the house.

Through these and other efforts Forrest become highly involved in local Native life and later wrote a book about his experiences, The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska, popularity for which has led to it being republished in over twenty editions. This donation is a significant addition to SHI SCRC and documents an important era of Native life. Those interested in viewing these items should prearrange an appointment with SHI’s archivist. Those interested in donating similar items should also contact the archivist.

Note: This story was recently covered by the Juneau Empire; please click here to read it.