(Photo courtesy of The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

(Photo courtesy of The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)

Neighbors: Tunic returned to the Dakhl’aweidí clan

After more than 50 years, the Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ (Killerwhales Facing Away From Each Other Shirt), a traditional beaded tunic belonging to the Dakhl’aweidí (Killerwhale) clan of Angoon has returned home to Southeast Alaska.

For the last 40 years, the tunic has been on display in Salt Lake City under the possession of the Northern Natural Gas Co. In February 2024, the gas company contacted Tlingit & Haida and expressed their interest in returning the tunic to its rightful owners.

The transfer of the tunic was commemorated at a ceremony held on March 26, 2024, at the Oakland Museum of California. President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson attended the ceremony along with several staff from Tlingit & Haida’s Native Lands & Resource Division and members of the Dakhl’aweidí clan.

“Tlingit & Haida was honored to have had a part in the return of this tunic and we look forward to the return of many more items to their proper clans,” Peterson said. “In our cultural way, it is believed that our Haa Aaní [our way of life] is restored each time at’oow is returned. Today was a good day.”

From what is known, Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ was made by a woman named Aawastí for her son Peter K’astéix James of the Dakhl’aweidí clan. Around 1971, it was sold and then reappeared in 1983 after it was found in an auction catalog by Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Resources program. As it turns out, the same individual who sold Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ also sold a Chilkat blanket which came up for auction in December 2023, but attempts to stop the sale were unsuccessful. Unable to track down the buyer, the tunic went missing for over 20 years.

Armando Naalkh, Kéet Yanáayi DeAsis said, “When I heard the tunic made by my great-great-great-great-great grandmother Áawastí was returning to us, I was so excited. It reminded me of our migration. Áawastí was one of the women who traveled under the glacier. The journey of the tunic is similar to our migration history, uncertain as it was forced to leave home, only to be relieved to see the lands of their ancestors. Relieved and filled with joy is also how I feel to see our tunic return among us. Thank you so much to the gas company for caring for this tunic, and for returning it to us.”

Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ will be held in safekeeping by Tlingit & Haida and available for clan use as designated by Dakhl’aweidí clan leader Edwell Wóochxhkáduhaa, Tleeyaa Kéet John Jr. A cultural ceremony to bring Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ back out in public will be held at a later date yet to be determined.

Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Resources program repatriates objects in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Act, but also welcomes private donations such as this. In 2023, Tlingit & Haida successfully repatriated 15 objects of cultural patrimony and 12 unassociated funerary objects.

For more information on the tunic, contact Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Resources program at NLR@tlingitandhaida.gov or (907) 463-7186.

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