Cultural objects returning to Hoonah after 80 years

An owl mask is one of eight items repatriated to the Huna Heritage Foundation.

Eight Native cultural objects are returning home after a long struggle following an even longer absence.


The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has sent a letter to the T’akdeintaan Clan, Snail House, of Hoonah, saying it plans to return eight objects the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Review Committee recently deemed the rightful property of the clan under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGRA. The clan has been trying to reclaim 50 objects from the museum for 16 years.

The repatriated objects include a wooden box drum, a Lituya Bay Robe, an Owl of the Heavens mask, a Commander of the Tides mask, a Little Ravine headdress, a head cover formed from a corner piece of a Chilkat blanket, a tobacco pipe and a rattle featuring a loon, human and raven’s head.

“I’m so excited this will happen,” said Marlene Johnson of the Snail House and chair of the Huna Heritage Foundation. We’ve been trying to get these objects back for 16 years.”

The return stems from an original repatriation claim in 1995. The Philadelphia museum first agreed to send these eight objects back in 2009.

A delegation representing the clan made a case in Washington, D.C., to reclaim all 50 items last November. They claimed when the objects were originally taken to the museum in the 1920s, it was without the Snail House’s permission.

The NAGRA committee agreed the clan was the rightful owner.

This repatriation effort was assisted by Sealaska Heritage Institute, Sealaska Corp., Huna Totem Corp. and Hoonah Indian Association.

Johnson is hopeful the objects will be back in Hoonah this spring, saying there are still a lot of processes involved in the transfer. She said the clan will ultimately decide what to do with the items.

As for the remaining 42 objects still in Pennsylvania, Johnson said the clan will continue to pursue their repatriation.

“We still think they should be returned and will continue to work on it,” she said.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or


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