Each week, it seems, there is a new story about someone appropriating Native culture. In this age of increased sensitivity, I'm still amazed how often this happens.
I saw this story today, and was surprised at how it turned out!
Sara Jacobsen and her family have enjoyed a piece of artwork in their home for years in Seattle. Sara's father had purchased the piece at a gallery when he first moved to Seattle in 1986.
Sara, 19, saw a similar piece in one of her school books and began to have questions.
KUOW reported this story:
Sara Jacobsen, 19, grew up eating family dinners beneath a stunning Native American robe.
Not that she gave it much thought. Until, that is, her senior year of high school, when she saw a picture of a strikingly similar robe in an art history class.
The teacher told the class about how the robe was used in spiritual ceremonies, Sara Jacobsen said. “I started to wonder why we have it in our house when we’re not Native American.”
She said she asked her dad a few questions about this robe.
Eventually, Sara's father reached out to an expert at the Burke Museum for more information.
The robe was a Chilkat robe, or blanket, as it’s also known. They are woven by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples of Alaska and British Columbia and are traditionally made from mountain goat wool. The tribal or clan origin of this particular 6-foot-long piece was unclear, but it dated back to around 1900 and was beautifully preserved down to its long fringe.
Worl (Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau) said the robe has a huge monetary value. But that's not why it’s precious to local tribes.
“It’s what we call ‘atoow': a sacred clan object,” she said. “Our beliefs are that it is imbued with the spirit of not only the craft itself, but also of our ancestors. We use [Chilkat robes] in our ceremonies when we are paying respect to our elders. And also it unites us as a people.”
So turns out Sara was right to raise questions about the robe! Her family has given the robe to the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. Their historians are examining the robe now to find out more about its history, meaning, and significance.
This story gives me hope that our younger generations “get it”. They may have an understanding of cultural issues beyond what my generation has.
Thanks, Jacobsen family for making this right!
Photos from KUOW and the Jacbosen Family
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