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Homecoming of Native items a reason for joy

Posted: Sunday, August 06, 2000

Of all the experiences which lift our spirits, few compare to the unexpected discovery and return of some valued item, dear friend or family member thought irretrievably lost. The roots of such feelings may be as old as civilization. Human nature is, after all, human nature.

One of the best-known examples of a surprising and happy ending involved the Prodigal Son. The story of his return to family, faithfulness and moderation still must touch hearts or it would not have been told and re-told for two millennia.

Such exciting events don't always happen to other people in other places. Sometimes they happen to us in our own community. Thus, there is reason for all of us in Southeast to rejoice this weekend. Regardless of our heritage and ancestry, we can share the joy at the repatriation of four priceless Angoon artifacts that were displayed Friday afternoon at the Alaska State Museum. Commonly called hats, the treasures are carved wooden headdresses that survived the U.S. Navy's bombardment of Angoon in 1882. They subsequently were removed from the Tlingit community to the collection of some wealthy collector from the East Coast through circumstances lost to time.

To say that the objects are artistically and culturally important does not do them justice. Museums all over the world are filled with artistically and culturally important stuff.

It is vitally important for all of us to remember the pain and devastation that accompanied the loss of the headdresses. Their acquisition by an aristocratic collector who may have been honored by having his name proudly associated with what in history's hindsight could be called looting only added insult to injury.

But if the Berlin Wall can fall, Germany can be reunited and Soviet Union can go out of business, perhaps we should realize that almost anything is possible. The headdresses were discovered when photographs of artifacts held for decades in museums and private collections were made available for review by Native experts. Within four years, the repatriation was complete. That which was lost is found. May the process continue with many more homecomings.



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