Tlingit Repatriation in Museums

Ceremonies of Sovereignty

in Museum Worlds
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  • 1 University of Alaska ajonaitis@alaska.edu
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ABSTRACT

Tlingit repatriation activities at museums become ceremonies involving both Tlingit and museum staff. These groups connect to one another in a temporary alliance that erases their differences, and for a time celebrates an incorporation of colonizer and colonized. The principle challenge to a successful repatriation is the US legal notion of “right of possession.” Even if items are not returned, some museums have made efforts to allow clans to use them in ceremonies. These complex ceremonial interactions between staff and Tlingit within the museum setting can represent yet another form of these empowering expressions of cultural self-determination, a process we might call repatriation sovereignty.

Contributor Notes

ALDONA JONAITIS, art historian, is Director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. She previously worked at Stony Brook University and the American Museum of Natural History. She has published several books on Northwest Coast Native art, including Art of the Northern Tlingit (1986), Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch (1991), Art of the Northwest Coast (2006), The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History (2010, with Aaron Glass), and The Totem Pole: A Traveller’s Guide (2012). E-mail: ajonaitis@alaska.edu

Museum Worlds

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